Rejoice! International break is officially over, and as far as we can tell, everyone should return to Liverpool in relatively good health. Which mostly just means that we can shift our collective focus of complaining from the utter stupidity of having a bunch of mid-November ticklefights to the teeth-gnashing prospect of two matches away to Chelsea sandwiched around a home date with Manchester City, with the latter two coming in a 48-hour stretch just under two weeks from now. So, strength to strength, right?
* For now maybe let's just focus on the joy that is having the international break in the rear-view mirror, and the fact that nobody's coming back worse off than they left. But in the case of someone like Dirk Kuyt, coming back to Liverpool likely means less playing time, which probably isn't the most exciting situation imaginable. Anyhow, a brief rundown:
Lucas played a full ninety after sitting out their earlier match against Gabon, and Brazil spoiled Bob Bradley's Egypt debut on Monday with a strong showing en route to a 2-0 victory. More important than his performance against Egypt is the fact that there's still lots of Liverpool supporters around the internet shouting the midfielder down, and I'd like to stab them in the face. But yeah, he played against Egypt.
Stewart Downing put in one of his better shifts in an England shirt as Fabio Capello's squad continued their march to Euro 2012 mediocrity by own-goaling their way past Sweden at Wembley. General consensus had Downing as the Three Lions' most effective squad member on the night, which is certainly a departure from a lean stretch in a Liverpool shirt. Unless you're Roy Keane, in which case you chose to ignore what was actually happening to take a needless swipe at the player and cement yourself as both a below-average manager and commentator.
Daniel Agger scored the leveler before Nicklas Bendtner gave Denmark a 2-1 win over Finland in Esbjerg. I don't know what kind of sick joke's being played here, but this means Liverpool's best central defender made it through 180-plus minutes in the past week and notched a goal without injury. Time to panic.
Dirk Kuyt continued to log serious minutes for the Dutch, except this time his 87 minute shift came in a highly entertaining but ultimately disappointing 3-0 loss to Germany. It was a slick and composed effort from the hosts, who asserted themselves as one of the deserved frontrunners for next summer's competition.
As expected, Luis Suarez was rested for Uruguay's friendly in Italy, which hopefully does enough to assuage any concerns about his availability on the weekend. We did get a look at Sebastian Coates for the entire second half, and most reports have the center half turning in a confident performance in a winning effort.
* There's an interesting (and free) read over at The Tomkins Times, wherein Paul Tomkins provides a different look at Andy Carroll's development. The conversation thus far has mostly either been focused on how much of a bust he's been because of how much he cost, or that any judgments on his performances are unfair and premature because of his age. Not much has taken place beyond that, but Tomkins argues that there's a bit more context needed to evaluate the young forward man, namely that, as a target-man rather than a non-target-man striker, it's atypical to see the best returns early in a career:
The overall average age for best season for target-men is 26.4, with it standing at 25.7 for players still active in the relevant leagues, and 26.5 for those who have either retired or moved to less-competitive environs. Compare this with the average age of 23.4 for the peaking of the 11 non-target-man strikers, and again, it suggests that although they may not burn as bright to start with, they come into their own later in their careers.
None of this means that Carroll will develop into the kind of striker he has the potential to become; the no.9 Rio Ferdinand felt could be ‘unplayable’. But it does go to show that even though he’s not the finished article, he’s arguably ahead of many of the great names we now look back on as masters of the art at the same stage of their careers.
It's an interesting read for pretty much anyone who hasn't already settled in the "bust" camp, and a far more detailed contribution to the dialogue than we've seen to this point. And while it's not likely to convince those already settled, at the very least it could go a fair distance to create some understanding and patience for those demanding that he do it all now. In the end, statistics can only go so far, but I'm at least more prone to rely on them when they're crying out for moderation and temperance in one of the more polarizing debates of the past year.
* And lastly, following up on yesterday's poll, it looks as though Jamie Carragher will be back among the picking for Sunday's visit to Stamford Bridge, as earlier in the day Steve Clarke announced the veteran defender's return to training. Some interesting comments in the thread from earlier, and all I'd add to the discussion is that while I'm firmly backing a Skrtel-Agger partnership for the weekend, I still struggle to see how a more permanent displacing of Jamie Carragher takes place without any hiccups. Great servant to the club and all that, but not a man that strikes me as someone who'd handle the loss of minutes gracefully, even if it'd be better for Liverpool.
That's it for now, but I'll be back later in the day with a preview and matchday thread for the U19s trip to Portugal to round out the group stage of the NextGen Series. With progression already secured and Sporting already assured the top spot, there's little to actually play for, but Rodolfo Borrell doesn't really seem like a guy that takes his football lightly, regardless of circumstance.
In the meantime, revisit the last time these two teams met in the competition, with the Portuguese side gradually overwhelming Liverpool's youngsters.