Where do Liverpool go from here?

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Liverpool need to win ugly; Photo by Jonathan Gil

Another game Liverpool seemed to control, another bevy of missed chances, another disappointing result; it’s all going wrong for Liverpool at the moment in a tragic-comedy that SAF couldn’t even dream up. One win in the last eight will make your head spin. Conceding so late turned what could have been a big boost into a punch in the gut, but Liverpool shouldn’t panic. Though far from its best and still a lot of players through injury, the team played reasonably well against Lyon and deserved better. More importantly, the approach to the game points a way for Liverpool to right the ship and get its league campaign back on track.

First, to the match Wednesday. Whatever his faults, Benitez is still an excellent tactician, and he set up the side to frustrate Lyon and not let them get ahead early, allow Liverpool to control the pace of the game, and try and pick up a goal or two in a game with few chances. That is exactly what happened. It wasn’t pretty, but Liverpool were clearly on top, created the best chances even if they didn’t take them, and hardly ever looked like conceding. Until they did.

This was very similar to the Liverpool v Man U game, except while Valencia’s late shot hit the bar, Lisandro found the back of the net. The tactical approach was almost identical—keeping the fullbacks deep to solidify the defense, use Mascherano and Lucas to jam up the middle, and have Kuyt, Benayoun, and in this case Voronin harass Lyon when they had the ball, pushing them deeper.

The only difference was against Man U it was a choice, while Benitez was forced through injury to field much of this lineup in France. It was a smart move no matter what’s its motivation, but fielding your fourth choice central defender in a crucial away match in the Champions League is never fun. Torres was below par and Gerrard was out, but the players Liverpool missed most were Albert Riera and Martin Skrtel. It sure would have been nice to have Albert Riera wide left, if Skrtel had been in the lineup, Emiliano Insua probably could have pushed up from his left back position more often. Either option could have exposes the Lyon right back who came on for his first appearance of the season in the first half because of injury.

Liverpool are not out of the Champions League, but their fate is out of their hands. They need Lyon to earn at least a draw against Fiorentina in Florence on the next match day or it’s over. The benefit of that is that the whole squad can now focus on the Premier League.

The loss of Xabi Alonso—and the injury to his replacement Alberto Aquilani and the inability of Lucas to make a positive mark—has drawn attention away from the tactical shift to attacking fullbacks. It was working fantastically well earlier in the season when Liverpool were scoring goals for fun. But with the injury to Gerrard, who had just as often taken the Alonso role in those first games, Liverpool lost its presence in the middle of the pitch, gave away more possession, exposing it to more attacks with less rigid back line. Consequently, they’ve kept only three clean sheets in 11 league games.

The games against Man U and Lyon demonstrate that Liverpool can still play solid defense even without Alonso or Aquilani if they hold their fullbacks fairly deep. It won’t be particularly pleasing on the eye, but Liverpool will take wins any way it can get them right now and they’ve got to lock it down at the back, especially on the road where they’re giving up two goals per game.

Though they’ve got to get by Birmingham at Anfield on Monday, the upcoming international break should help Liverpool enormously. Almost all the injuries tearing apart the squad are muscle strains: Torres, sports hernia; Gerrard, groin; Johnson, calf; Skrtel, hamstring; Aurelio, calf; Agger, back. Everyone on that list should be back healthy after two weeks off, except possibly Gerrard who may need an operation. Even Aquilani should be up to full fitness after a couple more weeks of training.

The start of the season has gone incredibly badly and Liverpool’s title hopes are extremely dim. But Liverpool can’t afford to give up. It’s time to win ugly until they start getting some players back from injury.

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4 Responses

  1. As you say, Liverpool have a strong squad and I’m sure that once their injury woes are behind them they will well and truly bounce back. There were more than a few glimmers of hope in Wednesday’s game and it’s not as bad as it seemed when that equaliser went in.

    For anyone who placed a bet on the Lyon game, i’ve found this interesting article: http://tinyurl.com/yhd89fl – it’s from the Right2Bet petition and it shows you how much money you could have lost (even if you won your bet) because of the messed up EU gambling rules. It’s a fascinating comparison and really makes you think. There’s a petition on the Right2Bet website too..

  2. Interesting blog, not like the others!

  3. My friend referred me to your blog, so I thought I’d come have a read. Very interesting material, will be back for more!

  4. Dont we think it’s about time to talk a little CHELSEA!

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