Hodgson struggles early at Anfield
New manager Roy Hodgson has instilled an even more defensive style at Liverpool
Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa has been a sensation in the Bundesliga
Red Bulls convincing in their win over MLS Cup contender the L.A. Galaxy
Five thoughts coming off the weekend action around the world:
1. Darker days ahead for Liverpool? It doesn't get much worse than this on Merseyside. After six games, Everton is mired in last place in the Premier League and Liverpool is not much better at 16th.
So far, the English media seemingly has given Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson a free pass, the rationale being that the "incredibly poor squad" that his predecessor, Rafa Benitez, left behind has done Hodgson no favors. Well, Benitez may not have left behind a title-winning squad, but last season, while largely devoid of the services of Fernando Torres, Liverpool still finished seventh. This season, with more or less the same group minus Javier Mascherano but with the additions of Raul Meireles and Joe Cole, the squad is a late Torres strike against West Brom away from being winless.
Surely Hodgson's remit to steady the squad meant that Liverpool should be holding around seventh and, in a best-case scenario, challenging for a top-four spot once more. However, Liverpool has looked even worse than last season.
Granted, it's still early, but the initial signs from Hodgson aren't promising. He's applied a strict adherence to holding rigid defensive lines, dropped the defensive back line deeper and ceased to pressure teams high. As a result, Liverpool now invites opposing teams to dictate the play, shows little inclination to set tempo or attack, and displays little imagination or creativity when it does. Fulham's Dickson Etuhu noted to the Evening Standard recently that Hodgson's successor at Fulham, Mark Hughes, is "a very different boss to Roy [Hodgson], who was more interested in looking at the shape of the team and wanted us to sit back and defend."
Just as bewildering has been Hodgson's use of Portuguese international holding midfielder Meireles, who has played either in the hole behind Torres or, as was the case against Sunderland in the first half on Saturday, at right wing. It's not too late for Hodgson to rectify his tactical philosophy, but there's a genuine concern that he could be out of his comfort zone at Liverpool.
2. Bargain of the season. For all the clubs that plead poverty when it comes to being able to afford high-impact signings, one need look no further than Borussia Dortmund's capture of 21-year-old Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa for a mere $470,000 during the summer. Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc deserves a lot of credit for recognizing that Kagawa's astonishing goal-scoring form in Japan (he scored 34 goals in his last 55 appearances for Cerezo, with 27 of those coming in the J. League Division 2) would translate to a higher-profile league. Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin has likened Kagawa's play to "an angel," and so far Kagawa has made the adjustment to Europe with astonishing ease. With four goals in his first 6 games, Kagawa's sparked Dortmund to second in the league.
3. New York vs. Los Angeles. The "biggest regular-season game" in MLS history petered out into a largely one-sided 2-0 win for the Red Bulls. However, it's probably advisable not to read too much into this result -- L.A. was missing both its starting center backs, while David Beckham was making his first start of the season. Not only was he not match sharp, but the Galaxy also need to readjust to having him in their lineup. When you factor in that Thierry Henry was also missing for the Red Bulls, it's hard to say that this game meant anything more than a glamour exercise for TV except for one thing: The Red Bulls' midfield looks head and shoulders above that of the Galaxy, and that could be the decider if the two teams meet again in the playoffs.
4. MLS notes. Looking around the rest of the league, frustrations seem to have boiled over in Toronto. With his team looking likely to miss the playoffs yet again, Toronto FC captain Dwayne De Rosario displayed unhappiness with his contract (he's making $357,000 this season in the second year of a four-year deal) with a controversial goal celebration against San Jose where he motioned as if he were signing a check.
"I think I've showed my commitment to this team, to this city and to this franchise, and it's time for them to show me some commitment as well," De Rosario told reporters after the game.
To be fair to De Rosario, given the limited production of DPs Jonathan de Guzman (making $1.67 million) and Mista ($968,736), it's no surprise that he feels grossly underpaid. Speaking of DPs, San Jose's Geovanni has looked worth every penny. His play, along with the surprising form of Chris Wondolowski (who saw his 12 goals coming?), makes the Earthquakes a dangerous team in the playoffs.
5. Watch Pelada if you can. Last week, I saw the New York screening of the soccer documentary Pelada, which details the adventures of a couple of former college soccer players who travel the world in search of pickup games. The movie is generating some buzz and good word-of-mouth. I'd definitely recommend that you try to catch it at one of the many screenings around the country.
Finally, for those who missed it, SI.com college basketball writer Andy Glockner and I trained with WPS' Sky Blue FC earlier this month. Those wanting to watch the inglorious highlights can do so here.
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