By Joe Behan
It’s happening again in the premier. Some of the top teams, Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Leeds and Chelsea, were all beaten last weekend, while Manchester United beat City 1-nil. Leicester were the only team to win in the top flight as they get back into third place, seven points behind Utd., one behind Arsenal.
The word must have gotten around the stadiums throughout the country, during play, that David Beckham had scored a trademark free kick after 94 seconds. Yea, we know, it’s the same old story. But the responses by managers about their defeats are somewhat of a concern; they are blaming everyone but themselves.
Houllier chastises his players
Liverpool knew exactly what they had to do as they played a day later in the league. Gerard Houllier accused his multinational Liverpool defense of being "childish" and accused them of costing his side the leadership of the Premiership. Slow down, Mr. Houllier, you, after all, are their father figure and it’s you who runs the show. The Pool defense did give away two soft goals that handed Spurs and George Graham a desperately needed win. Mr. Houllier hinted that his side is not ready to mount a title challenge. He has been saying this for a while, but maybe he means he is not ready for the title.
"We just have to blame ourselves again. We made two childish defensive mistakes and that is why we are left with no points again," he said.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Robbie Fowler put Liverpool ahead, great to see him back, but Stephane Henchoz and Markus Babbel were the culprits for the goals against as they showed inexperience at the back again.
Houllier noted it’s a recurring theme, soft goals against, and although Liverpool has to look at it as a learning process, he admitted that the Merseysiders are not ready to compete at the highest level. The Liverpool boss compared that Man. Utd. were under pressure and kept a clean sheet while his side were never really tested.
Forget about Utd. for the moment, Gerard. They are not going to fix your defensive problems. Liverpool has conceded 21 goals so far this season and 50 percent of these goals were soft giveaways. While the back line usually get the stick for such stats, the team defense is more suspect, and perhaps it’s time to implement a new defensive system.
For example, Liverpool may not be the continental team that they think they are and they need to work a lot harder before the ball gets to their box. What’s probably more of an eyesore for Liverpool is the fact that they have scored first 11 times in 14 games. Ability to hold on to leads is a true sign of a contender; ability to put teams away is the sign of a champion. Liverpool’s problem is not necessarily their defense. If they speed up their counterattack, things might change. If they close down players quicker, fewer balls would threaten the back line. Now that’s more like Utd.
Houllier should keep it low profile, get it right, and then talk about how he fixed what was wrong. Calling his side "childish" is not the way to go. His comparisons to Man. Utd. reads that he is conceding yet another season for the title. Come, Gerard, you can do it, at least let the lads have some fun. Isn’t that the reason why we play this childlike game in the first place?
Arsenal lose tradition
Arsene Wenger’s Gunners were beaten 2-nil and the French manager dug deep for the excuse that his players "may have been preoccupied with thoughts of this week’s Champions League resumption." He claimed that his side should be steamrolling over the likes of Everton.
Wenger was gunned down a little and his comments were harsh, to say the least, of his team. The Arsenal manager acknowledged that, "If you drop five points against Derby and Everton, you cannot pretend everything is OK and start hoping for too much. Even when you are not at your most fluent, you should be able to break down defenses like theirs, and you have to question why we failed both times. Our minds seemed to be too much on the Champions League and that is very bad. It is not acceptable to me because it has left us five points behind Manchester United."
Wenger, the intellect, does rate his side quite highly and perhaps overlooked playing against a side full of passion and unknowns. He definitely overlooked the goals scored against Arsenal, the defensive tradition that Arsenal need to put back in at Highbury Road, and on the road, to contend for the title.
Villa’s manager John Gregory ran amuck on his team during halftime when his side was hit by two goals in two minutes by Southampton’s James Beattie. Gregory’s anger was specifically directed at Paul Merson and Steve Stone. Villa striker Julian Joachim revealed it was one of the worst halftime talks he had since he came to the club. "The manager really gave it to us," he said. "It was the angriest I’ve seen him and we all deserved it, too."
The manner in which players were taken off the field suggested that there are issues with players and management. But Gregory’s excuses are to do with the club spending money on players.
"What I want is what is the best for the club," Gregory said. "We need to strengthen the squad, and not just in the striking areas. We’re asking an awful lot from a small number of players."
Gregory could start with buying a goalkeeper, which may save much headache he is going through. Not having a goalkeeper to compete against David James for first team football is the key area for Aston Villa to begin. The England goalkeeper whose suspect approach off the line allowed Beattie to float home his first goal.
Put a sock in it
It’s typical that managers go over the top after defeats. The contenders know that Utd. could open a gap, the real concern, and that’s not good for football in general. While it is important to let the players know they need to pull their socks up, it is more important for the manager to realize the socks might be on players who are not good enough. Sometimes managers may be better off saying nothing until they get it right.