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Assessing Jordon Ibe’s impact at Anfield

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At the moment there is very little which Liverpool fans can be excited about coming off the back of an abysmal Premier League campaign which resulted in a sixth place finish. The fact that there are still some footballers at the club that seem to be playing purely out of love for the game is of little consequence to the fans reeling from the horrors of last season.

Horrors? It wasn’t all that bad, was it? It was alright when the team didn’t lose for thirteen games consecutively. It was actually decent when Philippe Coutinho rocked up after about two or three months and worked his magic.

Perhaps a turning point in the season came with the return of Jordon Ibe. Injury to several regulars left Brendan Rodgers short-handed and he chose to re-call the 19 year old from his season-long loan with Derby County.

The purpose of loaning out a young player is usually to help get them get more regular football and thus help the player develope. I watched Derby regularly when Ibe transferred and I was disappointed at the lack of starting appearances he made. He started 14 games during his loan spell and was introduced off the bench 10 times.

That being said, regardless of who you are or where you’re coming from, guaranteed professional football is difficult to come by. He scored 5 goals for Derby County and boss Steve McClaren was highly impressed with him.

“When he first came, we gave Jordon a ball on his own and gave the team the other ball,” McClaren said in December. “Now, he’s learning to be a team player and developing into that. He’s learning he needs to add end product to his game.”

Ibe played his last game for Derby in a crucial win at Ipswich on the 10th of January and a week later he came on as substitute against Aston Villa in the Premier League. Three weeks after being re-welcomed to Melwood he started in a Merseyside derby and was played as a right-wing by Rodgers due to his lack of options. It’s not surprising given his physical nature how well he coped with the defensive responsibilities.

“That was maybe the one thing that surprised me,” says Gary Waddock, who handed Ibe his professional debut as a 15-year-old. “I had no doubt he could handle a big game, and that he had the talent, but as a right wing-back? That shows how much he has come on as a player.”

Ibe very nearly scored the perfect debut goal, and one of the best Merseyside derby goals in history with a thunderbolt that crashed of the side off the post. Upon his return he had even less involvement than he had while on loan.

He made 12 league appearances at an average of 52 minutes per game. However, during those 12 games he dribbled past more opponents per 90 minutes than Sterling, averaging 3.5 dribbles per game to Sterling’s 3. He also boasted an impressive average passing accuracy of 97.4 percent.

Only Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure had more accurate pass rates. This is made even more impressive as they are all centre backs and the majority of their passing is lateral and doesn’t have the risk that an incisive pass has.

Maturity Revealed

In May, Ibe signed a new 5 year deal with Liverpool. It has been revealed that his step-father was instrumental in the deal being a success. As a result of the nature of the talks his step-father was offered a job as a scout at the club. Ibe told Neil Jones of the Liverpool Echo, “I don’t see what an agent can do for me that my parents?couldn’t.”

This is both great to see an also worrisome as it would be most likely irk Ibe’s friend and team-mate, Raheem Sterling to hear such a comment. Aidy Ward is Sterling’s infamous representative and while the matter needs no more publicity the following is very pertinent:

“I don’t care about the PR of the club and the club situation. I don’t care,” Ward said this in his rant about Sterling not signing for anything between £700K and £1 million a week. It highlights his failure to Sterling as an advisor and the complete lack of a paternal aspect that having your father represent you provides. The very fact that Ibe has seemingly looked past the contractual and material side of football is incredible and to be so mature at such a young age is fantastic to see.

Liverpool supporters have recognized him as a young star and with the potential to be world class. He must surely have the same mindset because while his team-mates are enjoying their holidays he is taking part in extra training sessions with Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ingelthorpe.

This sends the right message and shows that he intends to rock up in the upcoming season and be more than just a squad member, regardless of the signings Rodgers brings in. Hard work like this under the Ulsterman doesn’t go unnoticed and he will likely be rewarded with a starting berth come the new season.

If Liverpool truly want to succeed then Brendan Rodger’s knack for featuring players out of position needs to stop. In order for Ibe’s development to continue in earnest he needs to be played in his natural position and not restricted by being played at right-wing back.

Don’t get me wrong, it is very encouraging that even at such a young age he is tactically astute in that he can slot in at right back without too much instruction. That being said, his true quality lies in attacking roles and the development of this will not take place in a right back role.

Jordon Ibe holds a goldmine of talent which Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers can utilize if, and only if Ibe is played in the correct position. The 2015/2016 season will undoubtedly be a season of excitement for Ibe as he going into it as a known commodity for Liverpool fans and not a player of potential quality. It will surely be exciting to see him feature as left wing, that is, if Rodgers thinks to play him there.

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Aspiring sports writing currently completing final year of high-school education. Your typical die-hard fan of Liverpool. Founder of rousingthekop.wordpress.com

FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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Liverpool

Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season

Martyn Cooke

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On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.

However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.

Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.

The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.

Roberto Firmino

At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.

But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.

The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.

The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.

Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.

However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.

He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.

The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.

But that is set to change.

Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.

Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.

The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.

Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.

He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.

Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.

His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.

Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.

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Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Manchester United overcame Huddersfield Town in their FA Cup 5th Round contest.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

A brace from sharpshooter Romelu Lukaku fired Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of Huddersfield Town.

Lukaku opened his account in the third minute before netting his second of the evening shortly after the second-half resumption.

Victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. However, as the Terriers produced a spirited display after the early setback.

There was also controversy involving the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.

Juan Mata saw an effort ruled out for offside after a review, but confusion abounded about whether it had been the correct decision.

Here are three talking points from an eventful encounter, as United set up a last-eight tie with Brighton & Hove Albion…

Lukaku’s goals are a fillip for Jose Mourinho

The Belgian has come in for criticism from some quarters for his goal return since last summer’s big-money transfer from Everton.

While he may not have reached the levels of Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah, Lukaku has now scored 21 times in all competitions for United this season.

That tally was boosted by his double against Huddersfield, which showed off his best attributes.

Lukaku was too strong and clever for Huddersfield’s defence as he latched on to Mata’s through ball for the first, before putting the finishing touch to an Alexis Sanchez pass for his second.

The former Chelsea man’s performance will be the biggest plus for United boss Jose Mourinho, who is relying on him to spearhead the attack for the remainder of the campaign.

Lukaku is a confidence player, so this was a timely boost ahead of a crucial run of fixtures both domestically and in Europe.

VAR under the microscope yet again

The introduction of technology to any sport usually results in teething problems.

It is fair to say VAR has experienced more than its fair share in football this season.

Employed in some FA and League Cup matches, controversy has never been far away. This was again the case at Huddersfield.

Mata appeared to have doubled United’s lead just before half-time, but referee Kevin Friend waited for confirmation from VAR that he had been onside.

After about a minute, Friend disallowed the goal when it was judged that Mata had been fractionally offside as the ball was played.

Contention emerged when viewers saw the incident on TV, where the guidelines were clearly not straight.

In fact, they were embarrassingly wonky.

Further replays suggested – with parallel lines correctly in place – that Mata’s knee had indeed been offside, but it was a very close call and certainly not an obvious mistake by the referee’s assistant.

These technical hitches will need to be ironed out before VAR is brought in universally.

Huddersfield can be positive despite FA Cup exit

With their Premier League status hanging in the balance, it would have been understandable if Huddersfield manager David Wagner had seen this fixture as an unwanted distraction.

But there was absolutely no suggestion that they were trying not to win the match, or prepared to exit the competition without a fight.

The Terriers, who famously beat United at home in the Premier League last October, carried on from where they left off last weekend in the impressive 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Conceding so early to United had not been in the script, but the hosts regrouped quickly and caused their opponents plenty of problems.

Ultimately, the difference between the two sides was the quality of finishing.

Whereas the visitors scored with their only two shots on target, Huddersfield wasted numerous openings as they slipped to defeat.

Nevertheless, attention can be turned back to their bid for survival, without their confidence dented.

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