Mid Season Analysis: Liverpool Edition
George Gillette and Tom Hicks, the two owners that no one at Liverpool wanted at the club were finally gone, there were new owners and the team had an iconic figure whose appointment as manager brought optimism and changed the way the club performed on the pitch. Liverpool were one of the from teams on the back end of last season, they had a team that had some good players and all that it needed was added investment in several key areas for the team to not only compete for a top four position which was the goal at the start of this season, but there was hope that with the right additions this team may go toe to toe with the big boys of the league.
Credit has to be given where it is due, Liverpool are generally playing some of the best football that they have been playing for years, and that has to be down to the coaching staff. The team looks better in possession, and you have fewer and fewer occasions where the ball is aimlessly hoofed forward in the hope that something positive may come of it. This team has one of the best defensive records in the league, and together with Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham they are one of the teams that generally give out few clear cut goal scoring opportunities on most of their games.
The mantra for any championship team has always been “good offence will win you games but a good defence will win you championships.” That has been true for almost any championship winning side that was not Real Madrid in the mid 90’s to around year 2000. Whilst that mantra is true that any great team will almost always build around the foundation of a strong defence, reality is that no team however strong at the back will win anything without having a decent attack, and therein lays the fatal flaw in the way Liverpool is set up this season. Teams that have either won the league or have actually made it to the Champions League have had an attack that has generally generated goals at an average rate of around two goals a game come the end of the season. Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham are all teams that are above, within or within touching distance of that rate as things are at current moment whilst Liverpool is a team that is averaging a goal a game at current rate. It thus is a good pointer as to why they are below all the teams above them and a good pointer as to why all the teams above them have a superior goal difference despite all of them bar Manchester City have taken in some heavy defeats this season.
The other recurrent fixture at Liverpool it seems is their ability to play lights out almost every time they face a top team, their record of points collected against the top teams in the land has always been impressive, but what good is that when they cannot act as a launch pad to achieve greater things? Constantly dropping points against mid level teams and relegation battlers is a problem that this team has had for years, it is something that had found its way to the team this season. Also of concern has to be their home form, six draws at home at the halfway point of the season should not be acceptable for a team that aspires to do great things.
The transfer market acquisitions by Liverpool have somewhat not worked out, and one has to question as to whether or not the team got it right when they went on to offload some players that have turned out to be key to the teams that they moved to. It cannot be argued that the team did not do well in getting rid of some players that did not deliver for the team, shedding their contracts can only be seen as a positive; but the downside of the window is the fact that to date some players that came in for big money have not either lived up to their reputations, justified the fees they came in for or both.
Kenny Daglish had a good midfield set to build around: He had a brilliant defensive midfielder in Lucas Leiva that he hang on to, great passer of the ball and a technically brilliant central midfielder in Alberto Aquilani that he let go, a midfielder that was key to what they did at the back end of last season in Raul Meireles that he sold to Chelsea and a good captain in Steven Gerrard who though at the twilight of this career has shown that he can still get it done. A question and a rather good question at that is, are Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson who is so often played out of position better players? Raul Meireles has been putting in some good performances for Chelsea ever since he got there, Alberto Aquilani is a player that impressed at Juventus last season and is a key piece to what A.C. Milan are doing this season as they run most of their attack through him, letting him dictate the pace of their game.
In attack, Liverpool for the better part are creating a bit more than they did in seasons past, they are simply not clinical enough to kill any of the games that they work so hard to a point where they drop points when they deserve to get the maximum. An issue with the front line and the midfield is the fact that they have all these players that are good in a team setup, players that come in and collectively do well, but how many players does this team have that can do something special, players that can come up with something from almost nothing?
Luis Suarez is one player that can do that yet even he hasn’t lived up to expectation. His form and return on goals is worrying especially seeing how well he does for Uruguay, his inability to convert some clear cut chances into goals is a pointer that maybe more work is needed on his finishing. His movement in the final third, his close control and technical ability, his trickery and understanding of the game are rather impressive and if Liverpool maybe starts playing a lineup that can compliment his key strengths when he gets back, maybe he will be a better player and a far much better contributor to what they do on the offensive end. He seems to be a better player when they have Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy playing as a front three for the mere fact that they have the movement and that they link up better with him rather than a lineup that includes a combination of Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson/Dirk Kuyt out wide.
Stewart Downing is a player that has immensely disappointed to the Reds, the statistics don’t paint a good picture and his performances on the pitch are mostly nothing to talk about. This is a player that could beat his man while he was at Middlesborough and Aston Villa, a player that could score and had an impressive cross completion rate. At Liverpool, he is a pale shadow of the player he was, he is a player who is so out of form and short in confidence that he takes absolutely no risk, shows no initiative or willingness to try and do anything special with the ball and it is hurting Liverpool. The best wide players on the respective teams all take a risk, sometimes they lose the ball when they should have passed it, sometimes a defender reads their intention and robs them of the ball, but sometimes, a good number of times they ask the question of the fullback in question, beat him and open up the teams play in dangerous areas on the way to creating a chance, scoring a goal or giving a pass that leads to an assist. That Downing shrinks every time an opposing player approaches him with the pace and ability he showed at previous teams is worrying for a player that should be at the peak of his powers, constantly passing the ball back to Jose Enrique or a midfielder may be good for ball retention, but the sheer lack of enterprise in his play costs the team more.
Andy Carroll was a £35 million on the January transfer window and maybe the fee piled more pressure on the player to go out and deliver above and beyond what his capabilities were; grossly overpriced he was but a good player, an impressive player he was at Newcastle. Whilst he was a good player with the Geordie, he doesn’t seem to fit the current system that Liverpool are trying to play, and it is difficult to see how any striker would deliver with what is offered to him. Over at Newcastle, he had Joey Barton playing accurate forward balls, he had a midfield that was willing to link up better with him and players that gave him an added option to play with. Spaces were created not only for the onrushing players, but it somehow gave him more time to think and sometimes come up with something, it was a gambit that also won them a lot of free kicks in the opponents half. Over at Liverpool, he is so isolated upfront that it sometimes looks unreal. Luis Suarez can come up with something special, but for a target man like Carroll who doesn’t possess qualities like a Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it is a crime to expect that he would deliver in such circumstances. The notion that it is also okay to whip in crosses and expect that he will latch onto them when he is the sole player in the box is atrocious attack play that will sap him of confidence. He isn’t perfect though, his movement is nowhere near what he had when he was at Newcastle, and he doesn’t put himself about nearly as much.
Charlie Adam is a player that started out well, but his last performances have been bad. He is a player that was brought in because he had the ability to pick out a pass and he was fantastic on set piece duty at Blackpool. There were limitations to his play that everyone knew he was coming in with and they were his lack of speed, the fact that he wasn’t as effective when it came to defence, and a realization that although he had a fantastic left foot, his performances were vastly erratic.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that he does blow hot and cold.
Jose Enrique has been one fantastic buy for Liverpool, most consistent player they have had this season. He is defensively solid and offers Liverpool more stability than they have had at the back in a long time. The one thing he was known for at Newcastle was the fact the he was great going forward, so it somewhat comes as a disappointment that most of his final balls are wanting. That is something that can be worked on, ability like that doesn’t disappear…………….he is in my opinion the buy of the summer window for Liverpool.
Jordan Henderson is a player that seems to be improving with every passing game, he is one that was brought in for the future and some of his earlier performances were bad. He seems to be playing better in a more advanced midfield role similar to what he had at Sunderland and it would be a pity for Liverpool to get him back wide when Gerrard regains full finess.
In January, Liverpool’s primary concern may be to go out and get another winger, the type that can do something special with the ball and a player that can offer them some clinical finishing in the final third. I just hope that they do not look at statistics as a tool to go on and decide whoever it is they are going to sign. While it is a useful tool that can show who is effective and who is not, statistic as a tool (in football) when it comes to signing players is something that can mislead more often than not. A player sometimes may look the part on paper, yet there are so many intangibles that can be applied to any one given player that cannot make their way onto the stat sheet.
Good examples are the fact that Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Lionel Messi are probably some of the best players at pulling their defenders of position with their movement and drawing them deeper into midfield. It is a ploy that these respective teams use well to release players through the gaps that have been created, and it is something that has created not only goals, but a system of play in attack built around their qualities.
Javier Hernandez is a player that attacks spaces at every opportunity, yet he is only known for the goals he scores. That is something that passes through un-noticed, and maybe if Manchester United had a player that could play the slide rule pass or play the eye of the needle stuff more competently they would have a far goal getter than they have right now.
Statistics may show you how many assists are created, how many chances a player creates. Sometimes, the pass that precedes the assist is normally the pass that unlocks everything; it is the reason as to why Alexander Hleb was important to Arsenal, the reason as to why David Silva, Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverly are important for their respective teams. If Liverpool wants to get some special players, maybe the human touch in scouting is a far better tool compared to Opta stats. There have been some real bargains the past two seasons like Javier Hernandez, Laurent Koscielny, Daniel Sturridge, Demba Ba, Gervinho, Darren Bent (when he moved to Sunderland), Yoann Cabaye, Jose Enrique, Mikel Arteta, Oriol Romeu, Steven Fletcher, Wes Brown, Bryan Ruiz, Moussa Dembele……..the list is huge. All these players and many more show that there needn’t be a breaking of the bank to get some quality into a team, that one can get some key pieces at favorable prices and get far more quality when compared to someone that spent huge on a player like Fernando Torres, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, David De Gea, Darren Bent (ever since his move to Villa).
There is no one that forces a team to go out there and pay over the odds for any one player, and maybe, just maybe, teams may have to look to the fact that there may be a player that they want but cannot get at the valuation offered. If that be the case, surely looking for a cheaper option in a world where talented players can be found by good scouting networks is a better and more viable option that lands a player that may deliver without having who is not only overvalued and on a huge salary but one who the team can sell without making huge loss compared to what the player came in for.
This window is an opportunity for Liverpool to get one or two players in as it is for every other team out there; if they spend wisely and find quality then they are better placed to compete. It will also put less pressure on the manager to play some players that cannot deliver but whose hefty transfer fees demand that they warrant more minutes than their performances would deserve. It is an issue that teams have to adapt to when t comes to players like Torres, Downing, De Gea and Samir Nasri.
Conversely, if they spend as they have the past two windows they are likely to be worse of, Chelsea will probably strengthen, Arsenal are not only going to get some key players off the injury list this month, they might invest if they can get a player or two at the right price, Tottenham might not invest, but they are on one great run at current moment, and everyone may be wise to probably see that United probably will spend if they lose to City and drop more points in the upcoming league games.
Finally, Suarezgate came to an end, the FA report is one of the most complete accounts on why they chose to believe Patrice Evra and not Luis Suarez and I find it hard to believe that there are people that still think that they would rule any other way on the basis of what they had.
It also raises some questions like:
a) If Liverpool knew that he had come up and used the word “Negro” and in his account to both Dirk Kuyt and Damien Commolli he seemed to use it in a derogatory manner, why did Liverpool attack Patrice Evra’s take on things when their statements to the match official pretty much backed up Evra’s story?
b) Why would two people who were spoken to in two different languages give the same answer to Andre Marinner and go on to say they both misunderstood what was said in the exact same way when Suarez is fluent in both Spanish and Dutch and both Commolli and Kuyt are conversant with the languages in question?
c) Did Suarez really think that using the term “Negro” would be acceptable to cool a situation as heated as the one he had with Evra, and by extension that someone would think that he used it in a favorable manner?
d) Why was Kenny Daglish asking for the matter to be resolved quickly when it was Suarez and his representative that asked for more time?
I thought Suarez was guilty in an earlier post, that he had dug himself into a hole, but I must say that Liverpool acted with great folly when it came to the handling of this matter. Commolli and Kuyt by changing their statements to match up with what Suarez story was made them appear as false witnesses and only sealed the talented player’s fate.
After his ban is over, Suarez should concentrate on the game, and he should probably work on having a better reputation on the pitch.
Next up, Chelsea and their defensive high line.