Friday, November 10, 2006

In which we pretend that the Carling Cup is important

Manchester United 0-1 Southend
United getting knocked out isn't such a big problem -- especially if they're putting together a serious challenge for the Premiership title this year, they can do just as well without the additional distraction. The problem is how they lost: beaten by a team that's propping up the bottom of the Championship table. A team that they should have beaten easily, even without their first string players.

It's starting to look like the United B-team just isn't good enough. You can cut them a little bit of slack because they're not used to playing with this lineup, but that excuse only goes so far, particularly for guys who are training together day in, day out. I shudder to think what'll happen if the team gets hit by a bunch of injuries and they have to use players like O'Shea, Richardson and Fletcher on a regular basis.

The first priority on their shopping list for the January transfer window still has to be a defensive midfielder. But after that I think they need another striker -- preferably one who's more than 5-foot nothing -- and a winger. Cut your losses and bring in some players who don't frighten the fans when they come off the bench.

Liverpool 1-0 Birmingham
The good: They won. The bad: Losing Momo Sissoko for three months with a shoulder injury.

It's going to force Rafa to confront the issue of whether to play Gerrard in the middle, or to leave him out on the right and play Bolo Zenden in the centre instead. It's a question of how to maximise your team's resources, and I can understand if he thinks that Alonso + Sissoko + Gerrard is better than, say, Alonso + Gerrard + Pennant. But I'm not so sure the equation works if you substitute Zenden for Momo. He may be a more defensive player than Gerrard, but he's also somewhat limited.

I think a big part of the dilemma is that Liverpool's wingers just aren't good enough. (Which raises the question of why they bothered to buy Pennant and Gonzalez in the first place, but anyway...) Compare their midfield to Man United, where the first-choice team seems to have Carrick and Scholes in the centre -- no defensive midfielder -- and they're thriving. That's because they've got quality in all of their attacking players. If Liverpool had somebody like Giggs or Ronaldo on the wings, I'll bet Rafa would be a lot more likely to move Steven back into the middle.

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