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No Great Escape for Liverpool

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Liverpool hopes of one more great Champions League escape were dashed on Tuesday night, as Fiorentina sealed their place alongside Olympique Lyon with a 1-0 win over the French side, leaving the English team’s 1-0 success against Debrecen irrelevant.

Liverpool, of course, only have themselves to blame for leaving their fate in the hands of a team that had already secured their own qualification.

There will doubtless be a lot more criticism of Rafa Benitez, his transfer dealings and the perceived failures of man management, but the analysis of exactly why Liverpool failed to progress can wait for another post.

For now, consider one question: Might this result actually work in Liverpool’s long-term favour?

UPDATE: No replay hopes here … the score predictions are back

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Monday morning update 2: Mike Collett claims, with some justification it must be said, to have altered his predictions on Friday afternoon. I do indeed have an email from Mike asking me to change them, so I guess we’ll have to give him credit for getting Liverpool v Man City, the double pointer, bang on at 2-2. OK, Mike … but next time, one shot please.

I also decided to give Mitch a one-point bonus for his 5-0 prediction in the Spurs game (closer than anyone else), making him one of the week’s big winners with 18 points. Martyn Herman would have got 20, including a two-point bonus for being the only person to predict an Arsenal defeat, but I docked him two for trying to sneak in a 2-2 prediction on the Anfield game … after the final whistle.

Faithless Ferguson sounds a familiar tone (Updates with ban)

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Thursday update: Nothing to do with this incident, of course, but worth noting that Ferguson has been banished to the stands, receiving a two-match ban and a fine of 20,000 quid for the comments he made about Alan Wiley in October.

So, the FA has decided to get tough with the United boss. Are they right to do it? Read the full story here.

France revels in best Ligue 1 match in a decade

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France’s Ligue 1 cannot compare with England’s Premier League or Spain’s La Liga in terms of worldwide profile or star quality on the pitch but on Sunday Lyon and Marseille produced the sort of spectacular entertainment Chelsea v Manchester United just could not match.

I had not expected much from this match, which ended in a depressing goalless draw last season. Both teams had played in the Champions League earlier in the week – yes, there are French teams in that competition — and I suspected they would play conservatively, probably settling for draw.

Thinking the unthinkable: should Liverpool sell Torres?

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It is a little glib to suggest that Liverpool have a one-man strike force in Fernando Torres.

It seems almost beyond dispute, though, that whenever the Spaniard is unavailable Liverpool look ill equipped to challenge for the title, a situation hardly helped by the sales of Xabi Alonso, Robbie Keane and Alvaro Arbeloa in the past year.

End of St James’ Park is ultimate sell-out for Newcastle fans

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Newcastle United fans have put up with a lot over the years but selling “naming rights” for James’ Park might be the final straw for some fans.

At 10pm on Tuesday the club announced that Chris Hughton would be made full-time manager and that owner Mike Ashley would no longer be selling and instead would inject 20 million pounds this week.

from Left field:

The importance of keeping talent in reserve

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Maintaining the strength in depth to cope with injury crises is as crucial for the management of a top-class team as it is difficult to master, writes William James.

The recent experience of England's rugby team is testament to this after being forced to pick a squad without twelve regular members.

UPDATE – The painful art of score prediction — round 10

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So it was an even worse week than usual. Ok, there were some surprise results but generally it was pitiful, some panelists only picked up one point and even most of our outside contributors struggled despite showing us up in recent weeks.

On behalf of all of us, I’d like to point out that the Premier League is more evenly balanced than it has been for a while (see Kevin’s blog) so we have a slight excuse….

Benitez hands Ferguson another lesson

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A game between Liverpool and Manchester United is one of football’s great fixtures and it has recently been given additional spice by a number of clashes between the managers.

Much has been said and written about the verbal jousting between Rafael Benitez and Alex Ferguson and at the moment the Scot is losing both on and off the field.

Is Ferdinand past his peak?

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Manchester United’s 2-0 defeat at Liverpool has again exposed the chinks in the Premier League champions’ armour, notably their defensive frailties against top level opposition.

While United overcame Rio Ferdinand’s howler in a 4-3 win over City in the Manchester derby, the England centre back’s lack of pace and cutting edge cost Alex Ferguson’s side dearly against Liverpool.

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