Why Brendan Rodgers’ team selection was wrong

Brendan Rodgers got it wrong last night. Simple as that. Yes, it was “only” a 1-0 defeat. Yes, some of the replacements had decent games. But none of this should detract from the simple fact: Liverpool went to Real in Europe’s greatest club competition, and they put out a bunch of reserves. Liverpool were last in the Champions League in the 2009-2010 under Rafa Benitez, and they have tried ever so hard to get back into the competition ever since. The irony is that now they have, their manager decides to rest 5 key players for a key Premier League fixture against Chelsea on Saturday. This is not how it should be and here are a few reasons why:

  1. The Champions League should be respected. Both Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho have both made thinly veiled criticisms of Rodgers’ team selection in the last couple of days and good on them to be honest. If Rodgers had actually decided to give it a go then who knows what the end result might have been? They sit third in their group and will take any points they can get, so it is entirely logical to play your first team when travelling to the Cup holders, and in Rodgers’ view, “probably the world’s best team.”
  1. Chelsea don’t play until tonight, which gives Liverpool an extra day of rest for their forthcoming league game. I’m no expert, but shouldn’t professional athletes be able to play 2 games within the space of 5 days? None of the Madrid players looked too exhausted despite playing the same amount of games so far this season.
  1. Many fans and pundits alike tried to justify the selection by claiming that some of the replacements played well, but the bottom line is that they lost. Lallana, Lucas, Borini and Toure can probably come away pretty happy with their individual performances, but if you think that someone like Markovic looked every inch a 20m pound player, then you are kidding yourself I’m afraid. In fact, Rodgers spent 110m on new players this summer, and can you honestly say that any of them have lived up to expectations, barring maybe Alberto Moreno?
  1. It’s an insult to the fans who have travelled miles to see their club take on the European Champions. I’m sure they had expected Liverpool to have a right go at Real Madrid, but I can imagine when they saw the team sheet that those expectations turned to wishful dreams. Liverpool had a total of 3 shots in the game, while Cristiano Ronaldo alone had 7 more than that.

All in all, a poor decision by Brendan Rodgers with regards to his team selection. People will say that his decision will be vindicated if they beat Chelsea on Saturday, but they have more chance of finding a one-ended stick than doing that.

A profile of Abdul Rahman Baba (Augsburg)

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In recent months, left-backs have become ever more popular in Europe as clubs look for some attacking impetus from the back. Amongst the top clubs, Man United (Rojo and Shaw), Chelsea (Filipe Luis), Barcelona (Mathieu) and Bayern Munich (Bernat) have all invested in a left-back over the summer and it’s no surprise to see some talented youngsters being the subject of transfer rumours in recent times. In the Bundesliga, Ricardo Rodriguez has been lauded heavily for over a year now, and the 22-year-old Wolfsburg defender has lived up to the hype this season, scoring 3 times and grabbing 1 assist in 8 league appearances. However there is a lesser known quantity excelling at one of the league’s least heralded clubs. Welcome to Abdul Rahman Baba, of Augsburg.

A little over 2 years ago, Baba was playing for Asante Kotoko in his home country Ghana. 2 seasons spent at minnows Greuther Fürth helped the 20-year-old adapt to European football, and in August of this year he transferred to Augsburg for the sum of just over £2m. He has taken no time at all to settle into his new team.

As a fresh-faced 18-year-old, he started slowly at Greuther Fürth (he received a red card on his debut), but grew into his surroundings and finished his first season as arguably his side’s best performer, as they ended up rock bottom of the league. A similarly successful second season in the second division (Greuther Fürth finished 3rd but lost out on promotion in a play-off) had many clubs clamouring for his signature and it was FC Augsburg who won the battle for the youngster.

In the tradition of modern full-backs, Baba loves to attack down the flank and has 3 assists to his name this season (2 coming in a narrow defeat against last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund). 42% of Augsburg’s attacks have come from his side (the highest in the Bundesliga), highlighting his importance to the side. He relies on pace to beat opponents, however this is not to say he isn’t skilful

Even for an attacking player, Baba does not shirk away from his defensive responsibilities. He has, so far this season, averaged 4.7 tackles per game (second only to Hamburg’s Valon Behrami) and an impressive 3.2 interceptions and 3.3 clearances on average. This kind of defensive skillset is sure to impress potential buyers in the future.

Baba is very comfortable at taking the ball out of the defence and dribbling is one of the strongest aspects of his game, with FIFA describing him as a “competitive left-sided defender with excellent technique and forceful attacking runs.” He has a dribbling success rate of over 80%, which compares with some of the Bundesliga’s best players.

The young Ghanaian can also boast some tremendous fitness levels, while he is also very level-headed and knows exactly what is best for him, stating his reason to sign for Greuther Fürth as “the best decision for my career.”

For a player so young and raw, there are of course a few weaknesses that he needs to iron out if he is to make it at a top European club. For a start, a pass success rate of just 59.9% is not good enough, especially for a defender – this low percentage may be down to some adventurous passing but this is still certainly something he needs to work on.

Baba may need to start to build some more muscle too, as he is occasionally knocked off the ball all too easily. At just 70kg and standing at almost 6ft, it would certainly benefit him in the long term if he began to bulk out, but to be fair to him, it is normal for this kind of criticism to be aimed at a 20-year-old and time will certainly help him in this respect.

The Ghana under-20 captain has come a long, long way in the last few years and if he carries on his impressive rise and continues to learn, who’s to say he won’t outgrow Augsburg soon and be on the transfer wish-lists of some of Europe’s top clubs.

Stats courtesy of whoscored.com

1860 Munich: The Beginning to 1966

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Ask someone about football in Munich and they’ll inevitably think of Bayern Munich, the most successful team in German football history. Winners of 24 national league titles and 17 national cups, Bayern have dominated German football for a long time now and have also won the European Cup (or its equivalent) 5 times. However, despite their long and successful history, Bayern are not the oldest team in their country, let alone in their own city. That title belongs to TSV 1860 Munich, also known as Die Löwen (The Lions).

Die Löwen have in fact won the Bundesliga once, in the same year of England’s greatest ever footballing achievement (1966 if you didn’t know) and have triumphed in the DFB Pokal (German cup) on two occasions. They also currently play their home matches in the Allianz Arena, the same stadium as their illustrious neighbours, with an average attendance of about 20,000 and have been in Bundesliga 2 since 2004. This is their story.

Football clubs in Germany often have a slightly more complicated history than their counterparts in England. First and foremost, football is far from the only sport played by most clubs (for example, you can play table tennis and handball for Bayern Munich) and this is why the dates of their foundation become a little controversial.

It is said that the story of 1860 Munich actually started in a pub in 1848, when a group of men decided to establish a gymnastics club, however they were banned only one year later by the Bavarian monarchy and it was another 11 years until they re-formed. As you can probably guess by their name, Munich’s second club was formed in 1860 as Turnverein München (“Munich gymnastics club”). The priorities of many clubs at that time were physical fitness and gymnastics, while nobody in Germany had ever even heard of football and it would take almost another 20 years for the country’s first “football” club to be formed.

The football department of 1860 Munich was not actually established until 1899, just a year before their more famous neighbours and it was three years before they played their first match. They slowly began to climb the leagues of Bavaria and made appearances in the latter stages of the national cup during the 1930s, reaching the semi-finals twice and the final once, losing a close match to Hertha Berlin in 1932. Die Sechzger (“The Sixty’ers”) participated in the Gauliga Bayern between 1933 and 1944, winning it on two occasions in 1941 and ’43. The league was forced to shut down at the end of the Nazi era, with the last game coincidentally being a Munich derby, the blue half losing 3-2.

It is odd to think that football was still played even during the Second World War, although player shortages and transport difficulties obviously had a severe effect. The tumultuous nature of the time rendered the league pretty much meaningless during the war, unfortunately the period when 1860 won their two titles. Most players were called up to serve their country and as such ended up player for military representative sides. The German national team continued to play as well, playing a total of 35 matches during the war.
Up until 1963, there was actually no national league in Germany, only regional divisions, which ended with the respective winners playing for the German championship. Ironically, the only team from Munich present in the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963 was 1860 and not Bayern (the German football association would not allow two teams from the same city into the league). Three years later, with the Austrian Max Meyer as their manager, came their greatest success to date of course, finishing just ahead of Borussia Dortmund and their city rivals to win their only league title to date. Key players in the success were Friedhelm Konietzka, Peter Grosser and Rudolf Brunnenmeier, who provided 49 goals between them. The title-winning squad of ’66 are still heralded by today’s fans and rightly so.

Munich’s blue team have also come agonizingly close to winning the European Cup Winners Cup, when they lost the final to West Ham United in 1965. Unfortunately they have never been as close since, and are extremely unlikely to match this feat in the near future.

Die Löwen began playing in the Grünwalder stadium, built in 1911, and played there until 1972 when the Olympics came to Munich. The stadium has a capacity of just over 10,000 and still exists today, although only youth teams and Bayern Munich’s female team currently play there.

The fact that they share a stadium with Bayern has always been rather controversial, and 1860 are in fact currently looking for other places to play their matches in the future. As they are the only professional clubs in the city, there has long been a rivalry between the two clubs in Munich, however due to the chasm in quality, it has not been as fierce as you might think. In the next part I will be focusing on the history of this rivalry and how the city of Munich feels today about these two clubs.

The Sacking of Darko Milanic

32 Days. That is how long Leeds United’s most recent manager lasted in charge of the club. After just 6 winless games, Darko Milanic was sacked on Saturday evening by their ruthless owner Massimo Cellino. His spell makes Brian Clough’s time in charge (44 days) look like a Sir Alex Ferguson-style reign as he becomes the latest casualty at the Championship side, where former caretaker Neil Redfearn will take over permanently. Milanic’s predecessor David Hockaday managed just 6 games (2 wins and 4 defeats), before caretaker boss Redfearn took over and won 3 of his 4 games in charge but was not given the job full-time. It has to be asked, what on earth is going on at Leeds United?

At the centre of all this stands the owner Massimo Cellino, the 58-year old entrepreneur and former owner of Cagliari. He was known to be merciless while at the Italian club, and sacked 36 managers in just 22 years, earning himself the nickname  Il mangiatore di direttore, “The Manager Eater.” This culture of short-termism has travelled with him, but Leeds fans will hope Redfearn is given time and the resources to improve the club’s position in the league, where they currently sit 18th and are precariously just 5 points off the relegation zone.

Just hours before Milanic was given his marching orders, Cellino actually defended his manager’s position in a press-conference before producing a not-unusual turnaround (Cellino has history in this respect). Leeds United’s first ever non-British or Irish manager had a dismal time in charge, but to think that 32 days is enough for someone to implement their ideas and have a great influence on a side is nigh on ludicrous. The Championship team may have scored just 4 goals in their 6 games under the Slovenian, but they did manage 3 draws and it is hard to put the club’s problems at the foot of the former international. 2 of the 3 losses came by just a one-goal margin, while his side conceded 8 goals in his time. Justifying the sacking is a hard task. Most football fans would agree that the least a boss can be given is a transfer window to buy players who they themselves want and who fit their system and sadly Milanic has been denied this opportunity.

It is a sad state of affairs that short-termism is becoming more and more embedded in English football culture, with ever more impatient owners demanding immediate success. In fact, only 7 managers from 24 clubs in the Championship have lasted longer than a year, with Steve Evans currently the longest-serving boss after 2 years and 201 days in charge of Rotherham United. This trend of sacking managers as soon as results don’t go their way is a real shame and sadly Leeds United are one of the main culprits. Hopefully, under Neil Redfearn, that will change.

Gary Rowett: A Profile of the new Birmingham boss

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Finding themselves second bottom of the Championship and with the league’s worst goal difference is not where Birmingham fans hoped their club would lie after 14 games. The Blues hit rock bottom on Saturday when they suffered an 8-0 home defeat by Bournemouth (the biggest defeat in their history), just days after previous manager Lee Clark was sacked after a poor run of results. Just this afternoon, 40-year-old Gary Rowett has taken over on a permanent basis.

Rowett leaves Burton Albion after just over 5 years at the club, 2 of which were spent as manager. The Bromsgrove-born boss was also an accomplished defender in his time, playing for a variety of clubs across England, including Birmingham where he played for 2 seasons. Rowett finished his playing career at Burton Albion and returned as assistant to Paul Peschisolido in 2009.

His time in charge of Burton can only be considered a success – two top-6 place finishes in his two seasons in charge represents a good return for the 40-year-old in his first managerial position, even if they never made it past the play-offs (last season they lost the final to Fleetwood Town). They are doing even better this time around, sitting in 3rd place after 15 matches.

One of his first tasks in charge of Birmingham will be to lift the players’ spirits, not an easy task considering how poorly the side have played this season. His lack of managerial experience should not hinder him however, as he is considered to be one of the brightest of a young crop of Football League managers.

The Blues find themselves severely restricted financially, so Rowett will most likely have to do his best with the current squad and rely on loans to bring players in (like those of Brek Shea and Grant Hall from Stoke and Tottenham respectively). This represents a tremendous downfall for a club who won the League Cup in 2011 and found themselves in the Premier League as recently as 3 years ago. A combination of poor ownership and bad management has led to their current situation, however most fans will back Rowett to stabilise the club and to steer them clear of the relegation zone.

England’s World Cup Squad – Goalkeepers

With just under 100 days to go until the start of the World Cup in Brazil, and after a very unconvincing 1-0 victory over Denmark on Wednesday, it seems like an appropriate time to assess England’s team. The usual pessimism that surrounds an England team at the time of a major tournament is beginning to kick in, with some going so far as to create an online petition, suggesting that Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley be banned from going to the World Cup on the back of some highly unimpressive performances for club and country.

Unfortunately, the match against Denmark did not seem to provide too many conclusions, creating even more selection headaches it seems. Luke Shaw and Ashley Cole are neck and neck for the back-up left-back spot, while Jack Wilshere’s injury now puts his place in the squad up in the air. Jordan Henderson played well in an advanced midfield role, while Lallana impressed after coming on as well.

Goalkeepers

Despite being dropped by Manchester City earlier on in the campaign, Joe Hart is the undisputed first-choice for England. He has recovered well from that disappointment to put in some good performances for his club in recent times and that can only bode well for the World Cup. However, who should be the second and third choices?

Fraser Forster has had an excellent campaign at Celtic and it looks like he will be on the plane to Brazil. The 25-year-old has only one cap to his name but has been breaking all sorts of records in Scotland this season (including keeping 13 consecutive clean sheets in the league.) His form has not gone unnoticed, with England manager Roy Hodgson stating, “I must say I am really pleased for Fraser to break the Scottish clean sheet record. It is a great achievement and he deserves it because he’s been playing very well.” I believe that Forster should be Hart’s understudy in Brazil, something which he has all the qualities for.

It seems as if there is a direct battle between John Ruddy, Ben Foster and Jack Butland for one place in the squad. The latter is still very young and does not have much top-flight experience, which would rule him out if I were picking the squad. However, the likelihood of needing the third-choice keeper at any point in the tournament is doubtful, and so many are calling for him to go to Brazil to “gain experience.” This has not proved so successful in the past (think Theo Walcott in 2006) and so I still would not pick Butland.

Foster has been playing relatively well recently for West Brom, as has Ruddy for Norwich. Foster has only played 13 matches this season because of injury, while Ruddy has played every one of Norwich’s 28 Premier League games so far, conceding 43 goals in the process. For me, there is barely anything between them, but I would go for Ruddy as he has been in slightly better form and has played more this season, meaning his fitness will probably be better. Unfortunately though, third-choice goalkeeper is arguably the most useless in the entire squad, with a very slim chance of playing.

Picked: Joe Hart, Fraser Forster, John Ruddy

Luke Shaw vs Ashley Cole

We already know that Leighton Baines will travel to Brazil as part of England’s World Cup squad, however there is a battle going on for which the other left-back should be. Should Roy Hodgson pick Luke Shaw, the teenage Southampton defender, or Ashley Cole, Chelsea and England stalwart for over a decade but seemingly on the way down?

The players are on a very equal footing, however it is utterly pointless comparing an 18-year-old upstart to a 33-year-old who has been a stallion for club(s) and country for over a decade now. I realise that players shouldn’t be judged on what they have achieved in the past, rather on their current form and fitness, but suggesting that Ashley Cole is past it is somewhat ludicrous. Yes, he has lost his place to Cesar Azpilicueta (a right-footed left-back) in the Chelsea team but when he has been called upon, he has more than played his part. His past three starts in the Chelsea shirt came against Stoke, Hull and Southampton and he excelled in all of these games, even grabbing an assist against Hull.

The idea that he has lost some of his pace is also without proof, and although he bombs forward slightly less frequently than when at his peak, this is a man who Roy Hodgson recently described as having unbelievable stamina and fitness, despite not being a regular for his club side. Despite several off-field misdemeanours in the past, Cole is extremely serious when it comes to his football. The former Arsenal defender is well known to be an extremely hard worker at the training ground (when he’s not busy shooting interns with BB guns) and he will obviously give it his absolute all if called upon for Chelsea or England.

Many people say that we should look to the future if these players cannot be separated on a performance-related level. However the past has shown this is not a brilliant idea. Theo Walcott was taken to the World Cup in 2006 as a 17-year-old, did not play a single minute and suffered over the next couple of years under the weight of enormous expectation. He has in the last few years come into his own at Arsenal, however the World Cup was too early for him and even he has made that clear since. Shaw has played more football than Walcott at that stage, and he is a year older, but he could suffer under the weight of pressure that comes with being an England international. Letting him stay back while Cole and Baines head off to Brazil would be a good idea, while he has many years ahead of him to improve and learn from others. Give him a couple of years and I am sure that he will be 1st or 2nd choice for Euro 2016.

The main reason I would pick Cole over Shaw is his experience. Were Leighton Baines to pick up an injury at any stage of the tournament, would you rather have an 18-year-old upstart with 45 minutes of international football under his belt or a 33-year-old who has won everything there is to win at English club level (including a record 7 FA Cups)? Pressure is an odd phenomenon, and something that can affect people in vastly different ways. Cole has shown in the past that he can handle the pressure of a major tournament, while Shaw has played a very limited number of matches under pressure, and so it is difficult to say how he would handle a match of such importance. This is why I would pick Cole over Shaw every time.

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