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Marcotti: A tournament to remember

World Cup Jul 14, 2014
Read
Apr 14, 2014

Gerrard's emotion, an Anfield epic, Martino's mess, more

FC's Steve Nicol and Alejandro Moreno break down how important Steven Gerrard is to Liverpool as a leader.


Sometimes, the mask falls. Professionalism, leadership, the distance that comes from being both a 1-percenter and a celebrity, the machismo that 30-something young men affect ... all of it slips away. And you're left naked. Steven Gerrard rarely betrays emotion in public, possibly for the reasons cited above. Which is why his tears at the final whistle Sunday were so touching. The 25th anniversary of Hillsborough is Tuesday. And make no mistake about it, while the deaths of the 96 touch (or should touch) everyone who calls themselves a member of the human race, they don't do so equally. The youngest victim at Hillsborough that day was a 10-year-old boy named Jon-Paul Gilhooley. He was Gerrard's cousin. In the dedication to his autobiography, Gerrard wrote: "Every time I see Jon-Paul's name cut into the cold marble outside the Shankly Gates, I fill with sadness and anger. I have never let anyone know this before but it’s true: I play for Jon-Paul." Except for England's Three Lions, the only jersey Gerrard has worn since he turned seven was Liverpool's. He was born and raised on Merseyside. This is his home. And he had accepted, at age 33, that committing himself to this club probably meant he would never win a Premier League trophy. Or so he thought. Because Sunday's 3-2 victory over Manchester City is a huge step towards that 19th English championship, the one missing from Anfield since 1990. Gerrard called it the "longest 90 minutes he has ever played," and without resorting to Albert Einstein and temporal relativity, you can see what he meant. These were powerful conflicting emotions rushing through him all at once, a kaleidoscope of pain and relief, anger and elation, humility and pride. Exhausted and spent, it came out. And no matter what your footballing stripe, you'd need to be pretty cold-hearted not to have been touched by the sight of this 33-year-old Merseyside lad, cousin, captain, millionaire, victim, superstar, father, celebrity and icon at once communing with his people and his own inner humanity. One for the ages at Anfield The game itself provided oodles of entertainment for the neutral. And it reminded us how incidents and circumstances influence outcomes. City can point to the fact that, ultimately, they were without their best striker (Sergio Aguero) and best midfielder (Yaya Toure) for the bulk of the game, and that their best defender (Vincent Kompany) was having a nightmare. And even then, they battled back from two goals down to equalize and had more than a few things to recriminate about. - Brewin: Win confirms LFC credentials - Jolly: Reds seize Prem advantage - Kelly: A monumental Liverpool win - FC TV: Nicol's Liverpool grades Mamadou Sakho on Edin Dzeko should have been a penalty. Same goes for Martin Skrtel punching the ball away at the end. And Luis Suarez appeared to blatantly dive when taking on Martin Demichelis in the second half; had he been booked, it would have been his second yellow. (Sometimes a non-call is the right option. But the way Suarez went down, it could have only been contact or a dive, because if you lose your balance on your own you don't fall that way. Referee Mark Clattenburg did nothing: no foul, no dive.) For their part, Liverpool also had a very good shout when Kompany appeared to manhandle Suarez. Four big calls -- with the benefit of replay -- seemingly incorrect, three of them penalizing City. Had they gone the other way -- and yes, the referee's job is tough and the usual disclaimers apply -- even this under-strength City team could have snatched a point or more at Anfield. That's what Pellegrini needs to build on. That's the message he needs to get across. For all their difficulty and with a modicum more luck, they would still be in pole position for the league title. And that's why they still need to believe. Don't pity Kompany A word on Vincent Kompany. We -- and by this I mean the folks speaking on TV, including myself -- throw out this phrase "best ___ in the world" with far too much abandon. In Kompany's case he's an exceptional defender, a very good teammate and, as anyone who has met him or heard him speak in public will confirm, probably a very good person as well. But he doesn't need (or probably want) the label of "best defender in the world" stuck to him at every turn. He made a crucial mistake on Sunday, just as he did against Hull City, against Sunderland in the League Cup final and against Fulham earlier this year. None of them cost City the win, because he was bailed out by teammates. This one did. - Curtis: Pivotal moment in the title race? - FC TV: City had their chances - FC TV: Man City grades Kompany knows more than most that it's a team game. Sometimes your teammates atone for your error, and sometimes -- more often than not in his case -- you have to atone for theirs. Most importantly, he knows that titles that others bestow upon you -- best this or best that -- are worthless. Unlike victories on the pitch, they can be taken away at any moment. No excuses for Bayern Munich OK, so last week some (well, me) gave them a pass because they played the kids and the old guys. Just as I gave them a pass in the German Super Cup (Pep Guardiola's first game, experimental formation) and in the Champions League against Arsenal and Manchester City (already through, overconfident, etc.). But there are no excuses for Saturday's 3-0 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund. None. This was pretty darn close to the best possible XI Guardiola could have fielded. And, facing them, a Dortmund team that didn't include the usual gang of perma-injured -- Neven Subotic, Marcel Schmelzer, Ilkay Guendogan, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Sven Bender -- and left both Lukasz Piszczek and Robert Lewandowski on the bench. Credit Jurgen Klopp's crew, who were simply more motivated and showed off a Henrikh Mkhitaryan clearly looking for redemption. But you can't just chalk it up to Dortmund's performance, not when you're humiliated at home like this. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery looked like foreign objects. Mario Goetze only started playing at 3-0 down. And Rafinha, of course, compounded a mediocre performance by losing his cool at the end and needlessly getting sent off for whacking Mkhitaryan in the face. - Schaaf: Tinkering backfires for Guardiola - Buczko: BVB confidence boost "We were poor," Guardiola said, this after losing by a three-goal margin for the first time in his managerial career. "And, obviously, if we play like this, we have no chance against Real Madrid." Time to worry? Maybe not just yet. But it's a fact that Bayern haven't played well since the Hertha Berlin game when they were crowned champions. That was five games ago -- since then, their only win was against Manchester United at home. The best possible thing that could happen now is another competitive game, albeit not the semi with Real Madrid. And that's exactly what they get on Wednesday against Kaiserslautern in the German Cup semifinal. Not a tough opponent, per se, but a game that matters just enough to get the juices flowing again. And hope that this was just a blip. Turning point for Arsenal? Arsene Wenger said the penalty shootout win against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup semifinal was a "turning point" in their season because of the cool, ruthless way in which they won from the spot. That's one way to look at it. Or you can simply say that the four guys who scored from the spot are good at taking penalties and proved it on the day. - Brewin: Three Things from Wembley - McNicholas: Redemption for Fabianski - FC TV: Fight for fourth Before that, there wasn't much to celebrate. Arsenal went a goal down to Jordi Gomez's penalty and showed little to suggest that they were going to get back into the game until midway through the second half, when Wenger did something distinctly un-Wenger-like: he went long-ball. Olivier Giroud joined Yaya Sanogo up front, Per Mertesacker's 6-foot-7 frame advanced into the penalty box, and the aerial assault began. Eventually it yielded a scrambled equalizer, with Arsenal having a chance at winning in extra time when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit the crossbar. Yet this doesn't make it a turning point, at least not in footballing terms. It simply means that Arsenal live to fight another day in the FA Cup Final against Hull City. Had Arsenal finally found their groove playing the Wenger way, maybe you could talk of being over the hump. But they won't be lining up with three giants in the opposing box next time they step on the pitch. If this was a turning point, it was purely psychological. And that's "if" it was even a turning point at all. Martino's tactics backfire badly for Barca Memo to Tata Martino: please don't play Sergio Busquets at centre-back again. Ever. Not because the big man can't do it, but because as good as he is, he can't be in two places at once. And Barcelona -- this version, anyway -- need him in midfield where he can do three things that Alex Song can't do: sniff out danger, provide a disciplined physical presence and keep the ball moving efficiently. The numbers say something can still be salvaged. There's a Copa del Rey final on Wednesday. The gap with Atletico Madrid is four points, but Diego Simeone's crew have to visit the Camp Nou. It's not unthinkable that they might drop another point along the way. (That said, if they do, it's Real Madrid who is most likely to benefit.) - Tomas: Brink of chaos? - Ledwith: Bad week gets worse - Report: Puyol defends under-fire Martino - FC TV: Barca's title hopes dwindle But the 1-0 defeat to Granada was a body blow, well beyond the result, which could in fact have gone the other way -- poor as Barca were, they had enough chances to win. The scary part is the performance. Tata's defensive readjustment was a big part of it. Sure, Marc Bartra, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique were all sidelined. Not good. But you have a whole B-team from which to choose. Frank Bagnack and Sergi Gomez -- one called up by Cameroon, the other with five Spain U-21 appearances to his name -- may be youngsters, but at least they're centre-backs by trade. Or, if you didn't want to do that, play Song at centre-back: against a team that crossed the halfway line half a dozen times it won't make much of a difference. But moving Busquets from the middle of the park is something that should not be done again. Wednesday's Copa del Rey final now looms huge. PSG stumble puts celebrations on ice Paris Saint-Germain's party hasn't been cancelled, it has merely been postponed following Sunday night's 1-0 defeat at Lyon. The gap over Monaco, who won at Rennes, is ten points. There are five games to go, and as such, PSG won't be able to win Ligue 1 mathematically at the Parc des Princes against Evian a week from Wednesday -- unless Claudio Ranieri's men lose at home to Nice next Sunday. Chalk it up to a hangover from the loss at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League and the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic who, domestically at least, is the guy who normally gets PSG out of jams. - Johnson: Tough questions asked in defeat Many -- including yours truly, and I was wrong -- believed that Edinson Cavani would flourish without Ibrahimovic on the pitch. That could yet happen, but thus far he's been a dud with Zlatan out. Next up is the French League Cup final (Lyon again) and then, as we said, wrapping up the league title. There's no reason to think it will end in anything other than a league/Cup double, laboured or not. But it's important for Blanc -- and for his authority, if not his future -- to end the season convincingly. Costa scare mars Atletico win \ "Diego Costa is fine. It's the post we’re worried about." Nothing like some humor to shoo away the terrifying thought that Atletico Madrid's dream season would cruelly hit a humongous road bump -- and Diego Costa going down injured would be akin to finding Ayers Rock along your commute -- so close to the finish line. - Corrigan: Three Things from Atletico's win The Atletico striker collided with the goalpost in his club's 2-0 win at Getafe that preserved their three-point lead at the top of La Liga and, for a while, it did not look good at all. Now that the worry is gone, it's worth reflecting on this: how many center-forwards, on the eve of a World Cup, would put their body in harm's way like that at the end of a game that has virtually already been won? Not many. Costa has intensity and desire. Just like his manager, Diego Simeone. \ No debate over Chico red card All this yakking over whether referee Phil Dowd was talked into sending off Chico Flores at Swansea by the persuasive skills of John Terry ... and for what? Chico took out Andre Schurrle, real simple. It was his second bad foul in the space of 90 seconds. It was the right call. End of story. - FC TV: Red card debate Beyond that, is it a concern that Chelsea could only score once against 10 men and were not particularly impressive? Not really. The Paris Saint-Germain game was physically and emotionally draining. This is not a side that's going to play sparkling, run-up-the-score football at the best of times. The Swansea game was about doing a job, and they did it in their 1-0 win. \ Real react in fine fashion Real Madrid needed a reaction after the insanity against Dortmund in the Champions League, and they got one at Almeria. Most encouragingly, they got one from Angel Di Maria, who opened the scoring in the 4-0 win and turned in a scintillating performance. He, at least, proved that the defeat in the Westfalenstadion was a blip. The victory keeps the heat on Atletico Madrid and allows for some momentum going into Wednesday night's Copa del Rey Clasico. Carlo Ancelotti could not have asked for more. Roma not giving up on Serie A yet It's now seven wins on the bounce for Roma, who beat Atalanta 3-1 on Saturday night. That explains why Rudy Garcia was positively beaming afterwards. Most impressively, they did it without a whole raft of absentees: Mehdi Benatia at the back, Kevin Strootman and Miralem Pjanic in midfield, Mattia Destro up front. The gap with Juventus is now five points, and Roma host Juve on the second-to-last week of the season. Dare to hope? Logic says no. The bianconeri have played one fewer game (they take the field Monday night against Udinese) and Roma's run-in, apart from Juve, includes Fiorentina away and Milan at home. Still, this is Roma's highest-ever points total; higher still than when they won the title with Fabio Capello in 2000-01, and there are five games to go. It's not their fault Juventus have simply been on a different plane for most of the season. That's why Garcia says "I wish this season would never end."

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