TTT

TTT: Drop This ‘Bravery’ Bollocks

By Paul Tomkins. Let’s get one thing straight: there’s absolutely nothing brave about giving it a go when you’ve got nothing left to lose. The hard part in football is when you’re expected to win, when qualification is taken for granted. Like Roy Hodgson, David Moyes starts each game feeling like his team are 3-0 up; the 0-0 scoreline, in his world, feels safe and reassuring. It takes a big deficit to throw caution to the wind. In the game last Sunday, Moyes waited until his team were 2-0 down with 15 minutes left before making alterations. He spoke about being the underdog, at Old Trafford. Brendan Rodgers, rightly, said he’d never think of saying such things about Liverpool at Anfield. Once you are out of a game, or a tie, you can get adventurous; you can’t be nervous about losing when you’re already losing. The key is to be brave when it’s 0-0, or you’re 1-0 up. Bravery is about keeping the ball, and trying things, when it’s in the balance and it’s yours to lose. There’s nothing brave about playing when you’re 2-0 down or 3-0 up. Bravery occurs when the game is on a knife-edge. We can all chase a horse once it’s bolted. Anyone can give it a go when all is lost. Liverpool did so under Souness against Auxerre in 1991, turning around a 2-0 away defeat with a 3-0 home win in his first season, as the Reds sat well off the pace in the league. Sound familiar? Of course, we all know that it was the turning point for Souness, and Liverpool won the title in the next eight seasons. Last night Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend called Spurs “brave” for their late rally in Portugal. Brave. Really? (Simon Burton on the Guardian’s match feed summed up what’s wrong British commentators commenting on British managers: “Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend discuss Tottenham’s management on ITV4: “I think you’d like Tim to still be there next season,” suggests Clive. “I know I would.” “Yeah, I think Tim’s got the right character, I think he’s got the belief of those around him, that he can make a decent fist of this job. And I think he will, given the opportunity,” says Andy. These people should simply not be allowed to talk about British people, because they are unable to judge them in any rational way. I just don’t believe they would talk about, say, a highly-promising young Portuguese coach in the same way, no matter how many gilets he threw around.”) Won, Drawn and Quartered Ever feel like the world has been tipped on its head? Re-watching Liverpool’s win at Old Trafford, it struck me – given that nerves no longer played a part in the experience – just how utterly one-sided it was. It was like an invading army raping and pillaging a helpless village, the men giving up their women and children without a fight. I mean, have you ever seen so many bad challenges inside a team’s own box? It also continues to strike me how Liverpool have turned into something approaching the exciting United side of a few years back, with pace and skill, allied to a will to win – the ability to play like Champions – while United become ever more like Hodgson’s Reds, with a favourite (failing, Fellailing?) midfielder shoehorned into the side, and passing patterns as basic as seen in your average under-9s match. Once you’ve lived through something – once you know it – you can spot it again a mile off, and Moyes’ shortcomings, like those of Hodgson, are not the kind that can be overcome with time. You can give a painter and decorator fifty years, the finest brushes and the most exotic pigments, but he’ll still whitewash the Sistine Chapel with emulsion. In fairness, he might at first try a few tentative flourishes with those fine sable hairs, before reverting to the big tin of white paint and the spongy roller. You won’t get The Creation of Adam, but if you’re lucky he might be brave and go for beige or eggshell-white. Liverpool had to get rid of Roy Hodgson because he was Roy Hodgson. Time wasn’t going to make him Pep Guardiola, or even Brendan Rodgers. A few years back, during the depths of Hodgson’s Anfield tenure (late 2010), I wrote a piece for the inaugural issue of the Blizzard magazine, talking about how almost every British coach promoted to a bigger club in recent history simply mirrored his achievements at the smaller club; indeed, often falling short of what was achieved on a shoestring budget when given greater funds. Allardyce at Newcastle? – he was better at Bolton, whom he took to the top six, and the same relative failing applies with West Ham. Hodgson at Liverpool? – not even as good as his decent-but-unspectacular Fulham side, despite far better players. Curbishley at West Ham? – never matched his Charlton high once at the bigger London club. Mark Hughes at Man City? – choice of the world’s best players, but couldn’t even match his best league position from  Blackburn. Right now, Moyes has an identical league record at United to the one he posted last year at Everton. Identical – to within one goal of goals conceded, the same amount having been scored. The list goes on and on in the modern, cosmopolitan world of Premier League football, where most British coaches got left behind. Brendan Rodgers is one of few, if any, to travel abroad for an education. Like our players, our managers are often too insular. Despite what Andy Townsend may imply about them not getting a chance, British managers have been given a fair few bigger jobs in the past fifteen years, and aside from a fairly successful (but trophy-less) Harry Redknapp spell at Spurs, and before the increasingly exciting emergence of Rodgers at Liverpool, which of those appointed in that time has even looked remotely comfortable, let alone capable of taking their club to greater heights? In that same time foreign managers have also failed, of course, but plenty have succeeded too, earning a far better hit-rate at bigger clubs. Even though some may not speak the language that well, they’ve never looked as lost for words as Moyes or Hodgson – the kind of managers unable to even explain what’s happening. How can a manager address the problems if, after every game, he says he doesn’t know what they are? The rest of this post for Subscribers only. Member-only content – you need to subscribe to read it ! 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TTT

TTT: Twenty Times Better: Liverpool 3 United 0

By Paul Tomkins. Sunday, March 16th. “Twenty times” sang United fans at the end, perhaps referring to how much better Liverpool were than their team, on a day when even Gary Neville felt the visitors should have had five penalties. (While we’re at it United fans, that’s five times.) United fans are sticking by their manager, and I do respect that, but it’s like they’re trying to show how good they are as fans, rather than face the reality of a decent – but at this top level, distinctly mediocre – manager taking a successful bunch of players (plus £70m spent) and turning them into his own image. Maybe Moyes will come good, but to be honest, with every passing week he just looks worse. He looks archaic; not so much out of his depth as out of his time. It’s not 1993 anymore. We all make mistakes on early judgements, and it took me a while to think Brendan Rodgers had what it took; he wasn’t helped by Being:Liverpool, in which he also made what seemed to be an accurate assessment at the time (of Jon Flanagan) that was later proved wrong. Liverpool are beyond purring under the newly-toothy Ulsterman, and Flanagan, despite still being reckless in the tackle, has started dribbling the ball upfield, his shoulders relaxed, head up, enjoying himself as if he’s Franz Beckenbauer. Going back a few weeks I didn’t think the Reds could win the title, but there is absolutely no denying now that they are in the hunt.  It’s a race, and it’s on.  The pressure of expectation was on Liverpool, for once in a big game at Old Trafford, with the cowardly David Moyes saying that Rodgers’ men were favourites – at their ground, when taking to the field as defending champions. And yet Liverpool tore through United like they were a non-league side. ‘Make admitments’, it was an embarrassment. This was every bit as remarkable as the 4-1 under Rafa Benítez five years ago, although there are differences; that was a Liverpool side five years in the making, facing a United side at its peak, with a legendary manager who put fear into everyone. That was when Old Trafford was a fortress, but even though it is now more like a house that a medium-sized, not-very-bad wolf could blow down, it was like a force-five tornado ripped right through it. They’ll be finding pieces of Old Trafford in Bolton. Have United ever been more shellshocked? I said in the summer that Moyes would be their Roy Hodgson, in that he was good at two banks of four but hopeless at the expansive, imaginative football needed in the top four. Any time they get the ball in a dangerous central area they look to push it wide, to cross, rather than play the killer pass. A pre-match stat was that Phillipe Coutinho had attempted more through-balls this season than Manchester United. As bad as United were, Liverpool took full advantage. The movement of the front players is jaw-dropping. Meanwhile, Moyes sticks Mata out wide, and takes a Coutinho-like through-passer and turns him into a crossing machine. Mata, the great assister, pissing in the wind. Rodgers started his reign with some great possession play, but no wins in his first five; then things went stale. I noted that there was no cutting edge, no through-passing. In came Coutinho and Sturridge, and things began to build. Neither was just lobbed on the wing, never to wander. Liverpool became more of a counter-attacking side, rather than tiki-takking, but if the other team wants to sit back, Suarez can even unlock Fort Knox. At home against Arsenal, and away today at United, Liverpool controlled the game and created chance after chance, whether enjoying spells of possession or not. Despite my fragile nerves feeling unable to handle a title-tilt, this has to be considered one. The Reds seem to have peaked at the right time, although it could still be too early; it’s only March. But injured players like Sakho and Lucas are fit again, helping the bench to look strong. Rodgers even had the time to rub salt into United’s wound by bringing on Iago Aspas. Have that! Liverpool can score goals for fun, but this was also a better defensive display; my stipulation to believe in a chance of no.19, made a few weeks back, was clean sheets, and 3-0 wins at Southampton and United show a side approaching perfection as the spring arrives. I’m the kind of person who would have taken a draw at either venue, such is our record at those places. First things first, though – it’s a huge step towards cementing a place in the top four. Top players will still want to play for Man United (before even getting onto the £300,000 a week), but in recent summers Liverpool have had a credibility problem, with a rookie manager and no Champions League to offer. Even though Rafa Benítez never had the money to buy players beyond £20m, at a time when others spent £30m+, he had a stellar reputation across Europe, and Liverpool were in the top four between 2004 and 2009. In particular, Spanish players, at a time when they were the best in the world, wanted to play for our club. Rodgers never had that cachet, but he might be gaining it; everyone in the world will have been alerted by the 5-0 lead taken against Arsenal, and a 3-0 victory (and a missed penalty) at United. This Liverpool team don’t have the experience of being champions, and many of them haven’t even been in a race, but with Rodgers bringing in Dr Steve Peters, such mental shortcomings can be addressed. Peters is so good – according to those he has turned into winners – that he can help athlete’s overcome incredible odds. Indeed, he might even help England get out the group stage in Brazil under Roy Hodgson. It’s still got to be City and Chelsea’s title to lose, given their mega-squads, but if Liverpool hit the front at the right time – i.e. in May – they won’t have to handle the pressure that comes with the sound of a chasing pack. It could be like Arsenal in 1998, when they were nowhere in February but then went on an incredible run, playing great football. We don’t really believe in momentum on TTT (it’s not an official policy, mind!). It may play a small role, but winning runs are achieved by good teams playing good football. Great teams go on great runs, and right now, Liverpool are winning games because they look like a great team. Momentum may not last, but class does. And that’s the best thing to take from this season. Liverpool are becoming a very classy side indeed.

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