A few bits and pieces ahead of the visit to Old Trafford.
First, thanks to all who chimed in with their thoughts after yesterday's match. Fox Soccer Report provided nothing I hadn't seen already, so I was still starved for meaningful second-half action. Sounds like consensus remains that it was a better second-half performance, but not something that completely wipes away concerns folks have had.
Individually, I'd guess you have to be heartened by Joe Cole's return and the continued emergence of David Ngog. The former was apparently as good as we've seen this year...granted, he's been MIA for a month, but he showed plenty of the creativity and skill that was expected upon his arrival. It's tough to tell how he fits best---with Raul Mereiles' arrival you'd think that Steven Gerrard pushes further up, and with Dirk Kuyt still injured I wouldn't be surprised to have Cole play wide. I think there's little doubt that Liverpool's best eleven includes Cole, but figuring out where might be a challenge.
And there's not much left to say about the development of Ngog, who's scored six goals already this season (yes, I know three came against Rabotnicki) and looks a world away from the player he was upon arriving. He's stronger, better in the air, and looks more confident. Again, could be a product of the opposition he's faced, but he also scored the only goal against Arsenal and has to be pushing for more regular time. I can't think of a worse position for him to be in, as it's tough to see him getting past a fully-fit and on-form Fernando Torres. Probably not fair, but that's likely how it plays out. Continuing to play like has can't hurt, though.
Right on cue, then, that the main news of the day is focused on the return of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres ahead of Sunday's match. Which is all well and good, even if it's what we expected. But for me, this is the same thing as pinning our hopes on the ghost of Xabi Alonso. Nevermind how effective it was in March of 2009.
You can't question that they're two of the most talented players in the side, and on their day they can win a match almost singlehandedly (doublehandedly?). But that hasn't happened as much in the last year, and what we've seen far more of is a worrying tendency for the two of them to get cut off from the rest of the squad. It happened at St. Andrew's on Sunday, Anfield a few weeks back, and more than a handful of times last season.
For me the focus on Gerrard and Torres entirely misses the problems that lurk in the constellation of the four names that provide support from the midfield---Christian Poulsen, Lucas, Maxi, Raul Meireles, Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic, Ryan Babel etc. etc. There's been little to no linking play through the middle and barely any threat from the midfielders on either side, save for a few threatening runs forward from Jovanovic.
I'll likely have more to say on the topic tomorrow, but I really don't think the availability of Torres and Gerrard alone will decide the match. Hodgson is going to need to find a combination through the middle that can maintain possession, dictate some sort of pace, and simultaneously avoid getting exposed and overrun. No small task any day of the week, but it's notoriously difficult at Old Trafford.
I'll have the match preview up tomorrow morning in typical fashion, and I'll be lurking today with any updates. But none related to the steady stream of bullsh*t provided by Harry Harris.
Have a nice Friday everyone.