VIDEO: Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers expects to keep pressure on top four

ashraf 27/04/2015
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Brendan Rodgers looks ahead to Liverpool's visit to Hull City on Tuesday as the side aim to sustain their challenge for a top four league finish.


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Off The Bar: Ghost of David Moyes past

Ben Davies 27/04/2015
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Did the Ghost of David Moyes strike at Goodison?

In the cash-rich world of modern football, there is plenty of room for ridicule; Sport360 has it for you in abundance every Monday. This week, Off The Bar takes in the respective celebrations of Watford and Chelsea and David Moyes haunting Manchester United.

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The curse of Moyes

Almost a year to the day since David Moyes was sacked after a miserable defeat to Everton, Manchester United delivered an eerily meek repeat performance on Sunday – getting whipped and whisked 3-0. No motivation, no inspiration, no aggression, no heart, no desire — all in all more no’s than the chorus of sensational Eurodance smash hit ‘No Limits’.

It was almost as if the side were rendered paralysed by the Ghost of David Moyes past. Playing at the very location of the Scot’s Premier League career burial ground had clearly conjured up a curse from beneath the Goodison Park soil. How else to explain one-time transfer flops Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata completely deserting their recent fantastic form and contract wrangling foe Wayne Rooney picking up an injury?

Subscribing to the classic horror movie cliché, each player split off from the group, ambling in completely different directions and inevitably getting chopped to pieces by a merciless Everton as a result. Creepier still, if you draw the lines between all the passes made in Everton’s excellent counter-attacking opener you will clearly see the craggy outline of David Moyes’ face laughing hysterically. 

It’s hard to know how exactly the curse was released — perhaps a United player foolishly uttered their former manager’s name three times. Whatever the case, United will need to take a leaf out of The Exorcist’s book before their next visit – beating back the curse with the promise of pure total football. The power of  Louis van Gaal compels you! The power of Van Gaal compels you!

Defensive offence

Off The Bar highly respects the skill of defending resolutely, especially when under continuous bombardment from the opposition, but we can’t applaud the outbreak of joy amongst Chelsea players at the final whistle after grinding out a 0-0 draw against Arsenal. If you watched it, you will recall Chelsea players streaming into the centre of the field celebrating akin to a mob of Apple fanatics at the launch of the latest iPhone model.

Maybe the giddy fist-pumping pyrotechnics of Terry and co will kick start a new trend for marking solid defensive displays? If John O’Shea and Wes Brown scramble a clean sheet in future weeks can we expect them to knee slide into the corner, arm around one another, thumping their club crests in utter delirium? We don’t know which Premier League defender currently has a baby on the way, but we’ll be sure to keep an eye out to see if they mark a commendable block by forcing the ball under their shirt and sucking their thumb.

Harmless Hammers

Talking of 0-0 draws, West Ham, who achieved that scoreline against QPR on Saturday, continue to glide towards the end of the season like an aloof, care-free and slightly mangy London pigeon. In last week’s edition of this column, we ridiculed the Hammers for ‘being on the beach already’. Kevin Nolan and Sam Allardyce were impossible to watch without imagining them in Hawaiian hula skirts necking cocktails from coconut shells. Well all is forgiven. It turns out we couldn’t be more wrong. As it stands, West Ham will be off the beach and back playing football sooner than any other side in the Premier League.

That’s because they are currently in pole position to secure a place in July’s opening qualifying round of the Europa League. That’s all courtesy of their world class fair play record. Yep, despite David Ospina executing the Rock Bottom on Oscar on Sunday, and the general existence of Lee Cattermole, the Premier League has one of the best fair play records in Europe and thereby gets an extra European place for it’s most physically polite side.

The Hammers didn’t score against relegation battlers QPR, but who cares — they didn’t pick up any yellow cards. Heroes! Burnley are breathing down West Ham’s necks for the precious spot, so it’s still all to play for. In the absence of a title race or a Champions League qualifying race, this will have to act as our season climax. We recommend the Hammers seal the deal by strapping pillows to their knees, sponges to their elbows and best of all – the audio dreamland that is bubble wrap on boot studs.

Watford Park promotion tradition

Watford were confirmed as the latest inductees to the Premier League at the weekend after securing promotion from the Championship. Rather bizarrely, the all-important news filtered through to the team whilst they were on their stationary team coach. After defeating Brighton 2-0 away they retreated to their bus while they waited for later games to finish. Cue absolute ecstasy when results elsewhere fell their way and the transition from promotion chase to a relegation battle next summer was triumphantly confirmed.

This is certainly a very novel way to see in your entrance to the Premier League. Jumping up and down like jubilant battery farm hens doesn’t quite tally with the traditional image of going absolutely potty with teammates and fans strewn across the pitch. For all the comfort of generously padded seats and over-head air conditioning, they are not promotion celebration essentials.

Indeed the limitations of a coach are quite severe for this scenario — spraying champagne everywhere will almost certainly lose you your deposit and trying to unwrap a 25ft ‘We are going to the Premier League’ poster for the press is a logistical nightmare. Any hopes of performing the team Klinsmann will have to be knocked on the head too – think of the carpet burns let alone the lack of space. And getting the fans involved is a near impossibility unless there is a real hunger from the club to ‘do the double’, with promotion to the Premier League and Guinness World Record for most humans on a bus.

In another more palatable parallel world, Chelsea and Watford would have been in opposing places – Watford on the pitch and able to drink in their moment to wide acclaim and Chelsea privately celebrating parking the bus…in their parked bus.

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#360debate: Is Hazard EPL's best player?

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Star turn: Chelsea's Eden Hazard.

On Sunday night, Belgian winger Eden Hazard was named the Professional Footballers Association Premier League Player of the Year for the 2014-15 season.

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For the first time in his Chelsea career, 24-year-old Hazard has been named by his peers as the best player the division has to offer.

Our #360debate today is: Has Hazard been the best in the Premier League this season?

Matt Monaghan, Reporter, thinks YES.

Cesc Fabregas has double his assists, Sergio Aguero has nearly twice as many Premier League goals and Angel Di Maria cost £28 million (Dh156m) more.

Yet there can be no doubt whatsoever that Eden Hazard deserves to be named the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year. 

He possesses a power and influence way beyond his small frame. He shimmies into space and dances through defensive lines, adding the vital magic touch to a dutifully set-up Jose Mourinho side.

A haul of 13 goals and eight assists is well below the benchmark set by recent PFA winners Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale, but statistics do not do justice to his majesty during Chelsea’s unstoppable march to the Premier League title.

He has never let his levels drop, his winner against Manchester United proving the difference last week just like he did against Queens Park Rangers all the way back on November 1.

Team-mate Fabregas and Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez began the season on fire before slowing down, Tottenham’s Harry Kane came to life in the winter while injury has hampered striker Diego Costa.

In contrast, Hazard has been the best player on the pitch in nearly all of the champions-elect’s 33 matches. He has provided Fabregas with an outlet and sparked Costa in to life, his value comes in making dogged defences doubt themselves.

Creation is always harder than destruction. This makes the 24-year-old’s rise to the top flight’s greatest attacking threat all the more credible.

Most sides set up not to be beaten against Chelsea, quelling their ambitions to salvage a point. Imagination is key to force the breakthrough.

Hazard forces fouls and asks questions, growing all the time under Mourinho. He has also improved defensively, without taking away from the incredible things he does with the ball at his feet.

Now a team player rather than the sole attraction in town, Hazard makes the runaway champions’ approach make sense. For that, he unreservedly deserves both individual and team glory.

Alam Khan, EPL correspondent, thinks NO.

When Jose Mourinho values him at £200 million (Dh1.1bn), it is no surprise to see Eden Hazard hailed as the Premier League’s top player this season.

There’s no doubting the mesmeric ability of the brilliant Belgian, but has he even been Chelsea’s best? Had Mourinho trusted Andre Schurrle or even Mohamed Salah and given them a run in the team at Hazard’s expense, would Chelsea’s title bid have suffered? No, I don’t think so.

Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have been equally influential with goals and assists. Chelsea’s biggest asset has been their collective spirit and defensive steel.

Mourinho prepares his side to be solid first, and they have conceded just 26 goals, seven at home. That is the league’s best record, while their scoring tally of 65, albeit in one game fewer, is five short of Manchester City’s highest mark.

John Terry has been key at the back, the commander of a well-organised outfit. So it was surprising he wasn’t even in the six-man shortlist, never mind considered a worthy winner.

It would be a shame if his past misdemeanours, and unsavoury reputation, counted against him.

Of course, the flamboyant players are going to grab the attention with a moment of magic, but let’s not ignore the contributions of those keeping the opposition at bay.

It was Terry’s crunching tackle on Radamel Falcao that sparked the attack for Hazard’s winner against Manchester United last week and he was immense against the Gunners at the Emirates.

At 34, he was expected to be eased out like Frank Lampard. But that seemed to spur Terry, to prove the doubters wrong. And he has done so in a manner befitting an inspirational captain.

Since Aston Villa’s Paul McGrath was honoured in 1993, only one other defender has since won the prize. That was Terry when he led Chelsea to their first title in 50 years.

A decade on, and he would have been just as deserving of being the league’s best player in the league’s best side.

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