Three things we learned: Liverpool vs Leicester in the EPL Asian Trophy Final

Alex Broun 22/07/2017
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Liverpool edged past Leicester 2-1 in the final of the EPL Asian Trophy and although Jurgen Klopp will be delighted to break his run of five losing finals and get his hands on his first trophy as Reds boss, the game asks more questions than provides answers.

Worryingly for LFC fans the same problems that cut short LFC’s title charge last season are there for all to see – again.

Here is what we learned from LFC’s victory:

LIVERPOOL’S DEFENCE IS STILL SHODDY

No wonder Jurgen Klopp won’t give up his dreams of signing Virgil van Dijk.

With Dejan Lovren pairing Joel Matip in central defence all Liverpool’s frailties were back on show with Riyad Mahrez and Leicester cutting them to ribbons with the simplest of direct passes.

Liverpool went with the same back four that started regularly in the premier league last season – James Milner on the left, Lovren, Matip and youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right.

Reds fans would love to be able to support Lovren – no player tries harder  and he occasionally comes up with a very important goal, as against Dortmund a few seasons back – but he is just so unreliable, error prone and unpredictable he makes Liverpool fans feel as secure as a rope bridge across the Mersey.

Milner is just as hardworking, and slightly more reliable and predictable than Lovren, but simply too slow to play full back. Liverpool looked even worse when Klavan came on for Matip and Moreno for Milner in the second half with Jamie Vardy shredding them at will. It was amazing Leicester did not draw level.

Until Liverpool work out their back four shortcomings the top four is the best they will ever do.

Harry Maguire and Kasper Schmeichel battle with Dejan Lovren

SALAH IS THE REAL DEAL

It’s very early days but Mo Salah looks to be the best buy Liverpool have made since Philippe Coutinho or even Luis Suarez – and well worth his £37million (Dh176.4m) price tag.

The 25-year-old has already scored twice in pre-season, given LFC a dynamism out wide that they have sorely been missing and his combination with the BB (Brazliian Brothers) Coutinho and Firmino is already electric.

His goal here was an absolute peach. He held the ball up on the right before crossing to Coutinho on the edge of the penalty area.

He then made a curving run into the box that Coutinho met with the sweetest of lobs.

As well as confirming the sound investment in picking up Salah it also underlines that Liverpool must do all possible to keep Barca’s hands off Coutinho, although the little magician’s extraordinary goal will make him even more enticing for the Blaugrana.

KLOPP HAS PLENTY OF OPTIONS BUT A DEARTH OF CLASS

The German manager will be pleased to win his first final for Liverpool at the third attempt, even if it is the Premier League Asian Trophy.

Klopp has used copious substitutes in each pre-season match so far – often swapping his entire XI for each half. What has been interesting is that both XIs are very similar in strength.

The second half team saw off Crystal Palace on Wednesday 2-0 while the star-studded first half team came back from 1-0 down to defeat Leicester.

Both teams lack that edge of class which Liverpool will need to compete at the top level in the EPL this year.

True we have not yet seen Sadio Mane, Liverpool’s most dangerous player, this season and his combination with Salah could be hard to contain but it’s not surprising Klopp keeps up his dogged pursuit of Van Dijk and the exceptional Naby Keita.

The Reds desperately need one or both of these players to be serious title contenders this season – without them its mix and match mediocrity.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after the win over Leicester

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Matteo Darmian not looking for Manchester United exit despite Juventus rumours

Simon Peach 22/07/2017
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Matteo Darmian insists he is happy at Manchester United, despite reports linking the full-back with a summer return to Italy.

Two years ago the full-back took the plunge by leaving his homeland for the first time in his career, swapping Torino for Old Trafford in a deal worth £12.7million.

Darmian struggled to fulfil expectations in his first season and took his time to win over Jose Mourinho last term, eventually returning from the cold towards the end of the campaign.

The 27-year-old clearly impressed the United boss given he started the Europa League final triumph against Ajax – a match that at times this summer perhaps looked like being his last for the club.

Juventus have been strongly linked with a move for Darmian and barely a week goes by without talk of an Old Trafford exit, yet the full-back downplayed speculation as just part of the job.

“Every time I read something about my future… but (there is) nothing news (wise),” he said. “I am happy here.

“I think also it is a part of our work, these kind of rumours.

“Like I said before, I am happy here so nothing news (wise). I am a Manchester United player – that’s it.”

Mourinho will have some decisions to make regarding his defence this summer, but retaining Darmian looks logical given his impressive end to last season and versatility.

“I always say the position doesn’t matter to me,” he said, having proven capable in both full-back slots.

“If I have to play left or right, I work hard to be ready when the manager gives me an opportunity and that’s it.

“I try to do my best every time, every game. I try to work hard during the week and that’s my philosophy.”

Pushed on whether he preferred one side to the other, Darmian said: “Not really. I prefer maybe to play on the right side, but no problem at all.”

Darmian is an understated character but his desire to keep progressing is clear, especially with next year’s World Cup looming large – assuming Italy make it.

“I did good personally,” Darmian said, referring to the 2014 edition when he shone against England. “Of course for me it is always good to play for Italy, for the national team.

“I try to do my best to be there next season.

“When you wear the Italy shirt you have big responsibility because you represent all the nation.

“I am very proud to be part of the group and I want to be part for a long time.”

Matteo Darmian in action for Italy

Darmian broke into a smile when talking about the Azzurri, so too when reflecting on his summer having married Francesca Cormanni.

The full-back is thankful to her for helping him adapt to life in England, where he has had to deal with a change in style on the pitch as well as the many differences off it.

“I think Serie A is more tactical and less physical,” Darmian, whose English continues to improve, said. “Here, it is more physical, maybe more up and down.

“The rate is higher than Serie A and from the first day I tried to adapt this kind of football, but I think I have to say thank you to the team as it is also for them that I adapted well.”

If physicality rules in England, then United look to have signed the right man in Romelu Lukaku – a proven top-flight performer with an eye for goal.

“Of course we know very well Romelu, not just last season when he did very well,” Darmian said, having praised fellow new boy Victor Lindelof.

“He scores goals and for us I think he is very important. Also he is our target.

“He is good for us even when we are under pressure maybe to put a long ball and he can hold the ball and try to beat the pressure of the opponent.”

Lukaku arrived for an initial £75million and is one of the many big-money moves that will surely make the Premier League more competitive than ever.

The playing field should be further levelled by the fact all traditional title challengers will be juggling continental exertions – something that cost United last term, stumbling home sixth in the league despite impressing in the cups.

Romelu Lukaku in action against Man City

“Of course when you play for Manchester United, you have to try to win a lot of trophies,” Darmian added.

“Also because Manchester United is used to winning we try to do our best to win other trophies.

“Last season was good because we won three trophies and we want to continue like this.

“We will fight for the Premier League, of course for the Champions League and the other trophies we have this season.”

“Manchester United is probably the biggest club in the world. Of course it means a lot for me to be here and pushes me to every time do my best.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Forget the Alvaro Morata versus Romelu Lukaku talk, the Chelsea and Man United players behind them matter more

Chris Bailey 21/07/2017
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Thanks for nothing, Chelsea. We must all live with the consequences of what you have done.

The signing of Alvaro Morata heralds the latest facile and pointless debate of our time, up there with Ronaldo versus Messi, Playstation or Xbox or whether to pour the milk in first or last when making a cup of tea.

Even before the Twitter droves implored Manchester United to ‘announce Lukaku’, Red Rom was being compared with the devil who could have been. Up popped shiny graphics comparing goals per minute, height, weight, BMI, star signs, which phase of the moon both players were born under (Morata’s waning crescent to Romelu Lukaku’s last quarter, if either can play the whole 90 surely it is the big Belgian).

It is of course a compelling storyline. United would have ended up with Morata if Chelsea had not been so slow to react on Lukaku, and they are to be the spearheads of their new teams.

And while of all of these factoids make for an interesting natter next week in front of office water coolers, ‘Morkaku’ – sport’s new celebrity relationship – is set to get very boring, very quickly.

Let’s instead try what the Hollywood types call a conscious uncoupling.

Lukaku is strong, tall, skilful, scores a lot of goals, is young, important to his country and has already played more than 200 club games in his career.

Morata is strong, tall, skilful, scores a lot of goals, is young, important to his country and has already played more than 200 club games in his career.

Quibbles can be made – and oh my how they have – over Lukaku’s record against ‘big’ teams, and whether Morata will adapt to the Premier League. But all of this is useless conjecture.

Both players are excellent in their own right and the minute differences between them equate to whether you’d prefer to drive around in a Ferrari or a Porsche. Indeed, either of those two can quickly help you get to where you want to go.

The only factors that now matter are the people behind the steering wheel: Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.

United and Chelsea both had imperfect attacks last season, and whether their two new No9s are upgrades on the ones that went before will be the most fascinating element of the next campaign.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Diego Costa scored 37 league goals between them last year, yet neither club were completely happy with their contributions.

United did not have a choice in having to replace an injured Ibrahimovic, but were likely to pounce for a new striker regardless. The Swede conjured up many magical moments, yet some of his hold-up and link-up play with his wide forwards bordered on the dismal at times.

Then there is Costa, who despite fluctuating in and out of form, struck up a fine partnership with the individually minded Eden Hazard last season. One text message from Conte later and he’s out of the picture.

But if Lukaku and Morata are to hugely boost their respective sides, the big question marks lie instead with their team-mates.

Chelsea have taken a far larger gamble in midfield by seemingly ridding themselves of Nemanja Matic in order to accommodate Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco.

The thought process is that the ground-guzzling Bakayoko can do much of the heavy lifting in midfield to give N’Golo Kante a little more freedom to roam forward, though it is some leap to think Kante can provide a creative spark on such scant – if promising – evidence thus far. Bakayoko, don’t forget, only came of age last year for Monaco, having played just 23 times the season before.

Then over at United there is the problem of releasing Paul Pogba, who is either too ill-disciplined or too talented – it’s hard to discern which – to be shackled in a midfield two. With Mourinho so far frustrated in his efforts to sign a Matic or Eric Dier, an imbalance may persist in the middle.

So whether Morata and Lukaku flourish or fail in their first seasons, beware those who sell you a story of two strikers. The players behind them are as big a part of the scripts that Conte and Mourinho are writing.

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