Where do Liverpool go from here?

Liverpool logo

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. Continue reading

Liverpool risk wasting the greatness of Torres

The best striker in the world needs help; Photo by Matt JamFernando Torres’ winner on Sunday against Manchester United rescued Liverpool’s season from the brink of disintegration. True, Liverpool were far better than a remarkably tame Man U (more on that later this week), but their superiority had not translated into many clear goal scoring chances and a stalemate beckoned. That is, until Torres lit up the Kop with a breathtaking turn of pace and finish. He is a genuine superstar and I would say clearly the best striker in the world. Even though he is just entering his prime at age 25, seasons like the one Torres is putting together don’t come along very often and if Liverpool doesn’t bring in more attacking options in January, Benitez and co will have wasted the greatness in their midst.

Fernando Torres is now the best striker in the world. Ronaldo and Messi, while remarkable players, are not out and out strikers. Who else is there, really? Thiery Henry is on the wane. Samuel Eto’o is great but not the best. Zlatan Ibrahimavic is very good and has the potential to get better, but he’s still not in the same conversation as Torres. Didier Drogba is a fantastic player, when he is interested, but inconsistency has plagued his career even when he is at his best. Wayne Rooney doesn’t score enough goals. I could go on, but it’s not necessary: Torres is the best. Continue reading

Liverpool should stick with Benitez

Liverpool need to circle the wagons; Photo by Jeremy Burgin

Liverpool need to circle the wagons; Photo by Jeremy Burgin

When a season filled with high expectations comes crashing down before the clocks turn back, a lot of questions will be asked about job security of the manager. Liverpool’s continued poor run of form has prompted a press storm in England calling for Rafa Benitez’s ouster. Some fans too are joining in, but even though Benitez does deserve some fair amount of the blame for the club’s predicament, Liverpool should stand behind their manager as the team tries to get back on track.

Twice as many losses in the first nine games as it suffered in 38 last year, and now four defeats on the bounce, two each in the Premier and Champions Leagues, put Liverpool’s hopes of ending their 20-year title drought are on the ropes. Worse still, the hated Manchester United comes to Anfield on Sunday and can add further misery to the Merseyside faithful. A loss to United would put Liverpool ten points adrift after just ten games. A terrible start to be sure, but with 28 games left, even a loss would not end their chance at the title.

Diagnosing Liverpool’s problem is pretty simple: a precariously thin squad heavily reliant on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. It’s fair to lay blame at Benitez’s door for that problem, but in assessing whether a new manager would benefit the club, it must be asked whether anyone else could change ails the club. This is not like Chelsea’s struggles under Luis Filipe Scolari, when the squad was rejuvenated by Guus Hiddink. I don’t see how a new manager could come in and magically heal injuries or create squad depth. Continue reading

Liverpool deserved to lose: Rafa got it wrong but players didn’t respond

Were they Harry Enfield in disguise? Photo by Dullhunk

Were they Harry Enfield in disguise? Photo by Dullhunk

It was always going to be hard for Liverpool to go to the Stadium of Light and beat a very solid Sunderland side without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres – two players that would be in many people’s world XI. But injuries and international commitments are part of modern soccer and are simply not an excuse for a team with genuine title aspirations. Great teams respond in the face of adversity, and Liverpool did not respond at any level.

With four loses in nine Premier League games, Liverpool can no longer dismiss these early season setbacks as the natural ebb and flow of a 38 game season. The problems evident at Sunderland–bad transfer policy; poor tactical decisions; and a weak supporting cast–raise serious questions about this Liverpool team and its ability to mount a credible league campaign, let alone a title challenge. What a difference a couple of weeks and two consecutive losses make. There is still time to turn this around, but it will take a determination by all members of the Liverpool team, from the manager to the ball boys, that has not yet been on display. Continue reading

Gerrard and Torres out: How will Liverpool adapt?

Ryan Babel must deliver for Liverpool Saturday; Photo by Tom Parl

Ryan Babel must deliver for Liverpool Saturday; Photo by Tom Parl

Still suffering from the USA – Costa Rica hangover, it’s hard now to turn our attention back to league play. Injuries sustained on international duty (for the US too) are the dominant storyline heading into a big weekend of fixtures in England. Man U are without Wayne Rooney, which could lead to some trouble against Bolton. But by far the biggest injury news is that both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres suffered groin injuries and will miss Liverpool’s trip to Sunderland. Much of the focus will be on how Liverpool’s attack fares without those two, but this game will be more about Liverpool’s defense and keeping the Black Cats off the score sheet.

Let’s be frank, any team would struggle if its two best players don’t play. But no other genuine Premier League title contender relies on its star duo more than Liverpool. Manager Rafa Benitez’s major failure during the summer transfer window was not to bring in cover for Torres. It was painfully obvious that Liverpool needed to upgrade its second choice striker as Torres has always been prone to niggling injuries and has been taxed due to major international tournaments each of the last two summers. Torres was bound to spend some time in the training room – and this groin injury doesn’t seem too serious and Liverpool fans should count themselves lucky. Continue reading

The analyst’s curse: Liverpool shutout against Chelsea

Goose eggs by Kat Dodd

Goose eggs by Kat Dodd

So I go on and on about how Liverpool are now such a potent offensive force, are scoring goals at a record pace, and haven’t been shut out in eighteen league games and you know what comes next. They get blanked by Chelsea (and Fiorentina in the Champions League during the week) and looked rather tame doing it. So what went wrong and is it just a blip or did Chelsea expose a critical flaw in Liverpool’s team?

Even in the disappointment of defeat we have to remember that Chelsea deserved to win the game but it was far from one-sided. Liverpool started by far the brighter side, but as the first half wore on Chelsea gradually took control of the game. By the time Nicolas Anelka slotted in from Didier Drogba’s cross on the hour, no one could deny that Chelsea had a firm grip on the match even if chances were at a premium. Continue reading

Liverpool have changed their identity but nobody seems to notice

Glen Johnson scoring on his home debut; photo by Andy Coan

Glen Johnson scoring on his home debut; photo by Andy Coan

Rafa Benitez is a defense first, cautious manager guiding a team without enough offensive weapons to be a true powerhouse. Or so goes the conventional wisdom. And so demolitions of Hull, Stoke, and Burnley are put down to Big Four dominance against weaker teams. Three goals away at Bolton and West Ham are just what those porous defenses should give up to a top side. Eighteen consecutive games without being shutout goes unremarked upon. All this because we know Liverpool is a defensive team, right?

Well, no. It’s amazing that Liverpool have transformed their identity into the Premier League’s most prolific attack without anybody noticing. Liverpool was the league’s top scoring team last year by nine goals—13% more than any other team—and was the only club to average at least two goals a game. Their goal difference last season was a remarkable plus 50. Continue reading

Should Jamie Carragher be dropped?

Photo by Ben Sutherland

Photo by Ben Sutherland

It’s never easy for a team to handle the decline of an iconic player, whether it’s Joe Montana, Roger Clements, or Roy Keane. While Jamie Carragher certainly isn’t one of the all-time greats, he has meant as much to the Liverpool team and its fans as any of those superstars. Manager Rafa Benitez faces an enormous decision about Carragher’s spot in the starting lineup as he’s under intense pressure to finally deliver a Premier League title to Anfield but also must treat Carragher with the respect he earned in his nearly 600 appearances for the club. No easy task.

It is clear that Carragher has started the season poorly, but whether it’s the result of a simple dip in form, a terminal decline, or a slow adaptation to a new tactical approach is not clear. Whatever the cause, the debate about Carragher’s place in the team—once thought unheard of—has burst into the open this week with Paul Little writing in Football365 that the central defender should be sent to the bench.

Little argues that the never quick Carragher is poorly equipped to adapt to Liverpool’s new style of more attacking play from the fullbacks. With the wide defenders (and the rest of the team as well) pushed farther up, the central defenders must also take a more advance position to prevent huge gaps in the Liverpool lines. In Little’s view, Carragher’s apprehension about his own lack of pace causes him to sit deeper, unbalancing the defense and opening up the very space he is supposed to close off. Continue reading

Breaking down Liverpool v Burnley

In the Yossi-Benayoun-0014-0 dismantling of a plucky Burnley side that has already beaten Man U and Everton, Liverpool displayed exactly the kind of tactical flexibility that was so sorely lacking last year when dropped too many points against inferior sides. Much commentary about Liverpool’s title chances focused on their seven home draws—two against newly promoted sides like Burnley—four points that cost Liverpool the title.

It is understandable why most of the plaudits will go to Yossi Benayoun for his richly deserved hat-trick. But little attention is being paid to why Liverpool accomplished so easily what eluded them last year. Two key differences from last season’s approach point the way and give hope to Liverpool fans that this might yet still be the year. First, both full backs consistently got forward into the attack, adding more offensive weapons and creating space for Benayoun et al. Second, and even more significant, moving Steven Gerrard into the Xabi Alonso role brought an attacking dimension to Liverpool’s standard 4-2-3-1. Continue reading

Premiership Preview (Part II)

On Friday we looked at how the league will shape up this year and analyzed Manchester United’s chances of repeating as champions. Tomorrow, we will finish out the Big Four with previews of Chelsea and Arsenal. Wednesday Everton and Aston Villa are on tap. Thursday we look at the other two clubs looking to break into the top four, Manchester City and Tottenham. But today, we take an in depth look at Liverpool and whether they can win the league for the first time since 1990.

Liverpool

2008-09 Finish: Runners-up

Major Transactions: Ins: Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), Alberto Aquilani (Roma); Outs: Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Sami Hyypia (Beyer Leverkusen)

Coming of their first genuine title push of the Premier League era, Liverpool looked poised to finally end their 20 year title drought and win the league in 2009-10. They had built a solid core of world class players, with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard providing the goals and Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso anchoring the midfield in front of a very reliable defense making up a formidable 4-2-3-1 formation. They lost only twice and did the double over both Man U and Chelsea. Liverpool finally looked like real title hopefuls.

But the flaw in the Liverpool approach was evident throughout the season: too many dropped points against weaker sides. A flurry of home draws (seven in all), and matches like the 2-1 defeat at ultimately relegated Middlesborough, cost the Reds the title. Liverpool may have dropped only four points from their six games against the other Big Four sides, but they dropped the same number in two games versus Stoke.

With the deep-lying Alonso pulling the strings in the 4-2-3-1, Liverpool could control the pace of the game against the league and world’s best teams. But what was such a clear advantage against strong teams was unnecessary when playing lesser opponents that basically conceded possession to the superior side. So against teams like Wigan and Hull that packed it in, Liverpool were restricted to just four attacking players and were far too easily stifled when their opponents parked the bus in front of the goal.

Continue reading