Best of the Rest Game Recaps

Delayed thoughts on the Merseyside Derby and the best of the best from all over Europe

1. Merseyside Derby

This was a big weekend for the Derby this weekend in Europe. It all kicked off bright and early here in the States with the Merseyside Derby.

I think to put it polietly this was quite the forgettable game. Jurgen Klopp was clearly just hoping to get through the game without anymore injuries. With Joel Matip, Joe Gomez, Adam Lallana and Emre Can out with longterm injuries. Mo Salah and Andrew Robertson being held out with minor injuries and Alberto Moreno picking up a knock during the pregame it was obvious from the beginning of the game that Klopp just wanted to get his squad through this game unscathed. Klopp also gave Robert Firmino most of the day off not brining him on until the 74th minute for Sadio Mane which was probably a planned move prior to the game. It was a hard game to watch but the best thing that came out of it was Liverpool not picking up anymore injuries and getting a point out of it which was huge as they look to lock up the top 4 race. Even though the game was a bit of a drag here are some quick takes on the match.

Big Sam

Everton had not beaten Liverpool since 2010 which is 16 games since their last win. So, with this version of the Derby coming in between Liverpool’s quarterfinal Champions League tie with Manchester City and with Liverpool’s injury crisis you had to feel this was a good of a chance to end the streak.

I actually liked the way Everton started out in this game. They were pressing Liverpool all over the pitch and giving the patchwork lineup Liverpool played plenty of issues. But for whatever reason Everton backed off let Liverpool control game with possession and looked like a team that was content just getting a point out of it, it wasn’t until maybe the last 10 minutes that Big Sam let his team go after the win.

If I were an Everton fan I would have been furious about this. Winning this would have made their season and they really wouldn’t have cared who wasn’t in there for Liverpool. Ending this streak would have been something to celebrate in a season where they haven’t had a lot to celebrate .

Between Big Sam’s odd approach to the game, which was basically parking the bus to his lineup decisions, if a decision hasn’t been made on his future I think this should seal it for him. It was really pathetic from him and Everton.

Everyone actually looked okay when they removed Wayne Rooney for Idrissa Gueye in the 57th minute and Yannick Bolassie for Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the 57th minute. I tweeted during the game that if they had gone with that from the beginning they had probably won. It’s the sad truth that Wayne Rooney just isn’t a good footballer anymore. At one time he was as good as anyone in the Premier League and truthfully if he didn’t have his name he wouldn’t even be on a team anymore, that’s how bad he is at this point.

Now in Big Sam’s defense he and Gueye both said after the game that Gueye who was just coming back from an injury was not fit enough to go the whole 90 so I won’t blast him for that, but until they made the switch the Liverpool midfield trio of Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, and James Milner we’re controlling that area of the park and one thing we all know about football is the team that usually controls the midfield controls the game.

But once Gueye came in they started to take back the play in the midfield which led to their pressure at the end and if we’re being honest here probably should have led to a late winner. Liverpool was actually lucky to get away with the point they got out of this.

I also thought he had made a mistake playing Bolassie over Calvert Lewin. Like Gueye he made an immediate impact as soon as he was called upon. Thankfully for Liverpool Big Sam apperead to be very incompetent which went a long way towards Liverpool getting a point out of this. And the streak is now 17 games since Everyone has a win against Liverpool.

Wijnaldum

Usually when Liverpool plays a midfield three of Wijnaldum, Henderson, and Milner they will have Henderson in the deep holding role with Milner on the right and Wijnaldum on the left, but in the Derby they had Wijnaldum playing deep with Henderson and Milner playing the more advanced midfield roles with Henderson on the right and Milner on the left who really played a real advanced role helping facilitate the attack.

There was good reason for this. With Henderson suspended for the second leg against Manchester City and Emre Can out injured Wijnaldum is going to have to play the all important holding role. This isn’t his normal position obviously but if he plays against City as well as he did against Everton it will go a long way towards Liverpool getting the job done and advancing to the semifinals of the Champions League. In fact Wijnaldum was so good in this game that to me he was the Man of the Match. In a game that wasn’t memorable at all Wijnaldum stood out in a very positive way. On the day he completed 77 passes at a 93.9% clip and was 8 for 10 in long balls. It was a Busquets esque performance from him and has given me more confidence for Tuesday as not having Henderson or Can could be a real problem. Now I will say that Everton made it easy on him as they didn’t really apply any pressure on him and we know City will be throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them on Tuesday but it was still nice to see him get a little practice at it under real live game conditions.

Ings and Solanke

This was a big day for forwards Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke as neither have gotten a lot of game time this season especially as starters so this was a big day for them to show that they can provide quality off the bench from this position.

Unfortunately neither delivered. I thought the whole game was a real struggle for Solanke. He didn’t provide much at all. Now this wasn’t the normal game from the Reds they didn’t attack with the same vigor as they normally do and this was probably the least intense Merseyside Derby i have ever seen. But as Jurgen Klopp said afterwards it didn’t make sense for Liverpool to get involved in that sort of game, which is true, but even so Solanke was not good enough. He should have scored he had Liverpool’s best chance in the game but his shot was right at Everton keeper Jordan Pickford.

Ings was a bit better. He had a couple nice flick on’s and some decent hold up play and worked his ass off as you would expect from him but the quality wasn’t good enough.

It brings me to this is this a position Liverpool should look to upgrade at in the summer? Should they look for a more polished backup for Robert Firmino? I still think Solanke has potential to be an excellent player but this is something Klopp has to consider if that’s the best there is to offer behind Firmino.

Clyne

This was Nathaniel Clyne’s first appearance of the season being out injured since preseason and I was blown away with his performance. He was very solid on the day. Clyne has always been a no nonsense steady type of player who you know is going to get the job done. It’s not flashy, maybe he could get forward more but he is always rock solid back there and always gets the job done. With Gomez out it is nice to have him back late in the season to provide some depth behind Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Klavan

The biggest surprise from this game had to be Ragnar Klavan. There was doubt he would even be avaliable for this but when his name was on the team sheet starting it looked like for sure that Jurgen Klopp would play 3 in the back, there was no way Klavan would be left back. But he was. It was kind of a weird formation that when Liverpool was in attack Clyne would push up, Dejan Lovren would slide over  and with Virgil van Dijk it looked like a back 3 then but for the most part it was simply an unbalanced back 4. It was a lot like how Man City played against Liverpool on Wednesday with Laporte, Otamendi, and Kompany in an unbalanced back 3 in possession but defensively Kyle Walker would drop back to make it a back 4.

Much to everyone’s surprise Klavan had one helluva game he was very solid and made no mistakes. It was one of those contributions that doesn’t get a lot of talk but it should, there should be a lot of mention about his contribution.

In closing

This was a productive day for the Reds. They got Clyne some run, rested key players, got Wijnaldum some practice at holding midfield, and came away with a point.

My biggest takeway is that Everton blew a big opportunity and how conservative of an approach they brought to the game.

Lastly some quick takes from the rest of the weekend in Europe and beyond.

2. Manchester Derby

As bad as the Merseyside Derby was this was that good. The first half looked like it was going to be a runaway. City was up 2-0 at half and if it wasn’t for Raheem Sterling not converting his chances this could have easily been 5-0 at the half. But even so United offered nothing and it looked like there was no chance that United was going to offer anything at all. This had the looks of being a coranation for City, the perfect storm to win the league title in front of their fans against their biggest rival.

But something funny happened at half time. I always say that when you have a team down and out especially a good team that if you let them off the hook you will pay and that’s what happened.

Its not like Jose Mourinho changed much tactically at the half besides unleashing Paul Pogba who is everyone’s favorite whipping boy. He became more advanced and bagged a brace with goals in the 55th and 59th minutes. Pogba was incredible in the second half, he was that dynamic two way player that we all know can be when he is allowed to be. He basically singlehandedly led to come back. The comeback was complete in the 69th minute when Chris Smalling’s header gave them the win.

This wasn’t without controversy. City should have been given a penalty when the score was 3-2 in the 78th minute. Ashley Young took down Sergio Aguero, it should have been a penalty but the ref looked the other way. It was a clear penalty but I guess I can give the ref the benefit of the doubt as I thought it was clean live as well. But it wasn’t as soon as I saw a replay it was obvious it was a penalty and a penalty that would have changed everything. If they are given a penalty and City converts it could have been a whole different story and we may be talking about them winning the league instead but it wasn’t and it’s just another argument for VAR.

In all honesty despite how exciting of a game this was and all the recency bias that this was the best game ever and all that (it was good but there have been better games this season) this was a very one sided game that United was extremely lucky to not get blown back across town to Old Trafford.

It took so many misses for Raheem Sterling that I feel like he could have won the golden boot for the season just from this game. Seriously he could have had 3 or 4 on his own.

Sterling also hit the post in the 90th minute, you had David De Gea robbing Sergio Aguero from point blank range. The type of robbery that happens every game for United. There is no doubt he is the best goalie on the planet and if not for him the past 3 years you could argue that United would be a 6th place team every season at best.

You also had Gundogan hitting the post in the 57th minute. So, with Gundogan and Sterling both hitting the post, De Gea robbing Aguero, and Sterling having one of those Sterling days finishing when he couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn United was very lucky to get out this this alive. City outshot them 20-5 on the day, but the second half was a lot closer with City leading shots 11-5, there was the stage in the first 25 minutes of the half that it was exhilarating end to end action. It was simply incredible but best game of the season. I’m just not sure about that.

City will still win the league, but for one day Jose got one on Pep which is big for United to have a day like this in the latter parts of a frustrating season.

It will be very interesting to see how City responds from this on Tuesday, they need a performance of the ages to get by Liverpool and they expended a lot of emotional and physical energy in this, so I will be curious to see what they have in the tank for Liverpool.

3. Madrid Derby

This was a fantastic game to me. The quality of the field from both sides is flat out terrific.

Talk about being lucky to get out alive that was Atletico Madrid. They were outshot 30-9 in this game. Real Madrid was  without their best despite leaving Isco, Casimero, and Modric on the bench to rest as just like Liverpool and City this is in between Champions League legs for Real as well.

Garreth Bale reminded people in case they forgot that he’s an amazing footballer when in form and healthy. He was probably Real’s best player in this.

Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez were a problem coming from the outside and took it to the injury ridled back line of Atleti. And of course Cristiano Ronaldo scored his standard wow this guy is good goal.

But despite all that Atleti came back to equalize with an Atoine Greizmann goal. Greizmann was really good in this game but Atleti would have been destroyed in this game if it wasn’t for Jan Oblak. Oblak is definitely a top 5 goalie in the world and he showed why in this one. Making multiple saves of the difficult variety. In total he made 7 saves which no doubt earned him Man of the Match. It was a terrific performance.

I also have to mention that Keylor Navas made 5 saves and they were also of the difficult varierty.

This was also an excellent game and 100% lived up to the hype there were quality chances, beautiful goals, great saves, and high level football all around.

4. Premier League

It was a very entertaining weekend in the Premier League besides the Merseyside Derby and the Manchester Derby.

You had Stoke losing in hearbreaking fashion to Spurs. You know the game that Harry Kane is crying that he didn’t get credit for the winner. I mean how pathetic is this guy. He can’t be happy his team won, he has to cry that he didn’t get credit for the winner that was given to Christian Eriksen. I don’t know about everybody else but I hate that crap. Who cares? Just be happy you won the damn game. Does it really matter if you win the golden boot or not. I’m sure if it means that much to you Mo Salah will give it to you if you care about the picture with you and your individual trophies that much. Honestly I didn’t think Kane was like this but this is Cristiano Ronaldo type of stuff not the English Golden Boy .

Spurs were lucky in that one. Stoke is in a lot of trouble and needed this one and they played well throughout. I thought they played well enough to win. It would have helped a lot of Diouf could finish. Sure Stoke was aided by Lloris and Sanchez making a mess of things for Stoke’s goal. Who by the way in the past 3 seasons has gone from a really good keeper to a keeper I no longer trust.

Stoke was good in this game, probably deserved better but that’s the way football is and Spurs are a team that seems to get as many breaks to eek out points as United does.

It was an interesting week though. All of the 10am games were incredible and they all had meaning in the relegation race besides Watford/Burnley which was a terrific game but how many times in one season do I have to watch Burnely get a lucky win out of a game. They had no business getting anything out for it, but they get great saves by Nick Pope and somehow get goals on the little chances they get usually off of someone’s head. Give Sean Dyche credit he has made this formula work, but if this is how things go next season I wouldn’t be shocked if they get relegated in the same season they’re in the Europa League.

It was a weird weekend as only Newcastle won out of the teams in the relegation battle. They won at at Leicester 2-1. Jonjo Shelvey opened the scoring with an absolute beauty of a counter attack goal. Ayote Perez gave them breathing room in the 75th minute, but they had to hang on when Jamie Vardy got one back in the 83rd minute.

This was a Rafa Benetiz masterpiece defend your asses off and hit them on the counter. Newcastle doesn’t have anymore talent than the other sides fighting for relegation. You can argue they’re the least talented team in the league but they have the best coach which is why they won’t be going anywhere and this was such a big weekend for them as the only team in the battle winning so they now have a 10 point gap for safety and have moved to 10th. I’m sure Sean Dyche will win coach of the year as ppl will be confused with their luck as great coaching but it should be Rafa. The job he’s done with this team is absolutely amazing.

Bournemouth came from behind to draw with Crystal Palace. Palace twice had leads in this game that they couldn’t hold. Zaha was incredible in this game and it looked for most of it that they would get a huge 3 points but they couldn’t hold Bournemouth down. Joshua King scored in the 89th minute to come away with a 2-2 draw. This was a game Palace probably feels like they should have won. But Wan Bissaka ignored King who scored the equalizer. I still think they survive but they have dropped a ton of points and if they keep doing this they won’t survive. If they get a lead this time of the season during this epic relegation fight they have to hold on. 

Brighton and Huddersfield also drew by the score of 1-1. This was a battle of awful mistakes. Jonas Lossl was given credit for an own goal when his horrific save attempt on a Sonny March shot went into the net.

Then Brighton returned the favor 3 minutes later in the 32nd minute when Shane Duffy’s awful excuse for a back pass was stolen by Steve Mounie for the equalizer.

It was an even entertaining game that could have gone either way. Brighton was in trouble in the 75th minute when Dutch international Davy Propper was sent to the showers with a straight red, but it was like it motivated Brighton. Jonas Lossl totally redeemed himself if it wasn’t for multiple saves they would have come away with nothing. At least they got a point.

Swansea was a little lucky to get a point against cellar dwellers West Brom. It took a 75th minute equalizer from Tammy Abraham to get a point out of it. West Brom outplayed them badly. I have thought all season that Swansea is the worst team in the league I still think that relegation is very possible. Right now they’re 15th but only have a 4 point cushion.

They finish the season with Everyone, Manchester City (A), Chelsea, Bournemouth (A), and their last two games are against Southampton and Stoke and I guarantee at least one of those games will decide who is staying up. So, I will say it I think that they go down.

Southampton blew a chance to get to safety and put Crystal Palace in that spot when they couldn’t win at Arsenal. Sure Arsenal is a tough place to play even this season, but this was a great chance to win there. They we’re resting guys as the Europa League has become their top priority they also had an early lead and were level at 2-2 late but couldn’t hold on and lost 3-2 in a wildly entertaining game.

Lastly in the Premier League Chelsea drew at home against West Ham. Huge result for West Ham, this was a game that West Ham couldn’t have been expecting much out of, but Joe Hart was incredible. He played one of the better games he’s played in quite some time.

This was devastating for Chelsea, their top 4 chances are all but gone as they find themselves 10 points behind Liverpool and Tottenham with only 6 to play. They do have a game in hand on Liverpool but even if they win that 7 points with 5 games to play will be a real difficult task. It is likely they are off to the Europa League and they will be changing managers again. Stability at manager isn’t Chelsea’s strong suit.  But, when you continually hire managers who think they’re smarter than Einstein and have egos the size of Antarctica you will have this.

I know there are hipsters out there who like to bitch about the Premier League and talk about how much they like the Bundesliga and how much better it is. News flash the Bundesliga is sh!t. I watch it I enjoy it, but don’t tell me that itsi better when it’s not. They do it just to be different because the Premier League is popular. It’s like music hipsters.

Look I watch all the leagues. Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A. The last couple years the Premier League wasn’t the best league, it was my favorite to watch but this year it’s also the best league and get used to it the financial advantage is going to make the gap widen.

My whole point of this is that Saturday was one of those days where you were reminded of how fun this league is. The 10am window was awesome. I watched all 6 of them. 3 live and 3 later without spoilers. It was a blast to watch, all 6 of them were so good.

5. Messi

Barcelona continued their amazing season that honestly isn’t getting enough talk. With a 3-1 win over Leganes they equalled Real Sociedad’s 1979-80 team with most games unbeaten to start a season.

But it was Messi that stole the show. He recorded a hat trick, he now has 39 goals in 38 games in all comps. I’m not a religious person but I thank God every day that I am on the earth at the same time as him to be able to watch such greatness. Sometimes I wish I was alive to have seen Babe Ruth, Wilt Chamberlain, Pele, Ali, Johnny Unitas, or Gordie Howe perform in their prime, but I am alive for Messi which is just as good.

The Last Liga race is over and been over. Barcelona has an 11 point lead with 7 left to play, but Barca still has plenty to play for. They can go the season unbeaten, win the champions league, and Copa Del Rey. A treble with an unbeaten league campaign would be historic and impressive season for a team that everyone thought was dead before the season, especially after what Real Madrid did to them after the Spanish Super Cup.

Give Ernesto Valverde so much credit. He has them playing a more pragmatic safe game that is not the typical game for them and normal for them. It has worked for them and has been a big part of their success this season.

6. Bundesliga

Congratulations to Bayern for winning their 6th straight Bundesliga title with a 4-1 win over Augsburg.

They are at a different level from anyone else in this league and they are also at a different level financially, plus every young German player wants to play there so when someone gets close to them they take their best players like they have done many of times to Dortmund and did this season to Schalke with Leon Goretzka 

The top 4 battle is still quite tight. Leverkusen beat Leipzig 4-1 at Leipzig in impressive fashion. The win puts Leverkusen into 4th and Leipzig moves back to 6th. 

Schalke dropped points losing to Hamburg. They stay in second with 52 points. Dortmund did close that gap to one point with a 3-0 win over Stuttgart.

7. Seire A

Juve had a wild 4-2 win over Benevento. Napoli got a miraculous win over ChievoVerona. They scored two goals in the final 4 minutes to come away with a 2-1 win. Milik scored the first in the 89th minute and a Diawara scored a winner in the 93rd minute. Juventus lead is still 4 points. We’re at the point where Napoli will have to win at Juventus to have a chance.

It was a real fun weekend of football. Champions League is back this week so we have more fun to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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