Could this season have started worse for Liverpool? Is it time for Liverpool to cut ties with Brendan Rodgers? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for Liverpool fans? Let’s start by rolling back the clock to late April. Liverpool were top of the Barclay’s Premier League table and in control of their fate. They had a great chance to end their title drought. The team was attacking at will and scoring for fun. They were led by Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez up front and Stevie G in the midfield. A young speedy winger was starting to become a star in Raheem Sterling. Brendan Rodgers seemed like a tactical genius. While they would struggle at the end of the season, dropping points to Chelsea and then the fatal collapse to Crystal Palace, all signs pointed to another quality campaign with Liverpool in Champions League and poised to challenge for the title. Then the summer happened. Luis Suarez bit Chellini and moved to Barcelona. Liverpool brought in a whole host of players that they felt could help take them to the next level, including Lallana, Lambert, Moreno, Lovren, Can, and Markovic. The team started the season with a good 2-1 victory over Southampton, but the signs were there. This team could be successful, but would struggle at times due to their defense. Then two moments happened that really shaped the season. First was the purchase of Mario Balotelli. This hot-headed player was in need of a new location, but this was not the right place. He has failed to impress, and now Liverpool must look to other options at striker. The second moment, and what I think is truly the reason Liverpool failed to qualify for the knockout stage, was Daniel Sturridge’s first injury while with England. This meant that Liverpool would enter the Champions League missing 50 goals they had scored last year between Sturridge and Suarez. Brendan Rodgers needs to figure out what he is doing without Suarez and Sturridge quickly. I do not think it is time for Rodgers to go. I think he needs to figure out this team and his team selection, and make a push for the fourth spot in the table. This will be of vital importance. However, if I am sitting down to write the blog in a year and Liverpool are in the same spot they are in now, then I will say it is time for him to go.
On Tuesday there were some fascinating games that took place. Real Madrid won their 19th game in a row when they beat Ludogorets 4-0. They were already group winners before the match, but have now won every game in the group stage. As mentioned previously, Basel advanced with their 1-1 draw at Anfield. Dortmund drew 1-1 with Anderlecht to win the group and send Arsenal, despite their 4-1 victory, into the runner’s up group. Juventus got the point they needed to advance, but they are also in the runner’s up group. Monaco needed to win to advance and got all 3 points against Zenit. That victory, coupled with Bayer Leverkusen, means that Monaco are the group winners.
Manchester City have gone to Rome and come away with the big prize! They will advance as runner’s up in their group. Bayern Munich helped them out by beating Moscow 3-0. In the battle for the top spot in the group, Barcelona finally showed what their attacking trident can do as Messi, Neymar and Suarez all scored. Zlatan gave PSG an early lead, before Messi equalized in the first half. Ajax won 4-0 to guarantee their spot in the Europa League. Schalke got the help they needed from Chelsea and beat Maribor 1-0. Sporting needed to win but couldn’t as they lost to Chelsea 3-1. Athletic Bilbao got themselves into the Europa League with their 2-0 win over BATE while Shakhtar was able to draw in Porto 1-1.
For the round of 16, Group winners are matched with a Group Runner Up. You cannot be matched up with a team from your group or your country. The 8 group winners are Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munchen, Barcelona, Chelsea, and Porto. The 8 runner’s up are Juventus, Basel, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Schalke, Shaktar Donetsk.
The draw will take place on Monday. The difference between winning the group and finishing second is huge, and not more noticeable than who Barcelona can play (Juventus, Basel, Leverkusen, Arsenal, Man City, Schalke, and Shakhtar). Whereas PSG faces much tougher possible opponents (Atleico, Real Madrid, Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, and Porto). If PSG would have won or drawn in the Camp Nou, Barcelona would have faced one of these 5 teams: Dortmund, Munich, Chelsea, Porto, or Monaco. These teams present a much greater challenge than who they can face now.
The eight teams that will enter the Europa League are Olympiacs, Liverpool, Zenit, Anderlecht, Roma, Ajax, Sporting Lisbon, and Athletic Bilbao.
In Germany, the surprise team of the year, FC Augsburg, will host Bayern Munich. They currently sit in third place but are 12 points behind Munich. Wolfsburg hosts Paderborn on Sunday, as they look to keep pace with Bayern Munich. Bayer Leverkusen will look to get back to their winning ways as they host Monchengladbach. Dortmund will look to win 2 in a row, as they travel to Berlin to play Hertha.
In Italy, Roma will look to rebound from their Champions League exit with a win at Genoa. Genoa sits in third place and should put up a big fight in what has to be the matchup of the weekend in Italy. Juventus host Sampdoria as they look to stay atop the league. A big-time midtable clash will take place in Napoli as Rafa Benitez hosts AC Milan. Both teams will hope to use this match as a springboard up the table.
In France, PSG must pick up the pieces following the 3-1 defeat at Barcelona. They could not have a better opponent for this in Guingamp. They have only won 6 of the 17 games this year, losing the rest. Monaco will look to reignite their Champions League place campaign with a victory over Marseille. Marseille sit 1 point above PSG and need to keep matching their results.
In Spain, Real Madrid travel to Almeria, as they will look to extend their lead to 5 points on Friday. Barcelona also get to travel and will look to close the gap back, if Real Madrid should extended their win streak to 20. Barcelona faces off with Getafe. Atletico Madrid is also in the title race, and they will look to keep pace on Sunday as they host Villareal.
In England, the biggest rivalry in the country takes place on Sunday when Manchester United host Liverpool. Manchester United are this year’s version of Liverpool last year. They are not playing in Europe and have been using the time off to focus on the league and getting back to Europe. They currently sit in 4th place and are 7 points ahead of Liverpool. Liverpool will look to get back into the race with 4 points and a vital win against their rivals. Arsenal hosts Newcastle as one of these teams will be placed right back in the thick of the top 4 races. Chelsea hopes to get back to winning ways as they host Hull City. Man City will look to capitalize on their Champions League victory as they travel to bottom of the table, Leicester City. I think this could be the weekend that leads to our first sacking of the season…see last weeks blog. My money is on Nigel Pearson, who is the current favorite as 11/10, but if Rodgers cannot get the win this weekend it could be him at 5/1.
EPL Pick ‘Em
Current Score – Buzz 100 – Me 92
My Picks – Saints 2-1, Chelsea 2-0, Stoke 1-1, Man City 2-0, West Ham 1-0, Villa 2-2, Arsenal 2-1, United 2-1, Swans 2-1, Everton 2-0
Buzz’s Picks – Chelsea 3-1, City 2-0, hammers 2-1, Stoke 1-1, saints 2-1, Villa 1-1, gunners 2-1, united 2-1, Swans 2-2, Everton 2-1