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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 14 hours ago
Read
Aug 27, 2012

Does Modric move make sense for Real?

Luka Modric became a Real Madrid player just a few hours after the club's 2-1 defeat at Getafe, which makes it hard not to juxtapose the two. Which is silly, of course, because this deal has been months in the making, yet that's how the human mind works.

Would Modric have made a difference against Getafe?

Probably not, especially if you listen to Jose Mourinho's withering assessment of his team. "We were bad," he said. "It was an unacceptable game and, from what I had been analyzing, I was not surprised. We totally deserved the defeat."

Real took the lead in the first half through Gonzalo Higuain, but Getafe equalized when Valera popped up between Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos on a free kick and headed it past Higuain. Abdelaziz Barrada would later score the winner for Getafe on the counterattack.

"Recently we have worked more than ever on defensive organization from dead balls," Mourinho said. "If then there is a player who does not do his job, that is something you cannot work on."

Was that a not-so-veiled pop at Alonso? And is it somewhat ominous, as some have suggested, since Modric happens to play the same position?

Maybe, maybe not. It's hard to imagine Real Madrid without Alonso right now; more likely, he and Ramos simply miscommunicated. But Real Madrid's defending on dead balls is only part of the reason it lost.

Mourinho himself didn't help matters by sending on Karim Benzema for Lassana Diarra at the hour mark. It was meant to boost Real's attacking impetus so it could go for the winner. Instead, all it did was clog the final third of the pitch and leave the team woefully undermanned at the back. The midfield was bypassed and there was little cover for the back, leaving Madrid open to Getafe's counterattack. Raul Albiol had to defend in open space -- which is most definitely not where you want him -- and Adrian Colunga (who may or may not have handled the ball) easily spun away from him and set up Barrada's winner.

No need to panic, though the gap from Barcelona already stands at 5 points. But next time, Mourinho may want to show a little more faith in his starting XI before rolling the dice on the classic attacker-for-defensive midfielder move.


Liverpool, like Real, is another side closer to the bottom of the table with just one point after two games. Yet things feel different at Anfield following the 2-2 draw with Manchester City, not least because the draw was a direct result of individual errors (and you can't legislate for those) and because of the performance of two youngsters, Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling.

Both are drawing rave reviews and rightly so. Allen is 22, Sterling just 17, yet the former ran the midfield without a shred of fear or hesitation against the likes of Yaya Toure and Nigel de Jong, while the latter oozed confidence and poise plus a whole box of tricks out on the wing.

Brendan Rodgers knows he can't expect these guys to play this way every week. There will be bumps in the road; at that age, consistency is a rare quality. But if he can get the pieces right around them, the future looks bright.


Goal-line officials -- or additional assistant referees, as UEFA likes to call them -- will be used at every Serie A match this season. And they had an immediate impact on Saturday, when Juventus hosted Parma.

It was the AAR who awarded Juventus' penalty (which Arturo Vidal missed). And it was the AAR who spotted that Andrea Pirlo's free kick had crossed the line after being smothered by Parma goalkeeper Antonio Mirante.

The additional officials are often mocked for "doing nothing." In fact, FIFA rules mandate that they not make any gestures or signals. Rather, they are to communicate with the referee only via radio. The reality is that they're an invaluable extra set of eyes. Here's hoping that if, and when, goal-line technology comes in, the powers that be won't see the two as mutually exclusive.


I'm a big fan of Javi Martinez, but I wonder if, at those figures -- around $50 million -- he's really what Bayern needs. Jupp Heynckes' crew seemed to sleepwalk through the first half of their Bundesliga debut against Greuter Furth before rolling to a comfortable 3-0 win. And that was without Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez and with Bastian Schweinsteiger coming off the bench.

With Dante in to bolster the back four, Xherdan Shaqiri adding more quality to the midfield, and Emre Can -- the man whom Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness describes as "the future" -- making his first-team debut in the German Cup, there seems to be enough in the areas where Javi Martinez operates. Bottom line: $50 million for a holding midfielder/center back is a lot even given his age (he turns 24 next month) and undoubted talent.

You can't help but wonder whether this isn't some kind of "statement transfer" Bayern is trying to pull off, or whether the money couldn't be best spent elsewhere.


Chelsea have scored eight Premier League goals this season. Eden Hazard has scored one himself, won the penalty for two others and set up the other five. Not only did he even get Fernando Torres to score, but he put a smile back on his face as well. For now at least, he's more than repaying his enormous transfer fee.

If there is a silver lining to Wayne Rooney's injury -- a two-month layoff -- it's that Sir Alex Ferguson won't need to rush him back. United have an embarrassment of riches up front: Robin Van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck and, for now at least, Dimitar Berbatov. The latter three could be forgiven for wondering if they'd ever get on the pitch given the RVP-Rooney partnership most had imagined.

This is an opportunity for Sir Alex to give them a runout, see how they mesh with Van Persie, and draw his own conclusions.

It's curious, too, to note what happened the last time Rooney missed significant playing time, from mid-October to late November in 2010-11. United went on a tear, winning six games and drawing two. And remember, back then, Sir Alex's strike force was limited to Berbatov, Hernandez, Michael Owen and Federico Macheda. You wonder if now, like then, he can't turn a negative into a positive.

Gabriele Marcotti is a London-based journalist and broadcaster who covers world soccer. He is the author of three books, the world soccer columnist for The Times of London and a correspondent for the Italian daily Corriere dello Sport. You can catch him on ESPN Press Pass and read him here twice a week. Follow him on Twitter: @marcotti.

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