Three years after winning the European Championship, Liverpool's gone and done it again by capturing the Copa America. Wonder if there's a date set for the parade yet...
* It was a starring role once again for Luis Suarez, scoring the winning goal and setting up another as Uruguay cruised to a 3-0 victory over Paraguay in a final where for the first time in this year's Copa America a match went something like everybody thought it would. Paraguay's run to the finals, a feat managed without winning a single game while advancing through two knock-out rounds on penalties, was more enjoyable to read about than to witness as they went about making Greece's 2004 European Championship winning side look adventurous by comparison. In the end, though, they ran out of gas against a Uruguayan side finally hitting their stride after a slow start that had them looking at times as though they might not even make it past the group stage.
And in the end, too, Uruguay's resurgent play and resulting victory owed a great deal to player of the tournament Luis Suarez, who strung together a series of exceptional performances in the knock-out rounds. Six months on, and it's hard to remember there was a time some questioned just how good Suarez really was, with Harry Redknapp famously coming out after his transfer to Liverpool and saying that Tottenham had considered bidding for him but just weren't sure that his performances could match his price-tag in the Premier League. A time when people would just say Eredivisie with a knowing look and small shake of their head while recounting the strikers who in the past had failed to impress after moving to England from the Dutch league.
Now he's in the conversation when it comes to the best strikers in the world, while arguably being the best striker currently plying his trade in England—on form at the very least. So for Uruguay, in the end it was a deserved triumph despite a shaky start. And for Suarez it was deserved recognition as player of the tournament after yet another match spent terrorizing defenders with both guile and power.
* Preseason doesn't matter. Everybody says it. It's about getting a run; getting fit; getting familiar. It's about bedding in new players and giving a look to those who may have been passed over in the past. But really, in the end, the games don't count and everybody should just take a step back and not get too worked up about it all.
Except that as Nate from Oh You Beauty shows us, for Liverpool in the past ten years preseason wins and losses have had a strong correlation to Liverpool's hopes for a successful campaign:
Since 2001-02, Liverpool have averaged more than two points per preseason game five times: '01-02, '04-05, '05-06, '07-08, and '08-09. Only once did Liverpool subsequently fail to average at least two points per league game: '04-05 – Benitez' first season – which was Liverpool's second-worst campaign in the last decade (of course, Istanbul somewhat made up for it). Otherwise, the club carried July and August's impressive form into the Premiership.
On those five occasions, Liverpool subsequently finished second, fifth, third, fourth, and second in the league. In the simplest terms possible, averaging more than two points per friendly has seen the club end the season in a Champions League spot 80% of the time.
Conversely, on the five occasions Liverpool has averaged less than two points per game in the preseason, they have only managed a top four finish twice—40% of the time.
With six points in three games so far, they're right on that two points per game marker. And with a visit to Istanbul to face Galatasary coming up on Thursday, preseason might just matter a little more than you thought it did.
* After Thursday's match in Turkey, the next warm-up is set for the following Monday in Oslo, scene of one of last Friday's fundamentalist Christian terrorist attacks. In fact, the government buildings that were bombed in Norway's capital are a scant three miles from Ullevaal Stadium, where Liverpool is expected to face Valerenga to a sell-out crowd of 25,000. Said Ian Ayre of the situation:
Everyone at the football club was shocked to hear the news and see the television pictures coming out of Norway.
Some of our most passionate fans are Norwegian and we count them as friends as well as supporters.
The team is due to play in Norway on August 1. Ahead of that, we want our fans to know we are thinking of them at this terrible time.
Many will have noticed that the players wore black armbands when they faced Hull on Satruday, and though there have been doubts in recent days and the club is said to be actively monitoring the situation, as it stands right now the plan is for the match to go ahead as scheduled.
In rather more upbeat news, Pepe Reina has rejoined training. So that's a good but rather meaningless in the grand scheme of things thing. And, of course, there's always Luis Suarez for when you need a moment of distraction...