Brendan Rodgers endured a nightmare start to life as Celtic manager as the reigning Scottish champions were humbled 1-0 by Gibraltan part-times Lincoln Red Imps in the first leg of their Champions League second qualifying round tie.
Police officer Lee Casciaro, the eldest of the three Casciaro triplets on display for the Red Imps, gave the home side the lead three minutes into the second half when he intelligently flicked the ball over an underwhelming Efe Ambrose before bundling a shot past Craig Gordon in the Celtic goal.
Rodgers’ Bhoys struggled to settle on the 3G pitch in Gibraltar but did almost equalise soon after when half-time substitute Leigh Griffiths had a goal-bound shot saved by Spaniard Raul Navas.
Debutant Moussa Dembele, who joined on a four-year deal from Fulham in June, thought he had scored on his competitive debut for the Hoops but his header from a free-kick was ruled out for a foul on the Red Imps goalkeeper.
Stuart Armstrong came close with 20 minutes remaining, but the ex-Dundee United man shot over the bar as a result of James Forrest’s cut-back.
It was Griffiths again though who looked most likely to score an away goal for Celtic, none more so than when his 78th-minute free-kick came back off the bar.
Turkish striker Nader Ciftci also had a header saved with the clock ticking down but the plucky semi-professional Gibraltans held strong which led to jubilant scenes at the final whistle.
The result gives Celtic are harder task than they would have anticipated when they play the second leg at Celtic Park next Wednesday.
The 2015-16 Premier League season is slowly dawning upon us and, soon enough, so will the dreaded “sack race”. Here are five managers that will need a good start this season to prevent themselves being dragged into the mire.
1) Steve McClaren – Newcastle United
Newcastle’s murky issues off-the-pitch seem to finally look like they are coming to an end. Alan Pardew resigning as manager to take over at Crystal Palace in December 2014 was the beginning of the end of the “Cockney Mafia” and now owner Mike Ashley is set to step down to much fanfare from the Newcastle faithful.
New manager McClaren hopefully signifies a new dawn at St.James’ Park, however he arrives in Tyneside having twice failed to gain promotion from the Championship with Derby County following a brief stint as a coach at QPR, a failed return to FC Twente where he previously won the Eredivisie, a four month spell at Nottingham Forest and a dismal period at Wolfsburg where he was sacked after less than a year.
McClaren has defiantly announced his intentions to be the first man to bring a major honour to Newcastle since Stan Steymour who won the FA Cup in 1955 while in charge, which could suggest the Magpies’ league position could be sacrificed in order to pick up some shiny silverware.
A home match against Southampton offers McClaren a decent prospect of a promising start as Newcastle boss where he will be backed by a 50,000-plus capacity crowd, but defeat will only remind his new fans that he was once a man leading arch-rivals Middlesbrough to a 2004 League Cup win and a 2006 UEFA Cup final.
Man About Toon: McClaren is the new Newcastle boss.
2) Brendan Rodgers – Liverpool
What a year for Rodgers – and not in a good way. He finished May 2014 by signing a four-year extension to his Liverpool contract after winning the LMA Manager of the Year award a few weeks earlier having guided the Reds to 2nd place in the Premier League scoring 101 goals in the process – the club’s most since the 1895-96 season and the third highest in Premier League history. He finished May 2015 with Liverpool in sixth and his job under scrutiny.
Raheem Sterling’s likely departure gives him another headache, as for already the second time in his tenure, he has to find a replacement for his top goalscorer – although Daniel Sturridge missed most of last season through injury.
That ultimately made his job a lot more difficult, as did £15 million man Mario “the postman does not celebrate when he posts a letter” Balotelli failing to deliver.
The Northern Irishman has wasted no time in recruiting for next season, already bringing in six new faces at the time of writing.
Charlton’s Joe Gomez (£3.5 million), Roberto Firmino of Hoffenheim (£21.3 million), Manchester City’s James Milner (free), Burnley striker Danny Ings (tribunal), Bolton’s Adam Bogdan (free) and Southampton right-back Nathaniel Clyne (£10 million) are the early Anfield arrivals to bolster what was a small side that struggled to cope with both Champions League and Premier League matches last season.
It is not a problem they will have this time around, which could work in their favour like it did two seasons ago, but with Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City being seven of Liverpool’s first eight away games and Jurgen Klopp still as yet being unemployed, Rodgers could well be soon nervously looking over his shoulder.
3) Arsene Wenger – Arsenal
Two successive FA Cup triumphs has certainly relieved some pressure on Arsene Wenger – it has silenced a few doubters, anyway – but this needs to be the season the Gunners finally start firing on all fronts.
The blow-your-socks-off signing of Alexis Sanchez for £35 million around this time last summer was the second sign of intent after the £42.5 million capture of Mesut Ozil the previous season from a manager who had attracted a reputation of being a bit stingy in the transfer market.
Sanchez swiftly showed with his performances why his manager paid the big bucks and the Chilean would later be named Arsenal Player of the Year.
Other signings Danny Welbeck, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina, and January buy Gabriel Paulista did not quite have the same impact though – with unexpected progress coming from academy players Hector Bellerin and Francis “Le Coq” Coquelin.
Whether Coquelin really is the rock-solid holding role midfielder Arsenal have been craving for years remains to be truly seen, but for now it has filled a reasonably large gap in the “how far are Arsenal away from being Premier League champions?” puzzle.
One piece of the jigsaw has definitely been found, however with the acquisition of goalkeeper Petr Cech from London and title foes Chelsea for £10.9 million.
While the Czech Republic international was no longer the main man between the sticks for the Blues, he is still clearly a top stopper and a definite upgrade on both Wojciech Szczesny and Ospina with Jose Mourinho openly reluctant to sell Cech to a Premier League rival.
Unlike McClaren and Rodgers, Wenger is not wary of an early sacking, but only picking up six points from their opening 12 last season opened the door for Chelsea to romp to the title. A better start this August, and we may just see a first Arsenal triumph since that “Invincibles” team of 2004.
4) Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur
Despite failing to reach the much-coveted Champions League places, Pochettino’s first year as Tottenham boss was a success, finishing fifth and guiding the north Londoners to a League Cup final, but some fans are still not totally sold on him due to a lack of plan B.
The Argentine has wasted no time in planning for next season though, bolstering what was an, at best, dodgy defense with the proven Premier League buys of Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld (both undisclosed fee) who enjoyed successful seasons with Burnley and Southampton respectively in addition to FC Koln’s Kevin Wimmer (also undisclosed fee).
Spurs may attract some neutral admirers this season too with the English core that has the potential to develop in the coming years. Harry Kane had a phenomenal rise last season, going from third choice at Tottenham to most prolific English marksman in the Premier League in the space of seven months.
Ryan Mason, who has spent the majority of his seven-year Tottenham career out on loan to clubs such as Yeovil, Doncaster, Millwall and France’s Lorient ended the 2014-15 season as a once capped England international just a year after spending time on-loan at League One Swindon Town.
Eric Dier also found himself in the spotlight and the new additions of the aforementioned Trippier and Dele Alli (£5 million from MK Dons) join a rejuvenated Danny Rose, Three Lions regular Andros Townsend and Alex Pritchard who returns to White Hart Lane after two successful loan spells at Brentford and Swindon while, although Algerian, academy graduate Nabil Bentaleb will generate admirers from those who love a home-grown player.
This is similar to when he was at Southampton with Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert all getting England recognition as well as Calum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse, Nathaniel Clyne and Jay Rodriguez all earning plaudits while Pochettino was in charge at St.Mary’s.
Pochettino will get a good opportunity to get some early points on the board once the difficult task of Manchester United away is chalked off with Stoke at home, Leicester away, Everton at home, Sunderland away and Crystal Palace at home following that as they look to go one step further and finally reach the promised land of the top four.
Maur of the same please, Poch: Pochettino with rising star Harry Kane.
5) Manuel Pellegrini – Manchester City
It is fair to say that Manuel Pellegrini starting the 2015-16 season at the helm of the Citizens a little surprising.
His pedigree of taking Villarreal to the semi-final of the 2005-06 Champions League and fellow Spanish side Malaga to the same stage five seasons later got him the Manchester City job with the target of making them in a force in Europe, which he has so far failed to do so.
Winning the league title in 2014 did Pellegrini’s reputation no harm, but a trophy-less season where City did not really challenge for the title, only made the last 16 of the Champions League and round four of both the FA and League Cup was underwhelming to say the least.
A huge rebuilding is expected at the Etihad this summer with young talents Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Wilshere and Fabian Delph all linked with a move to the blue side of Manchester in order to give them a new lease of life and restore them as champions of England, and finally get them to worry Europe’s elite.
Failure to do so, however, may just result in the Engineer Pellegrini needing a servicing.
Unbeaten in the Premier League since December 21 2014, Liverpool are now well and truly in the mix for a place in the top three, largely due to the very thing that hampered them last season.
Offensively, Liverpool were dynamite in 2013/14, scoring 101 goals in 38 games, largely thanks to Golden Boot winner Luis Suarez with 31 goals and runner up Daniel Sturridge with 21 of his own.
Defensively, however, they fizzled out. 50 goals were conceded by the Reds, 12 teams conceded more, only two of which (Tottenham and Newcastle) finished in the top half.
A collapse at the back in the iconic 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace when 3-0 up comes to mind as the match that lost Liverpool the title.
This campaign has pretty much been the complete opposite, Liverpool’s strikers have been rather pathetic, while defensively they have improved massively, despite early season stick.
Summer signing Mario Balotelli has just one Premier League goal, as does Fabio Borini, while Rickie Lambert and Sturridge (who has been out injured until recently) have just two each.
Simon Mignolet’s goalkeeping has been brought into question regularly this season, despite this though he does have the joint second highest amount of clean sheets (10) from 24 games. Only Southampton’s Fraser Forster (12) has more.
Simon says “don’t let them score”: Mignolet can thank his defence for his clean sheet tally.
This is largely due to Brendan Rodgers’ new system of defenders with three centre backs – Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and the most impressive of the trio Emre Can playing in-between the wing-backs of Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno.
Can and Markovic deserve the main plaudits here, due to them both being played in unfavoured positions.
Bayern Munich castaway Can has slotted into the heart of Liverpool’s back line since his £9.75 million arrival from Bayer Leverkusen in July, and does not look out of place despite his astute frame and young age of 21.
Markovic, meanwhile has adjusted to playing in a deeper role than what he was used to at Benfica and Partizan Belgrade.
Moreno too on the other flank is the closest thing Liverpool have come to replacing the marauding full-back that was club legend John Arne Riise, probably best underlined by the gif of each player’s first goal for the club.
Not forgetting Anfield cult hero Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian has been subject to both boo boys and fan boys during his time in Merseyside, but everyone loves him now – and rightly so.
Seven of the 10 clean sheets Liverpool have amassed this season have came when Lucas was in the side with the 28-year-old also boasting a passing accuracy of 86%, and has also made 57 tackles in 14 games.
Although the other end of the pitch has been a problem for Rodgers’ side, Philippe Coutinho is now more pivotal to his side and Sterling has blossomed in a false nine role up top, leading the club’s scoring charts with six goals.
Sturridge’s return to injury, and hopefully form, may now make this Liverpool squad the most complete in recent history as they march on to the coveted Champions League places.
Steven Gerrard is reportedly currently pondering signing a new one-year deal at Liverpool with his current one set to expire in the summer but is it time for both parties to move on?
The Anfield icon, 34, is expected to suffer a drop in wages if he accepts the proposed offer instead of leaving the club in June.
Liverpool’s captain has also had to deny a rift with boss Brendan Rodgers this week after the manager dropped Gerrard as he marked his 16th anniversary at the club as well as benching him when the Reds faced Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Champions League.
Rodgers revealed he “wasn’t aware” of the landmark until he walked into the dressing room and saw the programme. Gerrard insisted in an Instagram post the following day that a rumoured rift was “nonsense”.
Matters on the football pitch obviously need to be considered too of course with Rodgers admitting his skipper can no longer play two full games a week.
He has been forced to play in a much deeper role in Liverpool’s diamond formation which limits his influence in the final third of the pitch that he was once so needed for.
Gerrard looking a frustrated figure on the Liverpool bench
Jordan Henderson (55), Philippe Coutinho (57) and Adam Lallana, then at Southampton (63), all completed more key passes than Gerrard (54) last season and Lallana created more chances (68) than Gerrard (67) too. Henderson and Coutinho fashioned 62 and 64 respectively.
Gerrard did contribute the most assists (13) but only one of these did not come from either a corner or a free-kick. He also notched the most goals out of the five, also 13, but 10 of them were penalties.*
Veteran talisman Gerrard has only missed one match this campaign (the League Cup win over Middlesbrough) – making 16 starts and two substitute appearances but some of his displays have left a lot to be desired.
Most notably the 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace where Mile Jedinak dominated the midfield (even scoring a free-kick in a similar vain of a younger Gerrard), as well as Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie repeatedly leaving him for dead with their speed, strength, power and guile.
The much improved Henderson is starting to become the beating heart of Liverpool’s midfield much like he is for England since the former Three Lions captain retired following their dismal World Cup display where they finished bottom of their group.
The new Gerrard: Jordan Henderson, finally justifying that £20 million price tag
It was a disappointing display in Brazil from most members of the 23-man squad but unfortunately for him, Gerrard will be tainted with providing the nail in England’s coffin with a mistimed header that played in then club colleague Luis Suarez to knock Roy Hodgson’s men out after only two games.
By Liverpool fans, Gerrard will be remembered as the “one club man” who turned down the glamour of Chelsea’s riches and Premier League titles in 2004 for his beloved Reds and pretty much single handedly dragging them to glory in the 2005 Istanbul Champions League final.
But to many others, Anfield’s legendary number eight will forever remind them of individual errors.
From the dodgy back-pass that led to France beating England 2-1 at Euro 2004 after being 1-0 down in injury time as well as doing the same again, teeing up Didier Drogba in 2010 to all but win the title for Chelsea and of course that slip last season against the same club that cost him his best chance of winning the Premier League.
And as more of these mistakes creep into Gerrard’s game in tandem with his influence on a football pitch fading, Liverpool need to respectfully shun their skipper in order to retain his status as a bona fide Liverpool legend.
Liverpool defeated title rivals Manchester City 3-2 at Anfield thanks to Phillipe Coutinho’s late winner on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster as Jordan Henderson saw red in the second half.
Brendan Rodgers’ side opened the scoring with the first chance of the match. Luis Suarez held off Martin Demichelis well before playing a pinpoint pass to Raheem Sterling who broke free of Vincent Kompany.
The Belgian had a lapse in concentration and failed to pick up his marker. The young England winger Sterling showed fantastic composure in front of goal, skipping away from Joe Hart and then slotting home the opener after just six minutes.
Manchester City’s afternoon got worse soon after when Yaya Toure landed awkwardly following a wayward shot from long range and was replaced by Javi Garcia soon after.
Liverpool doubled their lead 20 minutes later when Sterling’s corner was headed in by Skrtel after a second example of poor marking from Kompany. An uncharacteristic poor performance from the Manchester City captain.
Edin Dzeko had a decent shout for a penalty on 33 minutes when he was tripped by Mamadou Sakho but referee Mark Clattenburg ruled that there was no wrong doing.
Liverpool had a penalty shout of their own in the second half when Suarez went down following an altercation with Kompany. Referee Clattenburg waved play on to the dismay of many Liverpool fans.
The Citizens halved the deficit just before the hour mark when David Silva tapped home from close range following a beautiful passing move. Substitute James Milner played a neat one-two with Fernandinho before setting up Silva who had the easy task of making it 2-1.
City supporters had to wait just five minutes for their leveller. Milner played in Silva on the left side of the box whose cutback pass across goal deflected off Glen Johnson which caught Mignolet flat footed and deflected into the net to level the scores.
Liverpool regained the lead when Coutinho fired home the winner with an accurate first time finish past the despairing Joe Hart 12 minutes from time from the centre of the area into the bottom right corner of the goal.
The second half was an edgy affair with City enjoying the majority of the play. A real Dr.Jekell and Mr.Hyde performance from Liverpool who dominated the first 45, with City only causing the hosts problems towards the end of the half.
City’s best chance of the first period came from a corner just before half time. Simon Mignolet drifted too far off his line and was beaten in the air by Kompany. Sterling cleared the ball off the line first before Glen Johnson headed it away from danger.
Fernandinho came even closer seconds later. In space, he managed to get a shot away and was only denied by a superb fingertip stop by Mignolet and shortly afterwards, an eventful first half came to an end.
Suarez was fortunate not to see red in the second half when he dived following an incident with Demichelis but Referee Mark Clattenburg decided not to book the Urugayan despite awarding Manchester City the free kick.
With the home side holding onto their narrow lead, Jordan Henderson was sent off three minutes into five added on when he went overboard on a challenge and fouled Samir Nasri. He will miss three of Liverpool’s four remaining games.
Martin Skrtel was incredibly fortunate not to give away a penalty in the very last minute as he used to his hand to clear a deep cross into the Liverpool box. Clattenburg failed to spot the incident in what was a bad refereeing performance by him.