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NBA Playoff Predictions!

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8th Seed: Portland Trailblazers Last year the Trailblazers relied way too heavily on their starters (to the point where their stud rookie Damian Lillard led the league in minutes). Granted their starters are all very good players, using them that frequently is risky over the course of a long season. Fortunately, things have changed drastically this year as the Blazers were active in free agency and drafted a capable combo guard in C.J. McCollum. They even traded for college star Thomas Robinson who actually boasted one of the better rebounds per minute rate when he did get playing time. In my opinion, Portland scored big when they signed Mo Williams, a quality point guard who can shoot and give Lillard extended rests. Other key additions include Robin Lopez, someone who could be a defensive presence in the key (where they struggled heavily last year) and Dorell Wright, another shooter from the wing.

7th Seed: Minnesota Timberwolves Could this finally be the year where Kevin Love makes the playoffs? After many years of being forced in the lottery it finally looks like the Timberwolves have a team that can succeed. With added wings in the forms of Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin the Timberwolves have added scoring and improved their very weak bench. Also, keep in mind that Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio only played one game together last year. With a healthy Kevin Love, who happens to be the best power forward in the game, the Timberwolves can compete with anyone.

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6th Seed: Houston Rockets A healthy Dwight Howard can go a long way. Although I’m not a big fan of his, he is arguably the best center in the league. As long as the big man is motivated to play hard, the Rockets can win on any given night. Couple Dwight Howard’s dominant inside game with James Harden’s prolific scoring ability and you already have a dangerous team. Quality role players that they already possess will only add to that. All have adequate defensive skills and can do other things on the court to help their team succeed. Parsons is becoming a fan favorite around the league because of his well rounded and smart basketball plays. Omer Asik already proved that he can matchup with even the toughest centers of the league and make them work every possession.

5th Seed: Memphis Grizzlies It pains me to have to put the Grizzlies as a fifth seed when they’re such a good team. It just goes to show how stacked the West is. They have not made any significant changes other than adding Kosta Koufos, who I think will be a pretty good backup, and Mike Miller (but he is getting older). Their gritty defense and elite rebounding could easily get them a better seeding and deep playoff run. They still lack a player who can sufficiently score in isolation from the perimeter but their superb ball movement should make up for that. Do not sleep on this team.

4th Seed: Golden State Warriors The Warriors gave the Bay Area much to be proud about with a successful season and strong playoff run last year. While the team lost its two best bench players in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, the additions outweigh their losses. These key additions include Jermaine O’ Neal (until Festus Ezeli returns from injury), Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, and Andre Iguoadala. People often forget how well rounded Andre Iguoadala is as his impact can be seen all over the box score. Additionally, his perimeter defense is elite and will help the warriors win a lot of games. The loss of Iguodala and George Karl are actually the main reasons I have Denver missing the playoffs. More than what he brings onto the court, Iguoadala shows superb leadership skills and creates for a good locker room presence. The dynamic of this team is well shaped and could give any team troubles. It starts with the fantastic outside shooting from the “Splash Brothers” but follows in the post as well with David Lee’s well-rounded half court offense and Bogut’s stringent interior defense that can launch him into Defensive Player of the Year conversations. With all these positives to look at it, it’s hard not to give them home court advantage in the first round. Warrior fans will look a little something like this all season

Warrior fans will have a lot to celebrate about this upcoming season.

3rd Seed: Oklahoma City Thunder With Westbrook’s injury more serious than many have originally thought, the Thunder’s record could be at harm. It’s really odd putting a talented team like the Thunder as a third seed but four to six weeks is a long time to miss and can really hamper a team in the competitive Western Conference. They probably won’t lose a ton of games due to the injury because of how good Kevin Durant, the handful they do can be just enough to cost them a top two seed. In terms of winning a championship the Thunder still pose a legitimate threat but more needs to be done to improve the center position than drafting Steven Adams (although I do like this draft pick).

2nd Seed: Los Angeles Clippers The revamped Clippers have looked good on paper and are oozing with confidence. Newly acquired head coach Doc Rivers seems to have a lot of faith in his team as he declared that he plans to rest Chris Paul by “blowing teams out” and that DeAndre Jordan should be a defensive player of the year candidate. Furthermore, it seems as if DeAndre put a lot of work into improving his shot to help his miserable free throw percentage. It should also be noted that Blake Griffin has been enhancing his post game as he gets more experience. While he has been criticized for “only dunking” in years past, Griffin acknowledged his problem and put in the work to prove critics wrong. Big men usually take a few years to develop so chances are that Blake has big things to show us this upcoming season. The team has struggled in years’ past in the half-court but added perimeter shooting in the forms of J.J. Reddick and Jared Dudley should fix that.

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1st Seed: San Antonio Spurs It’s pretty self-explanatory for why I put the Spurs as the first seed. This team has it all. The best head coach (possibly of all time) in Gregg Popovich, a Hall of Famer in Tim Duncan, a perennial All-Star point guard in Tony Parker, developing young core in Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green, and a solid bench. While they have not made any moves that will blow away the average fan this off-season, I still think the acquisition of Marco Bellinelli will pay off huge dividends. This team has almost no holes to expose making it very tough to defeat them whether it be a regular season game or lengthy playoff series. They will be knocking on the door of winning a championship again just as they were last year. Maybe this year a couple of free throws won’t cost them.

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Age and lack of hair shouldn’t be a problem for this team.

EAST

8th Seed: Atlanta Hawks The Hawks have had a solid off-season although it went largely unnoticed. Despite that, the moves made should be able to keep them in the playoffs and GM Danny Ferry should be commended for that. Horford and Milsap are really skilled big men and can rebound well even though they are a bit undersized. In the guards department, the underrated Jeff Teague can run the offensively effectively and the potent Louis Williams can provide scoring off the bench. Additionally, Kyle Korver’s abilities shouldn’t be overlooked. He can shoot the three well and has good size on him. I’d recommend him as a sleeper for any fantasy basketball teams in need of additional three point shooters (if you’re playing category that is).

7th Seed: Washington Wizards The Wizards have made many admirable moves this off-season. It began with the drafting of Otto Porter whose game I absolutely adore. Following that they signed Glen Rice, Eric Maynor and gave extensions to Martell Webster and fan favorite John Wall. The Wizards have done a great job in building a team around the electrifying point guard and should be praised. I don’t think there is another player on the planet that compliments Wall’s game as much as second year guard Bradley Beal. This team managed to pull off a lot of wins when the two were healthy and against good teams as well. If they could land another quality big man this team could be a big force in the near future.

NOTE: This was written before the Marcin Gortat trade. He should block shots in the paint and get easy buckets because of Wall’s superb passing ability. Additionally, Shannon Brown should be a nice spark off the bench with a fast paced game and athleticism to further compliment John Wall.

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Look for this deadly backcourt to do big things this season.

6th Seed: Cleveland Cavaliers Can I just say that General Manager Chris Grant is a genius? After every draft he leaves me scratching my head but always seems to have made the right moves. His hard work has paid off and brought together a Cavaliers team that has enough talent to make the playoffs barring injuries. Key players like Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and Andrew Bynum have earned themselves the “injury-prone” title to the general public but the Cavaliers have made solid moves to fill that potential weakness. They sought out the best available backup point guard in Jarret Jack and drafted a big that has a ton of upside in Anthony Bennett. The small forward position has always been a problem for them ever since Lebron had that one hour special so they signed Earl Clark, someone who can shoot the three and defend well. There are going to be a lot of fun things to “witness” this season in Cleveland including the development of Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, both of whom possess the potential to be All Stars. A player I’m taking particular interest to is Sergey Karasev, the nineteen-year-old Russian. He’s a 6’ 7” left handed sharpshooter with above average passing skills and a solid understanding of the game. He reminds me a little of Klay Thompson with less athleticism and defensive prowess, but makes better use of his body when attacking the rim and posting up.

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5th Seed: New York Knicks The Knicks have made a couple of free agent signings this past summer but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee improvement. Metta World Peace obviously isn’t the same player he was back when he first joined the Lakers and Andrea Bargani is a power forward who think he’s a shooting guard. I swear he just hovers around the three-point line, hoping to launch shots from deep. With that type of play the Knicks will have to rely too heavily on Tyson Chandler to rebound every missed shot. On top of that, the former first overall pick always seems to be hurt. Carmelo Anthony put pressure on the front office to do something by saying he wants to become a free agent and quite possibly decline his player option. If the Knicks want to have a legit shot at winning a championship they will need to hope for internal development from Iman Shumpert, improved consistency from J.R. Smith, and find a way to have Carmelo and Amar’e succeed on the floor together. (How long have we been saying that now?)

4th Seed: Chicago Bulls While there may not be much improvement from the Knicks, this Chicago Bulls team is the exact opposite with the return of former MVP Derrick Rose. They managed to accomplish a lot this past season without their superstar, which goes to show you how deep that team is. Last year immense pressure was put on Joakim Noah to lead an active defense and he performed admirably. Expect that to be alleviated a little with their leader coming back to run the show. Other things to watch out for is the possible trades of Carlos Boozer and/or Luol Deng. With the emergence of youngster Jimmy Butler and the always tough Taj Gibson, the two players mentioned earlier have become more expendable. It will be hard to move Carlos Boozer because of his declining productivity and messy contract (especially with the new luxury taxes being installed), but one should almost expect Deng to be traded. It is the final year of his contract and there have been no reports of the two sides talking about a possible extension. Deng is owed a lot of money at $14.3 million and I severely doubt the Bulls want to bring him back when they already have three players making over 8 figures next year (Derrick Rose at $18.9 million, Carlos Boozer at $16.8 million, and Joakim Noah at $13.2 million).

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3rd Seed: Brooklyn Nets I was always taught not to judge a book by its cover but it’s so hard for me not to when looking at this Nets teams. Their roster is stacked from top to bottom and it shows in the depth chart. Big names like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez speak for themselves, but it’s the reserve players that get me really excited for this team. For those paying attention last year, Shaun Livingston did a good job filling in for Kyrie Irving whenever he got injured. He’s a big point guard, standing at 6’ 7”, and possesses a great understanding of the game. Everyone knows that Jason Terry is capable of scoring and could be a candidate for being sixth man of the year if put in a suitable system (although I doubt that will happen this year). Andrei Kirilenko can play either forward position and his versatility can help in a lot of areas of the game. Reggie Evans rebounds like a monster and Andray Blatche has always shown flashes of brilliance. Mason Plumlee should also be NBA-ready with all the seasoning he has gotten at Duke. The only thing holding this team back is a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd and the team not gelling with each other, but to me, the players on the Nets have too high of a basketball I.Q. and experience for them not to overcome these problems.

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2nd Seed: Indiana Pacers The tough Indiana Pacers are going to give Miami a run for their money again as this Pacer team is big and rebounds like crazy (facets of the game where Miami significantly struggle in). In fact, they were the best rebounding team last season with Roy Hibbert and David West leading the charge. Even their starting wing players were averaging a combined fifteen rebounds a game. That number competes with other teams’ bigs! The team only looks to get better with a healthy Danny Granger and free agent acquisitions C.J. Watson, Louis Scola, and Chris Copeland. All the players just listed are significant upgrades to their bench and have shown much promise in the past. Their gritty defense, superb rebounding, and strong bench could be the difference.

1st Seed: Miami Heat I have gotten so accustomed to the Miami Heat winning that the only interesting storyline that I can come up for them this season is whether or not Greg Oden can have a successful comeback. Maybe he can help Miami overcome their rebounding woes where they were ranked thirtieth last season. As everyone knows, they managed to win the championship last year, making it two in a row now. Pat Riley decided to come back with an identical team to see if they can make it a threepeat.

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ChatKop: World Series Preview

  Welcome to our first post under our new name SportsKop. This is a segment called ChatKop, where our columnists break down a hot sports topic with a friendly back and forth conversation. In this edition of ChatKop, Aditya (AS) and Chengez (CK) take a look at the World Series

Dustin Pedroia and Carlos Beltran will Square off in the Fall Classic

AS: The Fall Classic is here and while neither of our teams are in it, it ceases to amaze and entertain fanatics like us on a yearly basis.

CK: Agreed man, this is going to be one hell of a series.  

AS: SportsKop is gonna go deep. How deep? As deep as Victorino’s grand slam against Jose Veras’ curveball. Speaking of which, that home run just made me shake my head. Why was he so obsessed with throwing breaking balls?


CK: Well to me, there was nothing wrong with throwing a breaking ball there; Victorino is batting right handed against a right handed pitcher. Veras was trying to exploit that and the idea was good, but he threw it right in his wheelhouse on an 0-2 count. If you have 3 pitches to play with, don’t you have to go outside the zone? You gotta make him chase!


AS: Yeah I guess he was still reminiscing about his days as an Astro. I think the Red Sox relied on the long ball quite a lot this series.

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CK: I don’t think thats about to change, especially at Fenway. That’s what the Red Sox are supposed to do: use the monster to their advantage, and i’m sure the Cardinals will as well. But even though the Sox rely on the long ball, part of the reason they get those pitches is because they take so many. They’re incredibly selective, and it’s a strategy that really works for them; they know the importance of getting on base, and even though you don’t see incredible batting averages, this team succeeds because they realize that’s not all that matters.

AS: I couldn’t agree more with that. I think their approach in game 1 was quite telling of that. But then, they decided to become a little bit more aggressive, but not just whacking and swinging at everything. They were successful at getting Detroit’s starters pitch counts high and then went on to attack their weak point: their bullpen. But man, the Red Sox pitching went toe to toe against Detroit’s main trio.


CK: Yeah, and you can same about the Cardinals pitching going up against the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke and succeeding.


AS: Speaking of the Cardinals, this is Beltran’s first World Series in his career, ever. Kind of strange considering how many postseason games he has played and the crazy numbers he puts up during the playoffs, no?


CK: Yeah, i think that’s just greater proof that the whole thing is to quote Billy Beane “a crapshoot”. If you’re in it, you can win it. Sure, there’s something to be said about home-field advantage and consistency of a team over the course of the year, not to mention there are ridiculously more talented than others, but if one team clicks over the course of october, they can win it all. Ironically, after laying all that out for you, the two teams that have arrived to the world series were the two best teams in the regular season. Go figure!


AS: Yeah, I was watching MLB network and they showed the regular season standings and Harold Reynolds was talking about how its something to celebrate and also that we are going to see the two best teams this season go head to head. Going back to Beltran for a second though, I really think he will be a bigger factor than Allen Craig in the World Series. What are your thoughts on that?

Can Beltran Prove to be lethal in the World Series?

CK: Despite my man crush on Craig, you’re probably right. Craig is going to be serving as DH during road games, but at home, his role is going to be reduced to pinch hitter most likely. Meanwhile, Beltran is going to be in the lineup everyday, getting more at-bats and using his cannon for an arm to impact the game defensively.

AS: I think the Cardinals will be a tougher test for Boston since they aren’t so one-dimensional like the Tigers. They have speedy players, guys who can get on base, guys with power, and a better bullpen to along with a solid pitching staff.


CK: Oh, no doubt. This series is going to be a test for both sides. The Red Sox had some trouble producing runs against the Tigers’ starting staff and the Cardinals’ staff has been just as solid during the postseason with superior relief pitching. And remember this about the Dodgers: Puig was no longer the red hot player ESPN had practically already declared a Hall of Famer when the playoffs began. He entered the postseason struggling. Combine that with a scorching Hanley Ramirez getting hurt and the Dodger lineup was nowhere near full strength. Meanwhile the Red Sox are at full strength: Ortiz, Pedroia, Victorino, Napoli, and Ellsbury are all healthy and ready to go. This lineup is much deeper than the lineups the Cardinals have seen so far.

Lester seems to have Captured his 2008 Form

AS: Yeah, I agree with that, the Pirates were pretty feeble on paper and the Dodgers like you said weren’t anywhere near full strength. The Red Sox have actually faced some pretty good competition up to this point as well. The Rays and the Tigers had some great arms in their staff and they didn’t have trouble beating them at all.

CK: Yeah, you would think its because their offense is so strong but they’ve had some pitchers really step up. Jon lester returning to 2010 form, John Lackey?!??!?!?! coming out of nowhere, and Clay Buchholz we know is good. Their pitching has really been as big a reason as any that they’ve made it to this point.

AS: Yeah how in the WORLD did that happen? Jesus Lackey was posting ERAs above 7 before his Tommy John surgery and Lester has been lights out pretty much its really crazy! What’s really interesting though is that Wainwright and Wacha have never pitched in Fenway or against the Red Sox.

CK: That’s the fun part of the world series, you get showdowns between two teams who don’t know each other really well. And in the last 3 world series/postseason in general, there have been some truly unlikely heroes stepping up to lead their team to victory.


AS: Yeah who the hell thought Scutaro and Edgar Renteria of all people would help your favorite team win 2 World Series?

Can Freese Repeat his 2011 Heroics once more?

CK: Don’t forget your boy, David Freese in 2011! Maybe he’ll break out the magic bat this world series as well?

AS: Oh man, that was just amazing. That was so clutch. They were a strike away from losing in game 6!! Man, ok if I don’t stop now, I can go on for days about this.

CK: It was quite remarkable…Who steps up this year though? Give us a name from both teams


AS: I think for the Red Sox, Stephen Drew might be the guy. I know that’s like the most ridiculous name to pick, but he’s known to have random bursts of power.


CK: I’ve been really impressed with his defense so far. Hopefully he can translate that success to the plate.


AS: Yeah, he’s got an amazing glove. And if he does something like give them the lead late into a game, all of his batting woes will be forgotten and that $7 million salary would be justified.


CK: My Red Sox pick is going to be Xander Bogaerts. The rook is bound to show power at some point; what better time to unleash it than during the World Series?


AS: His at-bats proved to be extremely valuable during the ALCS and he’s going to be a great replacement for Drew next season.


CK: His plate discipline is already amazing, can’t wait to see what kind of hitter he becomes in 2-3 years.


AS: Yeah it’s kinda scary to think. Anyways, for the Cardinals, I really want to stay David Freese but I feel like Mat Adams might be their secret weapon who will step up big time He’s just waiting to smash a ball deep into the left field.


CK: Yeah, in Allen Craig’s absence, he really hasn’t provided anything, but he’s a home run waiting to happen. He’s sort of like a lower risk lower reward Adam Dunn, not as many home runs, but not as many strikeouts either. Maybe with Allen Craig back, he finally launches one into the seats?


AS: Yes, maybe the competition that makes him do better.

Craig’s addition might prove to be Key for the Cardinals

CK: Since we’re really lazy and we put this chat off till the last moment, I actually just caught a glimpse of the cardinals starting lineup tonight: Carpenter 2B, Beltran RF, Holliday LF, Craig DH, Molina C, Freese 3B, Adams 1B, Robinson CF, Kozma SS, Wainwright P. And since Jon Jay’s out, i’m gonna go with the one and only Shane Robinson. Hey, he’s already hit one home run in the NLCS. I have faith in him Hopefully he gets lucky again.

AS: Looking at that lineup, Matheny is a smart man. I still believe in the philosophy that the best hitter should always bat second, which is Beltran. And Craig’s average with men on base is ridiculous so putting him fourth is the right move.

CK: Yeah, we haven’t talked about the managers, but both are really good. Matheny has picked up right where La Russa left off. He managers his bullpen well and knows how to put a lineup together. My mom (yes, she noticed it before I did) also made me aware of the fact that even when his team is down or is on the wrong side of a horrific call, it never seems to phase him and I realize that’s absolutely true. That guy’s as cool as they come: very calm and collected.

AS: John Farrell, who worked with Francona, has pretty much brought his magic back to Boston. From first to last, regardless of how much you money, talent, and resources you have, it’s still a remarkable thing to turn that team around.


CK: He made them a team that wanted to com to work again The clubhouse chemistry is great after being so bad under Valentine. People actually wanna play together, just like they used to under Francona. But at the same time, he’s also kept them focused on the task at hand, like when he did that simulated game so they would be prepared despite their long stint between games. And I’m sorry for bringing it up so much, but the plate selection is excellent. They have a really great offensive philosophy and Farrell also knows how to manage a bullpen. He gets the most out of his players


AS: So tonight it’s Wainwright vs Lester, one hell of a pitching matchup Lester has faced the Cardinals only once in his career and was real good, but that was 2008 so I’m gonna ignore that.

Adam Wainwright

CK: As you should,  the teams are completely different now. This is as tough as it gets. I can’t see Wainwright blowing up, but despite how well Lester has thrown the ball, I can see him giving up a big blast, so I gotta give the edge to Cards in that regard tonight.

AS: Wainwright is truly as safe a bet as they come. Lester is scary still. i don’t trust him. I feel like he’s gonna give up a lot of hits tonight.


CK: Let’s look bigger picture though. It’ the the time our audience (of one person) has been waiting for: prediction time. By the way, that one person reading is probably Hirsch, who I’d like to welcome to the SportsKop family. He knows his stuff and he’s going to make a great addition to our team. Be on the lookout for a post from him about the NBA quite soon. Anyways, Red Sox or Cardinals and in how many games?


AS: Man, this is tough. People have constantly written off the NL teams since 2010 in the World Series but they’ve always won.


CK: Yep, the NL has indeed won 3 straight world series. And its been Giants Cardinals Giants … you can see a pattern building.


AS: Oh dear, DO NOT SAY THAT! I DONT WANT TO SEE THE GIANTS WIN AGAIN IN 2014. My brain is telling me Sox but my gut says the Cardinals will surprise people again and follow that stupid pattern. I say the Cardinals will win in 7 games with David Freese driving in the winning run.


CK: I’ll go Red Sox in 6. Napoli will get hotter than he already is, Ortiz will hit another late inning bomb and, with MUCH hesitation, I’ll say Lackey has another solid outing and that this team pulls it out. Their approach to the plate and their bullpen will make it work. Well, that’s our take. What do YOU think (only person who’s reading this)? Leave a comment with your prediction below, and keep an eye out for a new post from our newest columnist, as well as a site redesign (woohoo!) coming next week.


AS: So long! Will the Birds overcome the Beards? Clown ques
tion bro!

A Long Awaited Liverpool Recap


I started this blog as an exclusive Liverpool blog, but I then started to venture into other sports. Then the blog died. But after this blog has come back to life again, and after adding two new members in, me and my colleagues have focused a lot on baseball partly because it was (and still is) in playoffs mode, but also because we had a lot of topics to discuss. Time to cover some soccer (or football as some might say).

I was really looking forward for the start of this season. I think it was quite clearly established that Liverpool was in rebuilding mode with a vision to forge a strong team to compete for honors down the road. A concept like that is quite common in the United States, where teams tank, have great draft picks and therefore get the privilege to draft the best prospects from colleges, high schools and sports academies. In Britain (or any other country besides USA), such a concept is not in place for a variety of reasons. First of all, there is no draft system. Secondly, if you tank, you actually get demoted to a lower league and then would have to fight with the teams in the league below to get promoted back up to the Premier league. So obviously Liverpool couldn’t afford to do any of that. But what Brendan Rodgers had in mind with the FSG sports group company was to purchase and develop young talented players who were undervalued or unappreciated in the market. And during last season and the offseason, they did just that. Rodgers brought in a variety of young players into the team while also spending his resources carefully and wisely and also went on to sell off the players that did not fit his vision for the future anymore. And he got a lot of stick for it last season since people were talking about how Liverpool were not doing so well and some went on to even say Rodgers should be sacked, which just irritates me to no end. The idea that just sacking managers will solve problems is really short-sighted and stupid in my opinion, but I digress. With all these new players in the team, I couldn’t wait to see how they would perform this season. And they did not fail to amaze me

The combination of Sturridge and Suarez in the front is something that is thriving and if Suarez does stay with Liverpool, its going to be a partnership that will not cease to amaze. It reminds me of the days when Gerrard and Torres came together to create a deadly partnership during their Champions League Run (seems like such a long time ago). With Coutinho, the midfield finally has someone who has the knack to find a slot to drop the ball in or create an open space out of nowhere to feed the ball to a striker. With Henderson also nurturing and maturing, hes actually looking to be quite a promising lad for the future. Mignolet seems to also be quite a bargain to fill up the goalkeeping void left by Reina. Sakho is going to be one hell of a mouthwatering prospect to fill in Liverpool’s desperate need of a solid Center back to shuffle with Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. And Brendan Rodgers isnt done just with that. He has Samel Yesil, Luis Alberto, Tiago Ilori, Jordan Ibe and Aspas all in the reserves developing to strengthen the squad even further and take them to the next level. Rodgers isnt short minded, he knows what his job is and I think with his job security being quite solid and the backing of Liverpool’s ownership and the fans, hes going to have enough time to develop his project into fruition.

As I speak, Liverpool is sitting in 3rd place, 2 points behind leaders Arsenal. And there are some clear improvements with the team. The defense is still suspect and I fear that Rodgers Achilles heel in his tactics is his defensive approach. Another thing that quite worries me is that Liverpool play really well with a lot of possession during the first half of every game and then cling on to a lead during the second half with immense pressure from the opposition. Its clearly a work in progress but it is paying quite some dividends already. With time, patience and a good team chemistry, I personally think this team can develop into someone who can challenge for titles or atleast be in the mix. But for now, lets keep our feet on the ground, enjoy seeing a new team nurture and watch Manchester United sit in 12th place.

New Year, Same Old Story

Justin Verlander in game 5 vs Oakland in the ALDS in 2012:

9 IP    11 K’s     4 Hits 0 ER  W

Justin Verlander in Game 5 vs Oakland in the ALDS in 2013:

8 IP   11 K’s     2 Hits  0 ER   W

How frustrating is it to see one dude who makes as much money as 1/3rd of the entire Oakland A’s franchise shut them down time and time again? To put more stats into play, Verlander has 30 Consecutive Shutout innings against Oakland in the Postseason. Yet this lad gets lit when he faces Pablo Sandoval. Yes, Verlander is AMAZING, and I admire him, but it is hard to not start hating someone who has literally shut the door for Oakland to advance to the ALCS 2 years in a row single-handedly. This is exactly why I dreaded a Game 5 to happen. The A’s could have shut shop and ended the series in Detroit in game 4. They didnt. And then they come back to o.co for Verlander to do the honors.

Last year, I didnt feel so gutted. Mainly because of the game 4 heroics by Crisp, Donaldson, Reddick and Smith but also because what Oakland did last year was simply shocking. Nobody expected them to win the division and make it to the playoffs when the season started. And therefore it was an amazing story that we as fans relished and enjoyed being part of. But this year, it was different. There were legitimate expectations for this team to perform during the playoffs. And they coundt get the job done. I dont want to take anything away from the team since they push above their weight in big ways every time they make it to the postseason. What they do as a franchise is remarkable with limited resources. But is it frustrating to see the same team with the same pitcher putting up an identical performance again.

I dont blame anybody for that series. Not one single person. Not Billy Beane, not Bob Melvin, nor any of the players. Because we can sit back and cherry-pick supposed mistakes that Melvin made during the games. But guess what, hindsight is 20-20. But I will blame the ownership for not letting this team build to compete with the big guys. Lets look at the 4 teams that have made it to the Championship series. The Dodgers, Tigers, Red Sox and Cardinals are in the top 10 list of baseball team payrolls. The A’s ownership should learn their lesson by now. You cant win shit in the postseason unless you spend some serious money. And no you dont have to go all cash crazy like the Dodgers. But emulating the Cardinals would be a perfect model. The Cardinals have an excellent farm system and they have enough money to keep their developed players in their franchise. The A’s have the former, but not the latter. If Wolff was willing to inject even $30 million more into the A’s payroll, they can sign up somebody like Verlander or keep someone with the team for years to come with those resources. Cabrera, Fielder and Verlander go on to make more salary than the entire A’s franchise combined. Yet, 2 of the 3 of them were key in eliminating the A’s. And therefore, we just have to face reality. Money buys you success during playoff time. No, spending money like idiots does not help at all. If the A’s do what the Phillies and Angels do, then we would be doomed. But spending it wisely to buy 1 SOLID hitter to bat 3rd in the lineup and 1 really good pitcher to lead that starting rotation will do the trick. But for that you need money. And when the ownership is as cheap as it is in Oakland, that wont happen anytime soon.

Coco Crisp, Grant Balfour, Chris Young and Colon will likely be gone this offseason. It would be nice to have Coco around although Micheal Choice seems to be a promising prospect to fill in the CF void. Reddick needs to improve offensively to stay with the team despite that amazing glove and fielding of his. I dont think the team will be much different in 2014 other than a few changes. Addison Russell might be filling in the SS role anytime soon accompanying Jed Lowrie with Donaldson and Moss at the Corners. Vogt looks like someone who is gonna stay at the Major league level as a backstop. Cespedes will be entering his 3rd year of his 4-yr contract. Gray and Parker will spearhead the Starting rotation along with Griffin, Milone and possibly Anderson. And the bullpen looks to be more or less the same. Will the A’s make a push in the postseason come 2014? We shall see in a years time.

Go A’s!

They Might be fighting now, but don’t be surprised if they become teammates next year.

Precap: A’s/Tigers Head to Game 5

First of all, since my colleague Chengez joined this blog, I can actually see what was missing from this blog in the first place: quality. This blog has come back to life and therefore its time for me to step up to the plate. Which is what the A’s have to do in game 5 against Justin Verlander at the o.co coliseum. Hmm where have I heard that before?

Anyways, I think as a passionate A’s fan, its normal to be disgruntled after last nights performance (Game 4 that is). Its not so much that they lost at Comerica park where the Tigers were going to be potent no doubt, but more about the way they lost it. The  A’s got around Fister really quickly and Coco scored the first run of the game after hitting a triple in the 1st inning. They kept on getting men on base for the entire game but rarely capitalized (surprise, surprise). Straily did not even give up a hit through the first 4 innings and the only guy who got on base was Prince Fielder thanks to his “large surface area around the plate”. Then Lowrie hit a 2 run homer to make the A’s get a 3-0 lead. After that, everything turned for the worse. Straily gives up a 3 run jack to Peralta who just came back recently from a 50-game PED suspension. But that was not what ticked me off. The A’s were down 5-4 in the the top of the 8th inning. Moss and Cespedes get on second and third base with NO OUTS! NO OUTS! And then Scherzer goes on to intentionally walk Seth Smith. Lets get that in our head once again. The A’s, 1 run down, had the bases LOADED with ZERO OUTS! ZERO! And what do they do? Reddick and Vogt promptly strike out swinging and Callaspo coundt even have the chance to drive in a run with a sacrifice fly with 2 outs. The inning ends with no damage done. That entire inning just epitomized the problem with the Oakland A’s through the series. They get men on base. They threaten to score. But they never score unless its a Home Run. Its just a hit or miss. And its hard to hit Home Runs when you face Verlander and Scherzer. Its all great if you can get men on base but if you cant capitalize, you cant do shit.

To put that in perspective, lets look at game 1. Ok, well maybe not cause the only guy who was able to get on base was Crisp with 3 walks and Cespedes with a triple and a 2 run Monster blast. Scherzer just stifled the A’s. Lets look at game 2 then. There was 5 consecutive innings where the leadoff hitter for Oakland got on base. Out of those 5 innings, in 4 of them, the leadoff man got in scoring position with 0 outs. So obviously they got around Verlander then right? Nope. Verladner did not give up a single run. Not 1. Through 7 innings. Yes, Verlander is am AMAZING pitcher and I do not want to take away any credit from him because he pitched a HELL of a game. But the only reason the A’s actually had any hope of winning was thanks to Sonny Gray. If Griffin/Milone/Parker/Colon or Straily had pitched instead, I dont think the A’s wouldve had a chance to salvage a game at home. No chance. Sonny Gray was sublime and thanks to him, the game was 0-0 in the 9th inning. Then the bases were loaded with no outs, and thankfully, Vogt came through with a hit to win it for Oakland. But that game gave a preview to Oakland woes when it comes to driving in runs with men on base. In Game 3, the runs came in courtesy of Home Runs. (Reddick, Moss, Smith). And thats my point. The A’s can drive in runs if they can hit bombs. But if that cant hit the long ball, regardless of how many people are on base, they have a really hard time driving in runs. And when you face the likes of Verlander and Scherzer, the Home Run Ball is an afterthought if not impossible to even imagine.

And now, The A’s will have to face Verlander again in a game 5 in Oakland. The positives? A massive crowd that will fuel the A’s no doubt and sewage problems that will piss of the Tigers players to no end. The negatives? Well, Verlander is Verlander especially in games like these. Last year, in a same exact scenario with a game 5 in his hand, he made the A’s look like a AAA team. And the A’s haven’t changed that much either. Also, the A’s have historically been pretty bad in Game 5’s. They haven’t won a single Game 5 in a division series under the Billy Beane era. So yes, thats daunting. But there is hope. If game 2 is any indication, it does prove that the A’s can hit around Verlander unlike the year before. So if they can actually capitalize when they get men on base, then there need be no fear. Secondly, Melvin isn’t sure whether to start Colon or Gray. I would love to see a Verlander vs Gray round II. And I hope Melvin agrees with me. Yeah, maybe the Tigers have figured our Gray a bit more, but I am going to go purely on the game 2 performance and take a high risk high reward gamble. Lets just hope that it is one that will pay off and punch a ticket to Boston for the ALCS come Saturday.

Lets hope Verlander’s reaction goes from this:

To This:

All Hail Carlos Beltran

In late July of 2011, a desperate Brian Sabean, general manager of the San Francisco Giants, orchestrated a trade to acquire the best outfielder on the market, Carlos Beltran. The Giants, coming off a World Series victory in 2010, experienced devastating injuries (including losing Buster Posey for the entire season thanks to a brutal plate collision with Scott Cousins) and stiff competition from a very good Arizona Diamondbacks team. Their offense, especially with the loss of Posey, was abysmal, and if they wanted to remain in contention, they needed to obtain an offensive juggernaut to bolster their lineup. So, a year after making several minor moves that led his team to a World Series run, Sabean decided to go with one colossal one instead. Many Giants fans, including myself, questioned the move. Trading for Beltran not only meant San Francisco had given up their best pitching prospect in Zach Wheeler, but it also meant the team was gambling on a player who was a free agent in the upcoming offseason. If the Giants failed to make the playoffs, which was very possible given the way they had performed up to that point, would they even be able to re-sign him? Was it worth it? As it turns out, the Giants would fail to reach the postseason, and fail to resign him; he ended inking a two year deal with the Cardinals instead. How did Beltran perform as a Giant? He was briefly injured, which has always been a concern with him, but when he was in the lineup, he was a pretty darn good player.

 Until watching him play on the team I rooted for, I didn’t realize why Carlos Beltran was given such heavy praise from television analysts and sports columnists across the country. Call it West Coast bias if you’d like. In my eyes, Beltran had always been a very good defender, decent hitter, but someone who was frequently on the disabled list. His career batting average’s around .285 and he’s got around 300 home runs, which is good, but what was the big deal? I blame my age for the ignorance I displayed back in 2011. I was still in elementary school when Carlos Beltran began writing his postseason legend. It began in 2004, with the Houston Astros, when Beltran slugged 8 home runs in a single postseason. I’ll repeat that if your jaw dropped. He hit EIGHT home runs in one postseason, and his team didn’t even reach the World Series. Incredible. After that, he signed a long-term contract with the New York Mets, and had a mediocre first season with them due to, you guessed it, injury. The season after that, however, Beltran went off, with 41 regular season home runs, an All-Star MVP under his belt, and a gold glove award. He had another excellent postseason, although not nearly as amazing as his 2004 performance. 

It’s the Carlos Beltran from 2007-2011 that I personally remember, and maybe that’s the reason I was so unimpressed with the trade. In 2007 and 2008, he was still a tremendous player, earning a 5.2 and 6.7 WAR thanks to both great offense and defense. After that is where we see decline. In 2009 he only managed to hit 10 home runs, and injury caused him to only play 81 games. In 2010, he only played 64, with a slash line of .255/.341/.427. And this is probably the reason many Giants fans were skeptical. This was a player on the decline, who had tremendous talent, but a history of injury problems. I dismissed experts raving about Beltran as nostalgia. In the end, I was wrong, and they were spot on. In the 2012 postseason with the Cardinals, Beltran had a slash line of .357/.440/.714. This year? He already has 2 home runs and 6 RBI’s, and there’s still a game to go in the NLDS tomorrow evening. Did I mention Beltran currently holds the highest OPS in postseason history at a ridiculous 1.247? And forget postseason for a second. He has 300 stolen bases to go along with those 350+ home runs, 2000 hits, 1,000 RBI’s, and 1,000 runs. Carlos Beltran is a remarkable player, and someone who will get hall of fame consideration, thanks in large part to his remarkable playoff performances. He’s a player who’s still doing well heading into his age 37 season, and someone who gets better when the lights are brighter Looking back, do I still regret the Giants trading for Beltran in 2011? No, I regret not resigning him. All hail the postseason king.

Playoff Difference Makers: Rookie Pitchers

Fans who don’t follow the game of baseball frequently ask “Why are so many new players in the lineup at the end of the season?” That’s the beauty of roster expansion. Veterans who have endured the grueling schedule for so long can get days off and clubs get a chance to see what some of their youngsters can do on the big league stage. For losing teams, these young players are auditioning for jobs on the opening day roster for the succeeding season. Someone may perform well enough to compete for a starting spot at their position next spring training. Someone else may perform so badly, management decides that player is a weak link and is expandable, and just like that, he’s traded off for a different prospect. Now after learning this, that same curious fan might say “So how does roster expansion benefit teams that are actually winning?” Well, it can help them a lot more than you’d think, depending on what kind of pitching a team has in their farm system. To put it bluntly, rookie pitchers can kick major ass in the playoffs. We just saw Sonny Gray throw 8 dominating innings of shutout baseball, striking out 9 and giving up a mere 4 hits. Oh by the way, his start occurred during the divisional series and prevented the A’s from falling down 2-0 in a best of 5 series against the Tigers, with the next game being in Detroit. 

It’s becoming more and more common for rookies to have a huge impact in playoff games. In 2010, Madison Bumgarner, a late September call-up, pitched gem after gem throughout the postseason to help the Giants win their first World Series in more than half a decade. In 2008, future Cy Young award winner David Price (another player who came up during roster expansion) would pitch in the Rays’ bullpen throughout the postseason and his electric arm boosted Tampa in their own quest to win a World Series (they would reach the fall classic and eventually fall to the Phillies). And it’s not just the September call-ups who have been making their mark. Gerrit Cole was called up back in June and also had a tremendous postseason debut, limiting the powerful Cardinals offense to a single run over six innings and making sure the Pirates got the split on the road that they needed before the series headed to Pittsburgh. Professional hitters who read this blog might be wondering why I’m giving starting pitchers all the credit. Well first of all, no one reads this blog, so those hitters don’t exist. Second of all, impact rookie hitters in the postseason barely exist either. Pitchers have a distinct advantage when facing a team for the first time. They can get away with things because they have such good stuff and they usually have veteran signal callers who tell them where to locate their pitches and what to pitch to who in a given situation. 

Hitters just have a harder time making adjustments in their first year, and once teams find their weakness, they’ll keep exploiting it until the player can fix the problem. Excellent players like Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, and Troy Tulowitzki all struggled during their first taste of postseason play. So what should we expect as we continue forward in the 2013 playoffs? Expect the pitchers that make it to the next round to continue being weapons. Expect future stars like Yasiel Puig and Wil Myers to struggle, but don’t be shocked if they hit an absolute bomb in a key situation if they get the right pitch. Hopefully this prediction goes down better than my last prediction. One game playoffs are hard to anticipate! Until next time, I leave you with Justin Verlander being Justin Verlander:

MLB Playoff Preview: Rays @ Indians

Hello CoaS readers! I know there’s not a lot of you out there yet but it feels great to have the opportunity to join this excellent, up and coming sports blog. I’d like to thank LFCnonbandwagoner for inviting me to contribute to this wonderful website and I’m looking forward to helping add on to the quality content he provides, as well as expanding the range of sports we cover. LFCnonbandwagoner’s got you covered with quality EPL and NHL content and hopefully I’ll be able to do the same as I start writing columns about the NFL and NBA. The one sport we both love with a passion is baseball, and since it happens to be playoff time, I thought the first thing I’d share with you all would be an MLB column. So without further ado, here’s my take on tomorrow’s American League Wild Card match-up.

 
Two of the best managers in baseball square off tomorrow night at Progressive Field as Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays take on Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians. The Rays were expected to make it into the postseason. They have one of the top rotations in baseball, play terrific defense, and have just enough firepower to make it work offensively. The Wil Myers-James Shields trade is working out well for Tampa and is a huge reason they’ve made it here. Many pundits, however, were shocked to see the Indians play this well, and while it’s mildly surprising, it shouldn’t be that hard to believe. After all, when you add a manager who lifted the World Series curse over the city of Boston and won again just a few years later, your team should improve. Give Francona offensive stars like Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis and acquire pieces like Nick Swisher and Justin Masterson, and it should start to make sense. But let’s go back to the coaching aspect of this for a second, because coaching can make a huge difference. We’ve seen a resurgence in the careers of Ubaldo Jiménez and Scott Kazmir, as well a “taking the next step” type development for Justin Masterson, and I think a lot of that has to do with their new coaching staff. Yes, Masterson has worked with Francona before, and that probably gives him a comfort level he was lacking the last few years, but a different manager hasn’t been the only change. New pitching and bullpen coaches mean people with fresh perspectives and unfamiliar lessons to teach are working with pitchers who are only used to doing things a certain way, and it’s seems to be something that has clicked. Whatever answer Jiménez has discovered about his motion simply wasn’t something that could be found in Colorado. Whatever adjustments Masterson has made weren’t adjustments he was thinking about making in Boston. And whatever is working for Scott Kazmir now was definitely not working for him during his rough tenure with Anaheim. But enough about them. None of those three are pitching in the one game battle tomorrow night. Instead, it’ll be the 23 year old rookie from the Dominican Republic, Danny Salazar. This guy touches 98 with ease and made Miguel Cabrera look downright silly when he struck him out three straight times in their first meeting against each other (before Cabrera promptly launched a home run into deep center field in the fourth at-bat). Salazar has excellent stuff and rookie or not, I think the Rays line-up is going to have a tough time cracking him tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Indians offense will be taking on Alex Cobb, who is pretty terrific in his own right. Often forgotten among the other names in the Rays’ rotation, Cobb has arguably been the best of the bunch. He owns the highest WAR of their starting staff at 4.0 and an excellent 2.76 ERA to go along with it. Combine that with 8.41 K/9 and a WHIP of 1.15 and you can see why Maddon is confident in sending this guy out to the mound. Barring a rough outing, Cobb is also projected to go deeper into the ball game. He’s averaged roughly 7.2 IP over his last 3 outings while Salazar has pitched more than 6 IP only once in 10 starts since being called up from Double-A Akron earlier this season. So what happens if this game comes down to the relievers? It’s actually quite hard to predict, considering both bullpens have nearly identical ERAs. Both teams have quality arms and can match-up well throughout innings 6, 7, and 8, but closers Chris Perez and Fernando Rodney have been shaky to say the least. So similar bullpens and dynamic pitchers means the advantage goes to the better offense right? It would seem Cleveland has the upper hand here, but we can’t forget previous meetings between these two clubs. The one time Cobb faced the Indians this season, he threw 7.1 innings of scoreless ball (Salazar has never faced the Rays). So what’s the final verdict? I’m curious to see how much of a factor the Cleveland crowd will play in the game after seeing how much of an effect it had in tonight’s NL showdown between the Reds and Pirates. Reds’ manager Dusty Baker can deny it all he wants but Pittsburgh’s fans did something to rattle Johnny Cueto. Despite Cobb’s previous success and my man-crush on Joe Maddon, I think I’m going to have to lean with the team who’s playing at home and whose offense has been better all season long. Yeah, I know. I can’t believe I’m doubting the team that just beat the Rangers under very similar circumstances: one game decides who advances, it’s on the road, opposed by a terrific offense, and facing a good rookie pitcher. Oh well, a gut feeling is a gut feeling. CLE 4 TB 2

2013 MLB Playoffs: Things to Look Forward to

I get way too excited when it is playoff time in baseball. The sport really captures the element of how postseason games should be like. The little margin for error, the intensity of the crowd, the unlikely heroes that rise during that time, David Freese Game Fucking 6 in 2011, Ranteria in 20.. no fuck that that gave me nightmares. How the fuck was Cliff Lee owned by Ranteria? Anyways, playoff baseball is awesome. And my Oakland A’s are in it for a second year straight. And face those goddamn tigers yet again. But the postseason is FUN regardless. Here are some things im looking forward to (and hoping it happens) in this years postseason:

  1. Verlander losing Game 1: Yes this is extremely biased. But man he singlehandely owned the A’s in Game 5 last year in the ALDS. Verlander hasn’t been as good as he was last year, buy hes still Justin Verlander. Now with the 1st game at o.co, and with the A’s having some regular season success against him, if the A’s beat Verlander, it will be a huge boost in the series.
  2. Yasiel Puigs Shenanigans: If he goes on a tear during the postseason, we will not hear the end of his amazing ability for a loooonng time. Then people will start talking about how hes just as good if not better than Mike Trout, Machado and Harper just to piss me off. If hes “clutch”, im gonna have to turn off ESPN and MLB Network for the next 20 years. Im sick of Puig-mania
  3. The Pittsburgh Pirates: I just love whats going on at PNC park. When your teams rotation consists of Gerrit Cole, AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke, you know something special is brewing when you win more than 90 games with those guys. Cole is a stud but How the fuck is Liriano doing so well? But that team is going to be fun to watch.
  4. McCutchen in the Postseason: It could only be for 1 game if they lose the wild card game, but its about time McCutchen got a taste of Postseason baseball for the stud he is. He stayed with the team despite knowing he could land a FAT contract somewhere else. Its gonna be fun to watch.
  5. Kershaw-Grienke 1-2 Punch: I dont think I need to describe much here
  6. Bartolo Colon vs Prince Fielder
  7. “Momentum”: We will hear this word to no end. A team wins game 1, holy shit they have momentum now. They lose game 2, oh well now the other team has momentum now. There is no such thing as “momentum”. Its just one team playing better than the other on that day/night.
  8. Joe Buck: No FUCK THAT
  9. Belittling the A’s: They can go on to beat the Tigers 19-0 in game 5 and yet the story would be how bad the Tigers were rather than how good Oakland is. Yeah they’re just a fluky team with shit reject players. Whatevs
  10. Chris Johnson cussing out a Dodgers pitcher: He will pick beef with one of em for sure. If its Grienke, lets just hope he doesn’t break another collarbone.
  11. The Yankees: Oh wait, they’re not there. Praise the lord.
  12. Erin Andrews

Heres to another epic year of great postseason baseball. Lets just hope its not as boring as the world series last year.

Eight!

What a game that was! Ok, I agree, it wasn’t the best performance by Liverpool considering how well they played against the “big teams” during the regular season. However, Cardiff, as I correctly predicted, were NO pushovers whatsoever. A pulsating final that kept me at the edge of my seat till the last penalty kick in the shootout. Whoever calls the Carling Cup tournament as a “Mickey Mouse Cup” are just retarded. Plain and simple. While Arsenal, Chelsea, United and Spurs fans are still waiting for silverware this season, lets recap the game where I saw Liverpool lift a trophy for the first time since I became a Liverpool fan.

Bullets:

  • Cardiff were excellent. They worked so hard throughout the game. Fantastic workmanship spirit and team chemistry. I give them all the plaudits for such a brave performance.
  • As expected, King Kenny put out all of his summer signings in the starting XI.
  • Henderson was awful. We all know how much he hates playing on the right side of the midfield. In my opinion, Maxi should’ve started on the right with Henderson on the bench. But we won, who cares right?
  • Suarez was decent, Carroll has to step up his game. I’m sorry, but I’m still not buying into our 35 Million pound striker just yet.
  • Gerrard was really out of form today. His passing was decent, and his shots were awful to see the least. Not a kind of clutch performance you would expect from Captain Fantastic.
  • When Kuyt came on, we all knew he would score, didnt we? Hes so clutch and works so hard its unbelievable. Also, with Bellamy, Downing, Suarez and Kuyt, Liverpool were so fast on counter attacks. It was great to see.
  • Cardiff’s both goals were the result of teamwork. Liverpool should definitely take a leaf out of Cardiff’s book and imply it into the team.
  • Adam’s Penalty apparently landed on the moon. But in all seriousness, what the hell was he thinking?

But at the end of the day, we won, and in two years, all we will be looking at is the Carling Cup trophy. A record eight time, Liverpool take the Carling Cup to Merseyside and come back from  Wembeley as champions!

P.S: I became a Liverpool fan after they won the FA Cup and the epic strike from Gerrard to take the game into Extra time made me instantly fall in love with Liverpool FC. Who knew I would’ve had to wait 6 years to witness glory? It clearly was a hard test to check my loyalty for the team.

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