Chelsea-Liverpool As It Happened: We Liveblog the FA Cup

It was too much excitement to be contained! (Well, for the last half-hour anyway.) In our first-ever liveblog event, Soccer Apologist (Phil West) called on a panel of snarky American soccer fans (Nathan Henderson-James, Peter Nagy, and Greg Basta Dealing With A Flooding Apartment And A Freezing Livestream), to document the majesty of Ramires, Drogba, the resurgent Andy Carroll, and the ever-present call for goalline technology. Here’s how it happened.

PW: Okay — it’s about game time. Chelsea’s on the TV stretching. Torres and Carroll are on the bench, to the surprise of virtually no one. I’m still a little freaked out by the Arsenal-Norwich result from earlier today. Predictions? I’m feeling Chelsea, maybe 2-0 or 3-1.

GB: I’m in, so long as everyone is fine with me dominating the thread with my bitterness about Arsenal not being able to beat the Canaries today. Ok, I won’t do that. Probably not.

PW: Greg, would you be okay with Arsenal retroactively getting a half-goal credit for all the missed chances today? I would.

PN: Strange game with neither team having much to play for in the league but Chelsea with the Champions League final on the horizons. Also third game in seven days for the Blues. If Torres hadn’t scored that hat trick last week, I’d say he’d be a shoo-in to score the winner…ah, what the hell, 2-1 Chelsea in extratime with Torres winning it as a sub.

GB: Also, I think the FA cup will be more competitive than you do. I’m convinced that Dalglish was brainwashed into thinking that the EPL was merely an exhibition season this year.

PN: Don’t worry guys, you’re just a suspicious food poisoning incident away from stealing a Champions League spot again. And if that doesn’t work out, think of the massive European nights next year playing at Honved and Rapid Wien.

GB: Jeez, Reading makes top flight and now Pete’s all high and mighty.

PW: Flooding apartment? That sounds like an apt analogy for what happened to Arsenal. Summary: Benayoun scores two minutes in, Norwich counters with two goals in the next twelve minutes or so, then from about the hour mark on (after Ramsey horribly missed a perfect cross and was subbed off for Ox), Arsenal had chance after chance, converted on two of them (both by RVP), and then let in a ridiculous goal at minute 85, then teased us for 10 more minutes. My children are no longer alarmed every time I scream when Arsenal misses a chance; it happens that often.

NHJ: Since I’m a cable-resister, I’ve found an internet stream of this game. The game is on FSC in the USA but on… ESPN in Europe and I seem to have stumbled across the Euro ESPN stream. The commentary is infinitely superior to FSC, which I say reluctantly because I’m not at all convinced that USA commentators are necessarily worse. Except for John Harkes.

PW: The FSC graphic just called Di Matteo a “caretaker manager.” That just seems mean. Obligatory shots of Torres and Carroll on their respective benches. By the way, I’m lobbying for “Frosted Tips” to catch on as Torres’ new nickname.

PN: I really despise the anglo-worshipping of all things football on this side of the pond, but I do prefer their commentating to Americans — in all sports.

NHJ: The only British commentator in the USA I really like is Arlo White. Among Americans, both Kyle Martino and Taylor Twellman do not suck.

PW: I love Ray Hudson over on Gol. There’s a whole blog devoted to his, um, poetry: http://hudsonia.blogspot.com/

PN: I would have a much more positive view of Hudson if not for his stint as manager of DC Scum. No one comes back from that.

NHJ: No team has ever gone wrong playing a 4-5-1. Ever.

PN: Actually don’t *hate* the 4-5-1 when a side has the right personnel for it — and plays it week in and week out. Aston Villa was fantastic with it when they had Young and Milner on the wings playing off of Gabby up top and Sidwell, Barry, and Petrov in the middle a couple years ago. Then they signed Hesky in January…and exactly what you would expect to happen, happened. Never been the same since.

NHJ: Looking at the sponsorship electronics ringing the field shows that wretched exports across the pond go both ways. “The FA Cup with Budweiser.” NO YOU STUPID GITS! NO!

PW: Though the Pitbull/Bud Light radio commercial is my new favorite guilty pleasure. “With your friends, their friends, beautiful women, Bud Light, and my music, your party’s at 150 percent!”

NHJ: Things no real person has ever said about their own party, ever.

PN: Better than having the name of the actual team (or in this case, Cup) be the name of a corporation (hides head in shame…).

NHJ: But, Pete, Red Bull has that cool logo.

PW: And it gives you wings. Hey, there’s a game on, right?

PN: Paging Simon Borg…please pick up the red courtesy phone.

(Note: Things don’t really happen for about 10 minutes, and then Chelsea scores.)

PW: Wellllll, now it’s a game! That was a brilliant run by Ramires, and a pathetic attempt at a foul by Enrique. Nice finish!

PN: Please excuse me while I eat my own heart.

PW: I mean, seriously — what was Enrique doing on that?

NHJ: Ramires gets a gift when Liverpool flubs a touch in midfield and gives the ball away for a break. Great passes and runs, though. Take nothing away from Chelsea on that.

PW: Bellamy should have had that equalizer. Of course, that’s easy for me to say from the couch.

NHJ: What. A. Save.

PW: Nice effort by Suarez there from the center line. #sarcasm

PN: How big has Ramires been for Chelsea these last few weeks?? Who saw that coming?

PW: It’s really a shame Ramires can’t play in the Champions League final. And as an Arsenal fan, by “a shame,” I mean “awesome.”

PN: As despicable of a figure as he is, I hope Suarez is able to find his form next year. Would love to see Uruguay challenge for the World Cup in 2014.

GB: My favorite line from last week, via the Arsenal America twitter feed: “Congrats to Chelsea and Munich for making the Champions League Final. May the best German team win.”

PW: On Suarez: I’ve gotten over the red card for the hand in the box against Ghana. I will never get over the celebration following the Gyan PK miss moments later. That said, it’s fun to have him in the EPL. And by fun, I mean, “I had to get Gol so I could hate C-Ron properly.”

PN: I actually totally disagree with that — have no problem with either thing he did in the WC. His antics since joining the Premier League, however, have been reprehensible. He definitely brings flavor, though!

NHJ: Downing’s footwork there to keep the ball in was pretty impressive. Then he sends his short pass out down the line. SMH

PN: From ESPN Gamecast: Ramires, with that goal, became the first Brazilian to score in an FA Cup final. Almost unbelievable.

NHJ: I watch a lot of MLS. A lot. With occasional Champions League and Mexican Primera Division. But mostly MLS. So watching two teams actually keep their defensive shape for huge stretches of a game is almost a completely new experience for me.

GB: My live stream keeps freezing.  I’m working so hard to be able to watch a match between two clubs I can’t stand.  I feel like I’m the subject of some strange psychological experiment.

PN: I think being an Arsenal fan in and of itself makes you the subject of a psychological experiment . . .

NHJ: Liverpool is really reminding me of shopping in Chinatown. They are running down all these blind alleys and offering bushels of cheap giveaways . . .
PW: Okay, now THERE’s a proper Enrique foul. SET PIECE ALERT!

NHJ: If by “foul,” you mean “acting by Ramires,” then yes.

(Note: After some more running around and missing the goal, Liverpool rediscovers “offense,” and Suarez nearly connects on a header.)

PW: On the replay, that actually looked like a really good chance for Suarez — maybe his best one of the game.

NHJ: Liverpool finally has a couple of sequences that look remarkably like attacking football. But even that relied on mis-hits and the ball pinging around before they even got their half-chances at goal.

PN: Not able to actually see the game at the moment, so this is completely blind analysis, but it seems like this is a predictably drab affair. The kind of game in which Liverpool would benefit from having Kuyt out there to never stop running — because there’s no way in hell they’re stringing together a couple passes to score a “pretty” goal anyway? Yes?

PW: Is there actually a strategy here for Liverpool? It seems like they’re trying to control possession in the back half, and they’re doing a decent job of that, but they’re missing out in the transition to the box, and they’re not really giving Suarez much to work with. Chelsea, on the other hand, looks like they’re content to hang back and look for counter opportunities, and Ramires and Kalou are fast enough to make that happen.

PN: Dirk Kuyt! The master of mis-hits and pinging balls! Just like I thought. That sounds dangerous for Liverpool. In fact, an early goal for Chelsea might have been the worst thing that could have happened to this game.

(Halftime!)

NHJ: “Not been a great game” is the first thing the ESPN Europe commentators say.
This 4-5-1 really not built for beauty, is it? It’s also not really built for breaking down the Chelsea defense. Or even its midfield.

Chelsea clearly overmatches Liverpool throughout the lineup, but they are having issues breaking through the clogged Liverpool middle.

PN: HAHAHA. Via Twitter: Back of the Net @backofthenet: 1-0 @ HT. If someone at the game wants to drink their cup of tea in an unusual manner, there’s a fair chance you’ll make the highlights reel

So Nathan, any predictions on the actual big game today?

NHJ: 2-0 Galaxy over a RBNY team that can barely dress 18 players.

PN: Agree on everything. And, what the hell, let’s add insult to injury and say Magee and Buddle on the goals.

PW: Second half action now. I use the term action loosely.

PN: Can’t see Liverpool getting back in this one without a massive Chelsea mistake or on a set piece.

And speaking of despicable humans . . . Craig Bellamy.

NHJ: I see that Liverpool subscribes to the Rafa Marquez school of defending in the box. Breaking John Terry’s collarbone would have been a measure of poetic justice there. Not for anything in particular. Just for being John Terry.

(Drogba scores! 2-0, Chelsea)

PN: And that’ll do it. That was all Lampard making a fool of Gerrard. God, I hate Lampard. Sorry, wasn’t Gerrard. Think it was Henderson . . . that makes a lot more sense.

PW: That was just a beautiful play by Drogba. The marking on that play wasn’t terrible — but the through ball was right where it needed to be. Liverpool needs a spark. They don’t have a spark, though, do they?

NHJ: That’s just embarrassing for Liverpool. All credit to Chelsea, especially that midfield juke to spring the pass to Drogba who finishes very well indeed. But the defending was atrocious, as was the pass that Liverpool made to lose the ball in the first place, which was a long ball over the top to Suarez who had absolutely no one to pass to on a ball that was really difficult to handle in the first place. All we need is some rain to make this a classic game of desperation and ugliness.

PW: Oh, and right on cue, Andy Carroll comes on!

PN: Hold the presses! It’s not over yet! At least Carroll is on there to not win the crosses now.

NHJ: Chelsea almost had three with Liverpool pressing and Drogba and Ramires showing real skill in passing their way through Liverpool players only to have Kalou channel Chad Barrett on the shot.

(Then, the unthinkable happens. Andy Carroll scores!)

PW: Andy Carroll! He scores when he wants!

PN: Well, then.

NHJ: So . . .Andy Carroll show his worth.

PN: Wow, that was really, really good from Carroll.

PW: Karma, John Terry. Karma. And here I was about to post this fun fact — this year, in league games, Messi’s scored more than all of Liverpool.

PN: Liverpool’s just oozing confidence right now . . .

NHJ: Thanks Phil, that helps put this in perspective. But, having said that, where was this Liverpool team in the first half?

PW: Wasn’t the same team. ANDY CARROLL!

NHJ: This almost looks like pretty football from this Liverpool side. Huh. Forgive my ignorance but why NOT start Andy Carroll?

PN: He pretty much sucks.

NHJ: Well, I guessed that from the snarky comments, but I was thinking about intangibles. Also, I think Henderson is going for a record for “most overhit crosses and shots in an FA Cup final”. That’s a stat, right?

PW: On Henderson: Football Genius is lobbying to have fans text in to make him the Budweiser Man of the Match.

NHJ: By the way, Chelsea fan in the stands sporting a porkpie hat. The hipsters have won.

PW: Here’s the deal with Carroll — if he’s in from the start of a match, he’ll miss once, and then that’ll have a snowball effect as he gets further and further inside his own head. Coming on as a sub when things look dire, there’s essentially nothing to lose for him. Though, as you just saw with that header over the bar, to deny Bellamy an even better and clearer header on goal, he’s still capable of spectacular misses even in limited minutes.

PN: Kuyt intangibles >>>>>> Carroll intangibles
PW: Obligatory shot of hot Chelsea doctor as Meireles comes on for Ramires. Thank you for subbing, Chelsea. Speaking of subbing, Drogba’s grabbing his groin, Frosted Tips is warming up, and Kuyt’s in for Bellamy. Excitement!

NHJ: Pete, here’s you wish: Kuyt coming on.

PN: Yeah, thought he made more sense as a halftime sub, since his big benefit is wearing you out. If they end up going to extra-time, though, he could be a big difference.

(Andy Carroll appears to score again on a header! But Cech fishes it out! But it looks like it crossed the line! With no instant replay, we’ll never know!)

PW: WOW! Anyone for a replay cam?

NHJ: Wow. That’s got to have been a goal. Got to.

PW: Clearly a goal. To all except the ref.

PN: WOW!!! I don’t think so. Think it was a fantastic save. Soooooo close . . .

PW: It went over the line and hit the crossbar inside the goal on the way down. Wow, and Cech actually wagged his finger Mutumbo-style after that?

PN: The whole ball has to cross the line. It might have, but if it did, it just did.

NHJ: I think it went in. But it was soooo close. I think the commetators on ESPN are blinded by the fact that the crossbar is fat, so they are saying it didn’t go all it based on it not going all the way under the fat crossbar. The whole of the ball just has to cross the line, not the whole of the fat crossbar. But it was close. So very very close.

PW: Again, this is where instant replay would be awesome.

NHJ: Don’t you know that goalline technology would destroy the game? Just like having a rash of influence peddling and bribery scandals in FIFA. Oh, wait.

PW: Mata off, Malouda on. Hot Chelsea doctor claps. Camera lingers. Game resumes.

PN: Took a minute for that sub to happen.

PW: He was tired.

PN: Aaaaand…there’s the Andy Carroll I know.

PW: So, Chelsea’s settled into an 8-1-1 formation, it appears.

PN: Worked in Spain…

PW: And some adventuresome keeping from the best Spanish National Team goalkeeper in the EPL …

PN: I hate Liverpool. Hate them. But “You’ll Never Walk Alone” really is special. I’m now going to take a shower to wash off the scouse stink.

NHJ: “And Chelsea have won the FA Cup yet again. They just can’t keep their hands off it.” Now THAT is quality commentating.

PW: So, does anyone else feel empty inside?

PN: It’s the FA Cup. Does anyone ever feel any differently?

NHJ: I do feel like after that show I’ve basically just made my “getting things done on Saturday” chores take longer, have more logistical headaches and have to deal with more Los Angeles traffic. So I’m actually getting more resentful, not so much empty. On the other hand, ANDY CARROLL!

What To Watch In The EPL This Weekend

At the EPL-coverin’ site we contribute to, Yanks Call It Soccer, we’ve put together what to watch in the EPL this weekend, including the FA Cup Finals and matches of particular import in the Champions League race, including a Man City-Newcastle match that we’re eager to watch, with absolutely no idea of how that will turn out. 

Goalline Technology Coming to the EPL?

According to this article in the Guardian, FIFA’s going to test out goalline technology this month, with the powers-that-be determining by July if it’ll come into play. The signal would go to the ref, who would then still need to make the call on the field. Myself, I’d prefer a hockey-style siren going off, preferably amplified, just to see what the crowds in stadiums would do with it. How do you think Martin Atkinson feels about it today? Yesterday’s FA Cup semis kerfuffle, in which Chelsea was awarded a phantom goal and Spurs essentially imploded, is going to be invoked from here on out whenever anyone (especially Spurs fans, you’d have to assume) mentions the need to use technology to help determine what is a goal exactly. 

Breaking Down the FA Cup Semifinals (On Yanks Call It Soccer)

For the team at Yanks Call It Soccer, I ask some questions about the FA Cup Semifinals, which are now in progress. (Everton’s up 1-0 on Liverpool at halftime, thanks to some Clown Car Liverpool defending. I predict an all-blue final: namely, Everton and Chelsea. 

Fourth Place is a Trophy: Assessing the EPL in the Season’s Final Weeks

Is the English Premier League interesting right now? If you’re looking at the battle for first place, it’s marginally interesting. It’s likely, even with seven matches left for all the teams, that the title will land in Manchester — more likely going to Manchester United for its 20th league title (something they’re already prematurely celebrating in T-shirts), though Manchester City, which has led the table for much of the season, has a reasonable shot at finishing on top. (At least, that’s what ManU haters are counting on.)

But if you’re looking at the next three spots, the league gets a little more interesting — something weirdly put into perspective by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

In late February, Wenger said that “fourth place is a trophy in itself,” which was, at the time, a PR spin on Arsenal’s aspirations toward a fourth-place finish, which seemed a miracle given the start of the 2011-12 campaign. (Remember 17th place in the standings? The 8-2 loss to Manchester United back in August? The realization that Arsenal might not have a midfield anymore?) As you might expect, it’s already parody fodder for those who find themselves not liking Arsenal.

As you can see from the table, or, as we like to call it in ‘Merica, “the standings,” United’s five points up on City (but still down one on goal differential, should City be able to get it to where that’s a factor), Arsenal and Tottenham are tied for third (with Arsenal holding onto a one-goal lead in the goal differential category), with Chelsea currently in position for 5th with a healthy goal differential lead on Newcastle (though they’re currently tied in points). (By the way, that’s Newcastle.)

Somewhat in the mix, but not really: Everton, Liverpool, Sunderland. (Liverpool’s probably headed further down. Stay tuned to the soap opera that is this year’s Carling Cup-winning* Liverpool squad.)

(* Remember: The Carling Cup. No one can take that away from you, Reds!)

Here’s what’s remaining on the schedule for the Top 6:

Man United: 4/8 vs. QPR, 4/11 at Wigan, 4/15 vs. Aston Villa, 4/22 vs. Everton, 4/30 at Man City, 5/6 vs. Swansea, and 5/13 at Sunderland. Obviously, April 30′s a big day. That’s not the easiest slate of final four games, of course, though they’ve got a chance to widen the gap with City before then. Could City win the big match and still lose the title? Cruel Mistress Math says yes.

Man City: 4/8 at Arsenal, 4/11 v. West Brom, 4/14 at Norwich, 4/22 at Wolves, 4/30 vs. Man United, 5/6 at Newcastle, and 5/13 vs. QPR. Aside from ManU and Arsenal, the Newcastle tilt’s the biggest test. On paper, they’d have an easier route to the title, but they start this stretch five points down. To state the obvious, they need to win the upcoming battle of Manchester.

Arsenal: 4/8 vs. Man City, 4/11 at Wolves, 4/16 vs. Wigan, 4/21 vs. Chelsea, 4/28 at Stoke, 5/5 vs. Norwich, and 5/13 at West Brom. Despite this past weekend’s loss to QPR (who suddenly don’t look relegation bound, even though their record says otherwise), Wolves and Wigan on the schedule are positively delightful, and the last three games (Note: hard for Americans like me to call them matches, though I’ll try) are against the doughy middle of the table.

Tottenham: 4/7 at Sunderland, 4/9 vs. Norwich, 4/21 at QPR, 4/29 vs. Blackburn, 5/2 at Bolton, 5/6 at Aston Villa, 5/13 vs. Fulham. It’s a tougher final seven than Arsenal’s got, and the single day’s rest between the Sunderland and Norwich matches seems particularly cruel. (They’ve got an FA Cup match against Chelsea in there as well, of course.)

Chelsea: 4/7 vs. Wigan, 4/9 at Fulham, 4/21 at Arsenal, 4/29 vs. QPR, 5/2 vs. Newcastle, 5/5 at Liverpool, 5/13 vs. Blackburn. The schedule’s got two relegation-bound teams on it but isn’t what you’d call easy. The bad news, beyond what’s lying in front of them here, is that they’ll have Champions League semis matches with Barca interspersed with their final run, but the good news (from an EPL prospects perspective) is that The Greatest Team On Earth will probably dispense of them, so there wouldn’t, you know, be a Champions League final for them to worry about. Though the FA Cup semis might lead to an actual win and an actual commitment to an FA Cup final. Chelsea’s a little busy these days.

Newcastle: 4/6 at Swansea, 4/9 vs. Bolton, 4/21 vs. Stoke, 4/28 at Wigan, 5/2 at Chelsea, 5/6 vs. Man City, 5/13 at Everton. The last three matches are brutal, but the first of those matches might well be the battle for the Europa League spot, and given the Magpies’ path in comparison to the Blues, they could have the upper hand before their early May trip to Stamford Bridge.

So, the lesson for fledgling American soccer fans on Why This All Matters: Of the 20 teams i the EPL any given year, only the top four teams are eligible for the Champions League, which puts Europe’s top club teams in one of the most lively tournaments this side of the World Cup. And, as you’ve probably surmised, there are more than four EPL teams that consider themselves Champions League-worthy. The fifth place team goes to the Europa League, which is what the NIT is to the Champions League’s NCAA. It’s very consolation prize, but it’s better than being 6th, which for all practical purposes, is the top tier of EPL mediocrity.

For English soccer, it’s also an unwilling admission of relative weakness that right now, only one EPL squad (Chelsea, at that) remains in the Champions League’s top four among English sides. The other three in that mix are perennial powers– Barca, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munchen — and it’s not at all surprising they’ve outlasted the rest of the EPL teams, but there’s the whole, you know, we’re the English and we invented soccer-slash-football thing that kind of gets in the way of logic.

So, while “We’re Number Four” doesn’t seem a particularly inspiring chant, it’s an arguably more intriguing prospect than which Manchester side is the most spendyawesome this year. (Though I’m sort of enamored of Balotelli and the mohawk and him being the footballer most likely to make it rain at a strip club, should he ever hypothetically find himself in one of those places, so it’d be great to see things break City’s way.)

(Who am I kidding? It’s United’s to lose.)