It’s been a curate’s egg of a season so far for Liverpool – good in parts – with the best bits coming against the better sides.
A pair of recent cup successes against the two Manchester clubs has highlighted the Reds infuriatingly inconsistent nature. Ignoring a hiding at White Hart Lane, victories at Arsenal, two at Chelsea and upper hand draws against Tottenham, Manchester United and City in the league as well as eliminating that pair from both domestic cup competitions has proven the Reds ability to compete with the sides occupying the places they intend to attain, yet, this enviable sequence has been perforated by a succession of dropped points against the lesser lights.
Insipid home draws with Sunderland, Norwich, Swansea, Blackburn and Stoke coupled with defeats away to Stoke, Fulham and most recently Bolton have impeded Liverpool’s pursuit of a top four place and given their contrast in results, in begs the question as just to what’s going on down Anfield Road?
In truth, the mixed bag return of results has been a recurring theme since Kenny Dalglish re-took over the managerial reigns at the beginning of the year. After resuscitating his side from the Roy Hodgson debacle, King Ken ushered his club onto the periphery of the Champions League places with a points haul of 33 from 18 games, which, theoretically if worked out over a full campaign would have been enough to usurp Arsenal from fourth spot.
However, even that brief renaissance was beset with trips and falls. Points were shed to Blackpool, Wigan, West Ham and West Brom which defied the logic of more defeats of United, City and Dalglish’s bunny rabbits – Chelsea.
Anyone who has watched Liverpool with any great interest since Dalglish’s second coming cannot have failed to be impressed with the tone, tempo and organisation the Scot has instilled back into the team.
The Reds commitment to hassle and hurry with numerous infectious runners working hard to press and regain the ball has knocked teams out of their swagger meaning they are one of the most difficult teams to play against – especially at home.
As demonstrated in the last few weeks against the current top three sides in the division, Liverpool look most adept when swiftly countering with or without Luis Suarez as the spinning-top foil to spring forward, but when asked to dominate games themselves and force the issue, they have shown the sort of penetration associated with a velcro dartboard. If you also factor in no European commitments, a return of 39 points from 24 Premier League games with just 28 goals scored is actually well down on what they achieved in the second half of 2010/11.
Barring Suarez, few, if any of Liverpool’s other midfield and forward dimensions have performed with the sort of functions which match the sides ambitions to gatecrash the top four and much of the failings must go back to Dalglish for the way he has set the side up.
Dalglish’s hand picked signings allude to continuing a style he mastered during the 80’s but which has quickly gone out of sync as English football tries to mirror it’s more sophisticated continental counterparts.
Liverpool are essentially equipped to play a high tempo game, with plenty of width and wing-play with crosses zipped in as the main source of supply, yet against well drilled defensive units they distinctly lack the subtleness or guile to pick their way through.
For a club that prided itself on its touch-and-go, pass-and-move liverpool groove they have this season airmailed the ball forward with a worrying regularity. Their workaholic wingers lack a trick or a flick and since Xabi Alonso departed, the central midfield area doesn’t possess the sort of intricacy to create enough gaps in back fours. Overall, the side is more perspiration than inspiration and when arguably you are better than two-thirds of the teams in the division, it’s not a good equilibrium.
After establishing a base and structure during the first few months of his second term, Dalglish then had a full summer to refine the approach and to add to what he had shrewdly orchestrated, yet, even despite an outlay of close to £100m on the hand-picked recruitments of Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, Liverpool still appear more limited than they were before.
Even if you ignore the sums spent, are these individuals good enough to challenge the players playing for the top four? Downing has never suggested he could be anything other than an above average Premier League winger and no goals or assists so far suggests so. Elsewhere, Adam had one decent season as the talisman of Blackpool but looks a rung below top-class and Henderson relies on physical attributes rather than technical. The problem is further exasperated by Carroll being a battering ram of a forward who requires a direct approach to flourish and it is no coincidence that Liverpool’s most effective outlets are regularly the dynamic duo of Bellamy and Suarez who solely provide what little ingenuity there is.
Given the money Dalglish had to spend, the signings could have been far more astute. Juan Mata was available for near enough the price of Downing, whilst Turkish schemer Arda Turan went to Atletico Madrid for approximately half. Sebastien Larsson could have been signed for free and even a return for Yossi Benayoun could have been arranged without much fuss.
Arguably Scott Parker would have been a better pick than Henderson and Mikel Arteta could have provided the panache supposedly sought in Adam. In the problematic striking department, Darren Bent would have been available and more suitable for Liverpool just weeks before Carroll arrived and even since, the prolific Demba Ba went to Newcastle for nothing whilst Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz were allowed to leave Manchester City on season long loans for the price of subsidised wages. All in all, there were options, but Kenny chose the wrong ones.
Instead, the money was spent on a congregation of signings whom operate with similar functions but still leave Liverpool devoid of the sort of fluidity and expression needed to regularly stretch teams to breaking point and score the volume of goals required.
The transfer market is a difficult place to operate and strike-rate’s fluctuate even for the most astute but still, Dalglish’s most loyal subjects would be hard pressed to argue that he spent wisely when other more viable options could have been acquired.
Overall, Liverpool are in a far better position than twelve months ago but given the solidarity at board level and unequivocal support the manager holds, are they really doing that well?
[ffcvideo file=”coffebreak2″ type=”mp4″ image_type=”jpg”]