Back to bread and butter today with a home game against Middlesbrough.
I say bread and butter because that is what the Premiership is, even though it has aspirations to become something else by expanding to a 39th game. The other day FA Chairman David Triesman came out in opposition to this idea fearing it would jeopardize England’s 2018 World Cup bid.
Agh… the good old FA. Protectors of tradition, in this case the institution of teams playing each other twice, once home and once away? Oh hang on this is the same FA that in 2000 encouraged Manchester United to break with tradition and pass on defending their title as FA Cup holders, one of, if not the, world’s oldest footballing competitions, to enter the newly created FIFA World Club Championship because it would be seen as beneficial England’s 2006 World Cup bid!
To paraphrase Brucey (happy 80th) “And what do World Cups bring? Prizes” and lots and lots of them! So, who is the more principled? The Premiership, chasing an extra lucrative game or the FA in wanting to protect the chance of a World Cup cash cow?
To more down to earth and less greedy issues. Although it is still tempting to enjoy the aftermath of the Inter game progress in the league is just as, if not more, important. Rafa has continued his latest philosophy of not thinking too far ahead.
“We have two targets. One is the Champions League and the other is to finish in the top four. We have four games before Inter Milan and we must try to win these games. Our idea is to think about these four games and after that Inter will be a very tough game. The key is to be sure we are in the top four.”
Quite so. Although it’s disappointing that because Arsenal are also in Milan for their second leg, we will be playing a tie a week later the delay does enable us to put this out of our minds for longer and concentrate on the league. The next four games are against Middlesbrough, Bolton, West Ham and Newcastle. Only Bolton is away so there should be no excuses for not getting twelve points? OK between 10 and twelve points? OK less if Rafa is tempted to chop and change as the San Siro gets nearer!
Hopefully, Tuesday and the confidence gained from it will carry itself into the league games. Dirk Kuyt must have enjoyed his goal more than most, especially as he has been going through a lean spell and has, as a result, attracted criticism. This has been a tad short sighted as he has had personal issues off the pitch regarding the illness of his father, which is bound to transfer into his play. No one would ever doubt Kuyt’s work rate which is often ignored or not noticed so it’s good, especially given what he has been through, that his endeavour was finally rewarded with something tangible for everyone to appreciate him by.
Elsewhere it finally looks as if Ryan Babel is getting the run he is due in the side. Babel spoke about this to The Echo the other day and reveled that, besides looking to the next game, Rafa is also mindful of the future with a view to bringing on and developing players such as himself.
“We talk a lot about different things, not just about how to improve my game but also how to improve the play of the team tactically, defensively and offensively. I can definitely improve. I watch the lads who’ve played for Liverpool for a few years and they help me a lot.”
For today we have a problem in defence. Jamie Carragher is suspended and Martin Skrtel has a dodgy ankle. There’s been talk in the papers of Daniel Agger being drafted in but why risk him? When we had a similar problem around Christmas Arbeloa stepped up so I expect him to partner Sami in the middle.
Victory today would put us fourth and with Everton at Man City on Monday we could make ground. However, we need to be careful, Middlesbrough are unbeaten in eight league and cup games. Nonetheless I expect a win. Anything else, given the last two results, would just serve to turn Tuesday’s amazement and joy into puzzlement and frustration once more?
Enjoy your Saturday.