Rodgers’ Liverpool: A small horse, medium horse, or stalking horse?

Smells like team spirit. Photo: Liverpoolfc.com

Smells like team spirit. Photo: Liverpoolfc.com

As is the intrigue which surrounds Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan who notoriously engineered a futile move to North London, headlines were always going to be about him prior to what was arguably a defining fixture for both sides. Liverpool, having erred in erratic fashion at the Hawthorns last week, had more than three points to play for. There was vindication at stake — a marker to be thrown to Suarez that Anfield is the place to be, not the Emirates. For Arsene Wenger, it was about maintaining that composure and consistency as Mesut Oezil and co enter a 11-day period which would see them emerge contemplating of what it could be or what could have been.

As it turned out, the newspapers were devoid of words on the league’s top goal-scorer. Liverpool did not even need Suarez to lace on his scoring boots as the collective delivered an attacking masterclass which tore up the record books and Arsenal’s title credentials into shreds.

Purring of poise on their day, even the most hardened of critics will do well to unpick such a flawless performance. Within 55 seconds it was one-nil. Then it was four-nil and yet it didn’t feel right, for the score-line still flattered the Gunners. It was only 19 minutes.

It was the renaissance of Jordan Henderson driving down Liverpool’s centre, and the cunning of Coutinho which bisected Arsenal’s hapless defence for Daniel Sturridge to slot home the fourth. For their lack of depth in numbers, Liverpool clearly make up for it in graft and craft.

This was a game of 22 men chasing a ball but it was almost scenery for posterity. All against the league leaders, the ones who threw down the gauntlet for the chasing pack. Here, Arsenal chased a forlorn cause. By the final whistle the only thing on their minds was chasing the train home to avoid any further embarrassment. Led by the diminutive Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool hunted in packs, harried like wolves and launched waves of ruthless counter-attacks which will leave even the tiki-taka purist applauding.

Yet it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly Liverpool are. A small horse, a medium horse, or a stalking horse? Brendan Rodgers is adamant that they remain a foal, but even if that is the case, they won’t be for long. Rodgers has restored Anfield as an arena for opposition nightmare but their away form remain patchy. A fourth-placed finish and the coveted Champions League berth remain the likeliest possibility, but it is almost impossible to evade the question of how genuine this side are as title contenders. Questions will remain, but Rodgers will revel in a season that has defied even the wildest of expectations.

When the Northern Irishman took over 20 months ago, the players’ enthusiasm ebbed at its lowest, the team bereft of any signs of the pass and move mantra fans were once used to. Rodgers set about restoring his side to its former glories, imbuing those philosophies that had served accomplished Liverpool sides of old so well. He harped on possession football, and passing teams to death in his early days but as the side grew, so did his ideas.

A carbon-copy of Liverpool sides of the 70s, and 80s never materialized, but a mutation of that did. Full of tactical adaptability and versatility, Rodgers tweaked his ideas to suit the resources at his disposal, deciding that his attacking quartet possessed the necessary guile, acceleration and execution to play devastating counter-attacking football.

And pay off it did. Its rapid evolution since the start of the season has been almost off the charts. Indeed, Liverpool look like the next vibrant, dynamic team since Borussia Dortmund’s burst onto the scene three years ago. Full of imagination and innovation, Rodgers’ vision for Liverpool is starting to take shape. Yesterday’s dominance could herald the beginning of pure, unadulterated joy for Liverpool fans for years to come. You only need to roll back the decades to find performances as sumptuous as this. Even the 4-0 and 4-1 thrashings of Real Madrid and Manchester United in 2009 will find it hard to eclipse Anfield’s latest five-star display.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorial

Psychology an underrated trait in Liverpool’s rise

In what was the most one-sided Merseyside derby in recent memory, Liverpool tore Everton into shreds, producing an emphatic performance of attacking masterclass and defensive solidarity as they romped to a 4-0 win at Anfield.

Such was the deflation of hope and inflation of despair within Roberto Martinez’s ranks — midfielder Leon Osman confessed he “couldn’t sleep a wink” —  that the defeat will blunt Everton’s recent spring in steps and deliver significant psychological repercussions.

For Liverpool, though, it is quite the polar opposite.

The win tilted the return of Champions League football in their odds and was a huge triumph over critics who doubted if they had enough in reserve to realise their ambitions this season.

It is still early to say but there is increasingly overwhelming evidence to suggest that Rodgers and co are mentally prepared for such a possibility.

Prior to yesterday’s annihilation of Everton, travels to Tottenham and Stoke stood out as shining lights of what has been an excellent campaign.

Having lost at White Hart Lane for five consecutive seasons prior to last December’s 5-0 thrashing, the clash was billed a marker to gauge Liverpool’s progress and it was a test they passed with flying colours.

Without the services of skipper Steven Gerrard, many wondered how a midfield trio of Lucas, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson could cope with their stronger, quicker counterparts.

They ended the game making the likes of Mousa Dembele and Paulinho running like chickens with their passing and that was an answer to how Liverpool could shape up without their talisman when he calls it a day.

That game provided arguably the first signs of Rodgers’ side emerging from their shadows and growing into maturity. It was a performance that saw initiative, risk-taking and responsibility — traits that define a side with mental strength.

It was the first instance where Liverpool sent shock waves reverberating through the Premier League, and it didn’t take too long before they recorded another morale-boosting victory, this time at the Britannia Stadium.

Legitimate questions were raised of Liverpool’s psychological capacity when they squandered a 2-0 lead in the first half but led by Rodgers, they confronted observers with a second-half display of grit and tenacity to win at a ground which they had never recorded victory previously throughout the Premier League era.

As much as Liverpool have displayed free-flowing football pleasing to the neutral’s eye, Rodgers has instilled mental confidence into a fragile side disturbed by recent events of internal strife.

Many in the current team have enduring memories of the previous American ownership, nightmares of unstable managerial regimes — the club went through four managers in two years — and a fear of remaining mediocre after several underwhelming league campaigns.

The top four feels like entering uncharted territory again after years of being in the wilderness, but this Liverpool side have remained there all season bar one week, testament to their willpower to defy the odds this season.

Fifteen games separate Liverpool and a place in the coveted Champions League, but they do look keen on making up for lost time. It is a prospect which runs deep in their minds every morning, an opportunity they do not want to pass.

The triumph against Everton has only underlined this fact. It has made it nine points out of nine from what were potential banana skins, the games which could detail Liverpool’s misgivings and derail their top four bid.

But the psychology imbued by Rodgers has other ideas. It has provided an edge that he hopes will see them through, across the finish line and back into European elite.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorial, Team Analysis

Liverpool must risk it now to push on for top four berth

With just a week remaining until the transfer window slams shut, Brendan Rodgers is running out of time to substantiate claims that his team are genuine title contenders.

Having surged to the top of the table last Christmas, the Reds have fallen eight points off the pace, lying fourth and level on points with resurgent Tottenham. With rivals Everton and Manchester United also hot on the Anfield club’s heels, Liverpool must now fight for that final Champions League spot.

In truth, Liverpool are unlikely to win the title and by now, Rodgers might have realised his earlier claims of being “in the conversation” were far-fetched, but he knows that the Reds’ top four destiny still lie in their own very hands.

That has shaped January into a truly defining transfer window for the Merseyside club.

One would have expected Liverpool to take risks and be aggressive, yet surprisingly they have been anything but that.

It is undoubted that January is a notoriously difficult market to operate in, but three of Liverpool’s best in Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have been signed in this period, so there is indeed value if Rodgers looks hard enough.

After scouting Basle’s Mohamed Salah for months, the Egyptian was the primary target but having delayed for 23 days, Liverpool were left red-faced when Chelsea made an eleventh hour swoop for the player — and succeeded.

The failure to sign Salah was what Liverpool deserved.

Perhaps there are more pressing concerns in other areas of the pitch that need to be addressed, but if anything, this was a clear indication that Liverpool are treating this window as level in significance compared to previous ones.

Despite Rodgers having implemented a footballing style that has won even the sternest of critics, the Reds continue to look naive on the transfer front and it threatens to cost them come the end of the season.

It’s fair enough if they want to stick to their principles of not over-paying but in a season where the race for the Champions League is so tight, Liverpool must be prepared to make an exception to the rule.

Instead of trying to drive a hard bargain, the Merseyside club must risk it now to give themselves the best possible chance of a top four berth. Arguably, Liverpool’s supposed value buys in Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto for a combined £15M have proved to be inadequate squad players, so this will further raise the scrutiny of Liverpool’s transfer policy.

Rodgers has thus far delivered this season, now John Henry and co must back him in the transfer market.

Juan Mata’s £37M move to Manchester United could spur David Moyes’ side into action, while Everton’s additions of Lacina Traore and Aiden McGeady will only serve to add depth into the Roberto Martinez’s squad as the season nears its business end.

Compounded by a lengthy injury list which include the likes of Lucas and Jose Enrique, the ride for Liverpool will be rocky if they do not move swiftly in negotiations for prospective buys.

They must display greater ambition off the pitch as they have shown on it this season.

The buck will only stop with Anfield’s hierarchy should a quiet January cost Liverpool that elusive Champions League spot and the monetary windfall that comes with it.

They will have to restart and certainly, questions over Luis Suarez’s future will be swirling over Melwood again.

It is a distraction that Liverpool won’t need. Now is the time to ensure just that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorial

Rodgers must shore up the back to take Liverpool forward

For the first time this season, Brendan Rodgers was afforded the rarest of luxuries. With his attacking quartet firing on all cylinders and hindered neither by injuries nor suspension, now was the moment to unleash them to devastating effect.

It was an option he could not contemplate in the previous 21 league games.

By reuniting Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge together with ammunition in the form of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling, the 40-year-old Liverpool manager could be forgiven for thinking that their abundance in firepower, creativity and pace will tear Aston Villa’s defence into shreds.

How wrong he was.

Rodgers watched on horrified from the sidelines as it was the visitors who ran amok, dictating tempo and running rings round Liverpool’s makeshift defence culminating in a 2-0 away lead inside 36 minutes.

Meanwhile, the four in red who were heavy favourites to run the show looked increasingly isolated up front.

It was a tactical experiment Rodgers was so bent on that backfired spectacularly. Much as the prospect of an ‘SAS’ strikeforce with Coutinho and Sterling pulling the strings behind seemed tantalizing, it left a gaping hole behind that Steven Gerrard found too big to plug.

The 33-year-old captain was constantly harried out of possession and exposed for his lack of pace. Villa’s numerical supremacy in centre midfield provided him with little opportunity or time to dictate tempo from deep, despite Rodgers’ Pirlo-esque vision for him.

But it was the alarming sloppiness of the Liverpool’s back four which left fans on the edge of their seats time and again Villa poured forward.

Their defensive contribution of such paucity only increased observers’ doubt of Liverpool’s top four assault — after all, they have the worst defensive record amongst the top eight teams with a mere three clean sheets in the last 19 league games.

With full-backs Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho committing themselves forward, Liverpool were further exposed on both flanks and quick transitions from the defensive to attacking phrase were all that was needed for Villa to brutally exploit huge acres of space left behind for both goals.

Despite Liverpool having numbers back in time to possibly avoid conceding both goals, neglectful marking by Gerrard and subsequently Johnson allowed Weimann and Benteke respectively to prod home both goals with ease.
It was further indication that if anything were to steal the march on Liverpool’s Champions League ambition, defensive fragility was the greatest impediment that must be Rodgers’ immediate cause for concern.

Past Liverpool teams prided themselves on being defensively rock-solid. It built the foundations of success and now the aim for Rodgers should not be different. The strikers have carried the burden of scoring all season but when goals dry up, edgy victories with the back-line equivalent of a brick wall must be eked out.

Make no mistake, with Liverpool just eight points off leaders Arsenal with 16 games to go, there is still all to play for. A lot can change in the next four months with no one at Melwood throwing in the towel of a late title challenge.

Given the circumstances, the 2-2 draw against Paul Lambert’s side was a point gained rather than two lost. It could turn out to be the crucial point differentiating between a top four finish or Europa League spot, as Tottenham have found out in recent seasons.

Yet there was a silver lining and a valuable lesson.

And it was that if Rodgers were to take Liverpool forward, he must solve the deficiencies from the back rather than marvel at the potency of his front.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorial

An in-depth look at Liverpool and its future direction

Six months have passed since Brendan Rodgers was handed the reins of Liverpool FC. He’s overseen the transfers (mainly) during the summer, in addition to reaching the midpoint mark of the current domestic season. We’re now at a critical juncture to pass evaluations and deliver verdicts of our season so far. Have Liverpool progressed under Rodgers? Is the level of experience (or lack thereof) severely hampering the side this season? And what could be done going forward in January and beyond to build a competitive side capable of a top four finish?

Recent defeats against Aston Villa and Stoke scream of meek surrenders which have ramped up the pressure on Rodgers. Discussions have since been raised about the ability of youth to perform in the Liverpool side now, the positioning of our transfer strategy helmed by FSG and whether Rodgers has any clue of what he’s doing.

With FSG employing the manager they genuinely want during the summer, there seemed to be a widespread consensus that this is Year Zero and that Liverpool are in transition towards long-term stability. Everyone was warned about the bumpy road ahead, and that results were not going to instantly improve but rather a steady progression over the years. That was something I was prepared to accept, even if it meant missing out on the Champions League in the next couple of seasons.

There was a statistic on Twitter after the loss at Stoke stating that Liverpool have just racked up 43 points over the last 38 games. That’s a fact, but I do find it rather misleading. Dalglish’s final 19 League games racked up just 18 points – with a startling 11 defeats, so if blame must be proportioned on any manager, the bulk has to go to Dalglish as it is relegation form.

25 points in 19 games under Rodgers isn’t by any stretch of an imagination great, but it’s definitely a substantial improvement from the previous 19 considering a much depleted strike-force. Liverpool lost four attackers (Kuyt, Bellamy, Maxi and Carroll) and replaced them with only Borini, who has been out injured for majority of the season, so contrary to majority of public opinion, I do find that Liverpool have done relatively well considering the available armoury (especially attacking-wise) at Rodgers’ disposal. Let’s also not forget that Liverpool have played the most games amongst all teams in the whole League – on arguably the thinnest of resources up front.

Rodgers was also hired based on a certain footballing philosophy he favours, so it was always going to take time to see its rewards. Senior players have pointed out how radically different training is compared to previous regimes. Undoubtedly, Liverpool haven’t quite grasped how they should be tactically organised by considering their naivety at times, but with every passing game slight improvements are evident which should place the club in the right direction.

Of course there have been a few major reality checks along the way, such as against Villa and Stoke. It puts into perspective of how far off this side remains from the summit. Yet there is progress all round, which leaves me optimistic on our future.

Liverpool have also made great strides in terms of academy graduates. Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Suso have most prominently featured in a sizable number of minutes under Rodgers this season.

Yet gripes remain on how feasible this is because football is a result-oriented business. It’s all good to see academy graduates playing weekly but should results be sacrificed due to their inexperience?

I’ll actually argue that there is no better time than now to provide them with the minutes on the field. This is a season where expectations are always going to be dampened due to all that change surrounding the club. Perhaps it has unreasonably heightened in the face of what is seemingly set to be a lower ceiling for a fourth position finish. Yet as many agreed at the start of the season, there was little or even no expectation to finish within the Champions League places, but at least put up a sizable fight for it (we aren’t too far off 8 points behind).

Rodgers’ hand was also undoubtedly forced by a severe lack of striking options. Imagine the reaction from the fans had Downing been allowed to start ahead of Sterling in every league game?

As much as inexperience does show with our youth, there still remains a strong core of experienced players aged 25 and above who have been playing often. It’s not as if Liverpool have been fielding a side with majority as youth. The core of the team includes: Reina, Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Lucas, Gerrard and Suarez – easily 70% of the team can be considered highly experienced.

Also, when would young players get a prolonged run in the first team once Rodgers is able to get his players in? This is an opportune moment to ascertain whether three youth players who have stepped up so far have the capability to actually remain there over the next few seasons. Market forces will dictate whether they will remain there or not – should Rodgers see a player in the market fit to join Liverpool and buys him, then this might mean that youth players on the periphery might never get a chance. Personally, the failure of signing Clint Dempsey was in some ways a blessing in disguise – we might have never discovered if Sterling had the ability to fill the gap at Premier League level had we bought the American back then.

With the transfer window reopening in two days’ time, now is a good time to assess what the options are in January and beyond. The signing of Sturridge looks sealed, with Tom Ince also on his way back to Anfield. I remain doubtful over both signings. Here’s why.

When Dalglish went English and signed a trio of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll, it was, on hindsight, deemed as one of the most extravagant consecutive summers of purchases in Liverpool’s modern history and a massive waste of money. I was optimistic when the signings happened, but it definitely hasn’t worked out at all.

England haven’t performed at all in major international tournaments over the years – and that’s with the strongest eleven out there in the World Cups and the Euros. When we signed Henderson, Downing and Carroll, they were only featuring on the sidelines of the English team – never were they nailed on, a starting member, much like how Gerrard and Johnson are. Given how poor England are in the international tournaments, why are we even looking to sign Sturridge and Ince, who barely can barely break into Hodgson’s squad, let alone play for it?

This is no scientific argument and I’ll definitely admit it has its flaws, but maybe wouldn’t Liverpool be better off if we looked to signing fringe international players from more successful nations such as Spain and Germany? Just food for thought.

What Liverpool do need is to unearth undervalued and underrated quality players to get maximum worth from the transfer market, and that’s something they haven’t achieved at all. With us in mid-table position, there’s no chance of top quality proven talent joining us; like for example David Villa – yet what we could possibly do is to unearth the next Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina. Players whom I exactly meant the kind we should be looking out for – fringe players from the ultimately more successful international nations.

Liverpool need to show constant progression and develop a way of working that must ingrained throughout all facets of management, from transfers to on the pitch. It’s only through this consistency can then the Reds succeed without the level of resources comparable to the megariches of Manchester City and Chelsea. It can be done, but whether the execution is effective or not, is another matter.

17 Comments

Filed under Editorial

URGENT: A petition of justice everyone must sign

15-year-old Kevin Williams went to the FA Cup semi-final in 1989 and never returned home. Her mother, Anne Williams, had started an online petition in an attempt to overturn the course of death placed on her son. Anne Williams has ALL the evidence but she has been refused THRICE by the Attorney General to put Kevin’s course of death right.

Anne said: “I want a fresh inquest for Kevin and I want it to run up until 4pm when he died.”

Throughout all of Kevin’s inquests, it has been clear that they have been riddled by corruption. They have been surpressed by vital evidence but more crucially they have perverted the course of justice.

Kevin wasn’t brain dead at 3:15pm, unlike what the original inquests have ruled. Nor did he die of trauma asphyxia. In fact, he was saveable and basic medical treatment would have sufficed. Kevin was pulled out at 3:28pm alive. An off-duty policeman also found a pulse on Kevin at 3:37pm. A fresh inquest to put the course of death right is a must.

This isn’t about what football club you support. It is about the justice and closure for a mum after 23 years.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/19149

URGENT: The petition has just TWO days left to run. The number of signatures is only on 41,000 at the time of writing. Please just take two minutes to sign this epetition and confirm your signature in your email otherwise it will not be counted. Do note the email could be in your spam/junk folder. The petition is only open to British citizens/UK residents.

Please sign, confirm your signature in the email, pass it on and spread the word. Make the difference.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/19149

Justice for the 96.

2 Comments

Filed under Editorial

A year on: Dalglish’s cruise docks at Anfield

Kenny welcomed in his spiritual home - Photo: LFCTV

What a mammoth difference a year makes for Liverpool. Sunday marks the anniversary of Kenny Dalglish’s return to Liverpool FC.

On New Year’s Day last year, the side eked out an unfashionable victory against Bolton, courtesy of Joe Cole’s goal in the 92nd minute. Although it panned out to be a winning start to 2011 for then-manager Roy Hodgson, the match was played out in front of 10,000 empty seats – hardly the sort of attendance you’ll expect at a world revered footballing institution. The morale amongst staff was lowly, the side was devoid of confidence and the Club lacked a direction.

Just five days later away at Ewood Park, Hodgson oversaw one of the most damning defeats of his reign. Liverpool felled so meekly to Blackburn Rovers. They surrended too timidly far often, especially on the road where they had only won once all season. At that point in time, Liverpool sat on negative goal difference hanging just four points off the relegation zone.

With fans having campaigned to relieve Hodgson of his duties for months, the latest blow proved to his last. Owner John W Henry, having assessed Hodgson for close to 12 weeks, decided that the axe should rightly fall on the English manager. In strode Kenny Dalglish, who was holidaying on a cruise in the Persian Gulf then to take charge of first-team matters starting with Manchester United in FA’s Cup 3rd round.

Although club legend Dalglish was not afforded the luxury of enjoying a winning start, signs were prevalent that it’s a start of a new dawn for everyone associated with Liverpool FC. Change was Liverpool’s most prominent constant as personnel came and go. In the January 2011 window, Dalglish oversaw the departures of Dutch hot-shot Ryan Babel as well as star striker Fernando Torres. Dalglish went on to break the Club’s transfer record – twice – in the space of two days as he signed Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll for a total combined fee of £58M.

Liverpool saw an immediate swing in fortunes on the pitch as Dalglish looked to reassert a feeling of normalcy around Anfield. It only took two winless games before Liverpool went on the sort of form which would draw envious looks from their fellow Premier League counterparts. A 3-0 win at Wolves proved to be a turning point – Liverpool continued to move from strength to strength as they registered wins against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City – and there was even a concerted last-ditch push for a top-four finish which ultimately proved to be an excercise in futility.

Nevertheless, the astonishing swing of results with which Dalglish had overseen meant there was no hesitation for him to be handed a permanent contract. In May, the formalities were sorted and the club could move on safe in the knowledge that there was stability all around the echelons of Liverpool’s boardroom – something that was severely damaged during the predecessors’ tumultuous ownership.

In the summer transfer window, Dalglish and Comolli worked in tandem to scout, identify and buy players who could make a difference on this club. They believed that players who currently plied their trade in England should be of priority and in strode seven players. Doni, Coates, Enrique, Adam, Henderson, Downing, Bellamy now all roll of the lips of all Liverpool supporters.

There was a geniune wave of optimism amongst supporters so much so that there were even faint whispers of a looming title challenge. There was fresh impetus about the side whenever Liverpool play. And while some of the signings haven’t set the world alight with their displays, it is heartening to note that some players have become a model for consistency. Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel are currently playing their best form of their lives, shielded by an ever-present, but unfortunately presently crocked Lucas Leiva who once divided opinion amongst fans but is now one of the first names of the team-sheet. Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez, veterans of the game have still plenty to contribute to the cause as Dalglish’s machine currently rolls on.

Whilst wheels of a possible title challenge have railed off, a finish in the top four is still very much on the agenda. Liverpool are currently just three points off that elusive fourth spot, in a far healthier position that they were just a year ago. Friday night’s sellout against third-tier Oldham at Anfield is just one obvious indication of that, compared to the 35,400 attendance that Hodgson saw on his final Anfield outing.

Liverpool must walk on from here, learning from past mistakes and applying it into the future. And no one knows better than Dalglish, who now looks towards his second year in the hotseat with Anfield rocking together.

Follow me on Twitter: @redsonfire

2 Comments

Filed under Editorial, Season Reviews