SA con­fer­ence a se­ri­ous mess

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LIVER­POOL — Bren­dan Rodgers ar­gued that Liver­pool’s play­ers rather than his tac­ti­cal sys­tem were re­spon­si­ble for the de­feats that have all but ex­tin­guished their Cham­pi­ons League am­bi­tions.

The Liver­pool manager pointed out that his top scorer this sea­son had found the net only six times in the Pre­mier League, while in the games against Manch­ester United and Ar­se­nal, the play had been far too slug­gish. He added that “so­lu­tions needed to be found” for Liver­pool’s lack of bite in attack.

In Luis Suarez and Daniel Stur­ridge, Liver­pool pos­sessed the Pre­mier League’s top two goalscor­ers last sea­son with 52 be­tween them. This time around the five strik­ers on Liver­pool’s books — Stur­ridge, Ra­heem Ster­ling, Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lam­bert and Fa-

CAPE TOWN — In cer­tain ways, the South African Su­per Rugby con­fer­ence look­ing so ex­traor­di­nar­ily tight af­ter last week­end’s matches, with a mere two points sep­a­rat­ing four teams, seems a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment.

It sug­gests healthy strength ver­sus strength ... within our own parochial land­scape.but the broader con­text of the com­pe­ti­tion mat­ters that vi­tal bit more, of course, and it is be­gin­ning to look un­pleas­antly as though a home semi-fi­nal may be be­yond any out­fit from our shores in 2015.

If that hap­pens fur­ther up the line, it would be the sec­ond suc­ces­sive time that South Africa misses out; last year the Sharks faded into a third-placed fin­ish af­ter league play and their (nec­es­sar­ily more dif­fi­cult) play­offs phase quite rapidly fiz­zled out.

New Zealand sides are col­lec­tively boss­ing pro­ceed­ings to a ma­jor de­gree as the mid­way point of or­di­nary sea­son looms for many teams this com­ing week­end.

If it weren’t for the dodgy, ar­ti­fi­cial re­quire­ment of each of the three con­fer­ence lead­ers au­to­mat­i­cally oc­cu­py­ing the top three berths on the over­all ta­ble come what may, the best-placed SA fran­chise — now the Bulls — would ac­tu­ally lie sixth. bio Borini have man­aged 14 be­tween them.

“We are still try­ing to find so­lu­tions at the top end of the field,” said Rodgers. “Our top goalscorer has six goals — we have three play­ers on six — so we have to find a so­lu­tion to that but when ev­ery­one is fit and avail­able we are able to com­pete with this squad.”

Rodgers also de­nied that man­agers like Arsène Wenger and Louis van Gaal had worked out the rad­i­cal 3-4-3 for­ma­tion that pro­pelled his side to within touch­ing dis­tance of the Cham­pi­ons League places with 10 wins in 13 games be­fore de­feats by United and Ar­se­nal.

“Our pos­ses­sion just hasn’t been good enough; that has been the key to it,” he said. “We have to build the game quickly and there is no ex­cuse for not do­ing so at the Emi­rates be­cause the pitch is so won­der­ful.

They in­stead un­con­vinc­ingly com­mand third, with the fly­ing Hur­ri­canes and Aus­tralian pace-set­ting Brumbies ahead of them, but should re­ally be be­hind all of the Chiefs, High­landers and Cru­saders as well.

Cer­tainly it is go­ing to take a near-mir­a­cle, not to men­tion a mas­sive im­prove­ment in play­ing stan­dards and game-plans by as­pi­rant SA teams, for one of them to power into top spot over­all af­ter 16 rounds and boast po­ten­tial rights to a cov­eted home show­piece.

The ‘Canes’ have moved to a gap­ing 12-point lead over the Bulls, and keep in mind that they have al­ready toured South Africa while the Loftus-based side, by con­trast, still have to ne­go­ti­ate the al­ways per­ilous four-match over­seas ros­ter — this year they will tackle the Blues, Chiefs, Brumbies and Rebels in that or­der.

Sim­i­larly the pa­thet­i­cally lame Sharks, level on 19 log points with the Bulls but hav­ing played one ex­tra match, also haven’t yet pock­eted their pass­ports for an even tougher pro­gramme abroad on pa­per that

It was the same against Manch­ester United and in the first half at Swansea — the speed of our game hasn’t been there and nor has the speed of our pass­ing.

“Against Ar­se­nal, we didn’t start well, got back into it, and then de­fended poorly. I don’t think it was any­thing to do with the sys­tem; we just didn’t pass the ball quickly enough.”

How­ever, the Liver­pool manager knows that once it is over, the club will have to ad­dress the ques­tion of how an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is fifth in the Pre­mier League in terms of wages and turnover fails to reg­u­larly break into the top four in the ta­ble.

“That is not the at­ti­tude we want at the club,” said Rodgers when asked whether fifth was Liver­pool’s nat­u­ral po­si­tion. “We have to fight to get in there and, what­ever the bar­ri­ers that are in front of us, we have to do ev­ery­thing we can to break them down.”

Liver­pool spent more than £100m in the sum­mer to bol­ster a squad that had to com­pete for the ti­tle and in Europe. How­ever, too many play­ers have failed to make an in­stant im­pact.

“You bring in play­ers with the in­ten­tion of them all do­ing well,” said Rodgers. “What you can­not vouch for when they come to a club of this size is how long that adap­tion process is go­ing to take. in­volves the High­landers, Hur­ri­canes, Waratahs and Reds.

For the Dur­ban side, es­pe­cially, the tour looks a hellish prospect when you take into ac­count that last Satur­day they pro­duced one of their most in­com­pe­tent, list­less and ill-dis­ci­plined home show­ings of all time in Su­per Rugby as they were routed 52-10 by the Cru­saders and by eight tries to one.

If you heard a “pop” around Kings Park af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle – no, make that long be­fore it – it was the sound of the Sharks’ bub­ble burst­ing. A fourth de­feat, with­out even hav­ing trav­elled long-haul yet, hardly seems a recipe for a con­certed crack at the main sil­ver­ware.

You could ar­gue that they are in full-blown cri­sis, af­ter de­cep­tive, ugly Kings Park vic­to­ries over the Force and Chiefs that gave their sup­port­ers very lit­tle cheer and only de­layed a proper im­plo­sion which then came against the Cantabri­ans.

They looked rud­der­less and tac­ti­cally naive — two fail­ings which you could not ac­cuse their next op­po­nents, the Li­ons in Jo­hannes-

“You can be a very good player and not hit it off for some rea­son, or it just takes time like [it did with mid­fielder] Lu­cas Leiva. It didn’t hap­pen for him early on in his Liver­pool ca­reer but he ended up do­ing well and the sup­port­ers ap­pre­ci­ate the role he plays.

“It is just un­for­tu­nate that th­ese play­ers need time, and you don’t get that in mod­ern foot­ball.”

Rodgers was adamant that de­spite re­ports to the con­trary, the team meet­ing at Mel­wood on Easter Sun­day did not turn into a slang­ing match as to who was re­spon­si­ble for Liver­pool’s re­cent fail­ings.

The meet­ing, he said, was rou­tine. “This was no dif­fer­ent to a whole host of meet­ings we have had here all year. Those meet­ings helped us to re­cover from a bad start and win 10 games out of 13.”

Fix­tures April 11: Swansea City v Ever­ton, West Ham United v Stoke City, Southamp­ton v Hull City,

Sun­der­land v Crys­tal Palace, West Brom v Le­ices­ter, Tot­ten­ham v As­ton Villa, Burn­ley v Ar­se­nal. April 12: Queens Park Rangers v Chelsea, Manch­ester United v Manch­ester City.

— The In­de­pen­dent burg on Satur­day, of hav­­han Ack­er­mann’s charges are presently the most ad­mirable South African team, hav­ing added the home derby scalp of the Bulls to a three-from­four win record over­seas af­ter this week­end’s last-ditch 22-18 victory.

Most of us ac­knowl­edge deep down that the Li­ons don’t have the depth or ar­ray of su­per­stars to se­ri­ously con­tend for the ti­tle: from a neu­tral South African per­spec­tive, it would prob­a­bly have been bet­ter for the Bulls, three times cham­pi­ons in the com­pe­ti­tion, to have held on af­ter seiz­ing an 18-15 ad­van­tage late on, only to botch a kick-off re­ceipt that led to the Li­ons’ re­place­ment hooker Ar­mand van der Merwe bar­relling over for the de­ci­sive try.

At the same time, you can only take your hat off to their heroic per­se­ver­ance: a lesser team in terms of courage and unity would have been en­ti­tled to lose some steam, rather than only amass it, in the dy­ing min­utes of this High­veld grudge game af­ter only re­turn­ing a few days ago from their ex­er­tions abroad.the Li­ons have now joined the Storm­ers on 17 points, both two shy of the Bulls and Sharks, to make the con­fer­ence a great ball of con­fu­sion – to the glee, no doubt, of all the bet­ter Aus­tralasian teams.

Frankly, War­ren White­ley and his merry men may de­serve now to be con­sid­ered favourites for the fol­low-up derby against the Sharks, and if they do pull it off they will leapfrog them in the con­fer­ence.

The Bulls weren’t all bad in the nar­row re­verse in the Big Smoke, and should re­turn to win­ning ways when they en­ter­tain the sec­ond­from-bot­tom Reds in the first game of their mini-sa sa­fari next week­end.

For the sake of col­lec­tive rugby pride in this coun­try, they need to — and prefer­ably con­vinc­ingly – against the Aussie strug­glers.

Full week­end fix­tures April 10: Blues v Brumbies April 11: Cru­saders v High­landers, Waratahs v Storm­ers, Force v Chee­tahs, Li­ons v Sharks, Bulls v Reds. — Sport24

LIVER­POOL’S Ra­heem Ster­ling (right) was in­ef­fec­tual against Ar­se­nal on Satur­day.

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