Due to the good start to the season, expectations were paramount. Liverpool supposedly became a team that is expected to win all of the matches they played. Then came a series of poor performances starting with a draw against Swansea and a loss against Southampton. With this, critics were out in full force, having a field day and looking for scapegoats. Some said Lucas was useless. Some said Gerrard is too old and should be subbed. Some said Sakho was horrible at left-back and some even go as far as suggesting that Rodgers should be sacked.
In my opinion, while we were generally poor, if people have to be this negative on LFC at their current league position, then almost all EPL teams may need to have a change in manager for that matter.
After all, seconds after the match, we were still top of the league and remain the top few teams with only 3 points behind the new leader, Arsenal. We’ve collected 10 points after 5 matches which is a huge improvement from last season. Understandably, poor performances by our favorite team will leave many upset, annoyed and wondering why the sudden change in performance. Today, I’ll try to answer the why.
Firstly, just to be clear, I don’t believe that the first 3 matches represent a dream and the next 2, a reality.
All 5 matches reflects the reality for Liverpool. Truth is, at the start we played considerably well and were dominating these matches. The draw and the loss were also reflective of our team’s performances and the answer to that is we weren’t playing well. This is also a reality, not a dream.
Why is it that the last 2 matches were very much different from the first 3?
The reason is, there were a change in tactics which I’ve previously explained in my last column. I raised a point about Victor Moses who undoubtedly improved our offense but also weaken our defense when he played too high up the field and unintentionally leaves space for Shelvey to penetrate to much success. If I were Rodgers, in the match against Southampton, I would have returned to the old tactics which won us the game. However, things were not to be. The situation was different with a long-term injury to Coutinho. The team lost our only available playmaker. Liverpool were also plagued by injuries mainly in the defensive department and this forced to Rodgers to field a rarely seen (and odd) starting line-up with 4 center-backs.
Playing 4 center-backs may not be all that gloomy for Liverpool. After all, Sakho is able to compensate for the space left open by Moses. At the same time, it allows Gerrard and Lucas to push further forward to help with the attacking.
However, as seen from the Southampton game where we lack bite, this tactic is unable to substitute for the presence and contributions of our attacking full-backs that we sorely missed. Both Sakho and Toure were not contributing to our attacks in the way Johnson and the uninjured Enrique would. Many a times, their attempts to push forward would end at the middle of the pitch rather than nearer to the opposition’s penalty box. This reduce our options in attack. Similarly, at the wings, Moses and Henderson were unable to penetrate Swansea’s defense where their attempts usually end up in vain. Aspas and Sturridge, on the other hand, where unable to hold the ball long enough for either Gerrard or Lucas to “perform their magic” and thus our attacks from the middle were also nullified. As a result, throughout the game, our attacks were dull and frustrating and we ended up being the one defending.
The introduction of Sterling in the second half didn’t improve the situation. Liverpool’s dimensions in attacks which were normally fuelled by Johnson, Enrique and Coutinho were nowhere to be seen. The addition of Enrique improve the situation slightly but many of our players look to be unfit. In a game of high pressure (and stake), many of our players were not playing their natural, free-flowing game. They seem to be thinking way too much and trying to play difficult balls. (For eg. When Sturridge forced himself to shoot instead of passing to Victor Moses who was clearly in a better position)
In this match, it is possible to rightly say that the team underperformed. However, from another point of view, the change in tactics and the constraints faced due to injuries may affect the players’ ability to adapt to the new styles and positioning and thus reduces fluidity in play. In addition, the players may still be unaccustomed to the pressure accompanying the leader of the league. Altogether, these factors may be the reasons why the team were below par. In tonight’s match against Manchester United, with Van Persie injured, we may be able to regain our momentum.
Looking forward, the next EPL game doesn’t look that worrying in term of players’ fitness. We will have Luis Suarez back into the side and his hunger and ability (especially his creativeness) should be able to lighten up and boost the team’s performance. For the issues with fullbacks, Enrique looks ready even for tonight’s game and is likely to start both matches. For right back, as a fan, we can only hope that Martin Kelly is fit enough to step into the side. (Though, very unlikely due to lack of match fitness issue)
Pertaining to the concern posed by Victor Moses as highlighted earlier, if we analyze his positioning and runs in the previous match against Southampton, there seems to be improvement. Moses now makes more effort to help reinforce the team in the middle of the park and even in defense.
Against Sunderland, Rodgers will need to deal with the mental fitness of his players and do everything he can to lift the players back into winning ways. Winning the next game is a must for us especially when we are playing after the other teams. By the time we play Sunderland, Arsenal may leave us 5 points behind. We may even need to share our position with Manchester United, who may be levelled with us with 10 points if they win their next game. Southampton may even be ahead of us if they beat Crystal Palace at the weekend.
As such, a win is vital and a must! It will help us regain our momentum and gives the team the additional motivation to continuously pressure the league leader and keep pushing to take the lead again.
Original piece by Kenny7
English adaptation by fangfang