When you struggle to create chances away at a lowly Championship side, there has to be a problem. That was my overriding feeling after Liverpool got a replay against Reading in the third round of the FA Cup. There is certainly a case for saying that Reading played out of their skin because it was a FA Cup tie, but no Liverpool supporter would deny that for the best part of the game on Saturday, Reading commanded the ball better and they created more of the chances. This has to be a concern for any Liverpool fan, for I was convinced once again that after wins against Wolves and Aston Villa that Liverpool had begun to turn a corner. A turning point which would see them go on a winning run to secure fourth place at the end of the season. So was this another false dawn?
With Liverpool these days I am not entirely sure but there were certainly elements in the game which were concerning. Benitez had every right to play 4-4-2 against Reading, considering their struggles in the Championship, and the plain fact that the Royals have struggled both to score goals and keep them out at home this season. The facts were though, that during the game, Liverpool struggled to keep hold of possession allowing Reading to take control of large parts of the match as they attempted to create a cup upset. After Liverpool equalised through Steven Gerrard, you would expect the Reds to take control of the game and come through easy winners. No such thing happened, as the second half once again turned into a struggle as Fernando Torres had to live off scraps. Why was there no supply to both Torres and Ngog during the match?
If you look at the midfield in question which was put out against Reading, there lies your answer. Dirk Kuyt, Lucas Leiva, Steven Gerrard and Fabio Aurelio: there is only one creative outlet out of the four in Gerrard. I have no problems with Lucas playing as a defensive midfielder in an away FA Cup tie, and I thought he was excellent against Reading, but it is the other two (Kuyt and Aurelio), I do have a problem with. Creative play is not their forte, and although both work hard and track back defensively, they were not going to help create many chances for Torres. The responsibility entirely laid with Gerrard, and in a 4-4-2 formation, his creative talents were tempered by having to compete in midfield for the ball.
As I said at the start of my article, if you are struggling to create chances against the likes of Reading, a rethink is in order. Babel and Benayoun were on the bench on Saturday, and although both came on late in the game, they did little to affect the outcome. Benayoun has dropped form from his exceptional start to the season, while Babel’s troubles at Anfield have led to many rumours he will be leaving Merseyside soon. Creative talents in midfield are an essential part to any team and I believe Benitez must pull a loan signing out of the hat in the next month to relieve some of the pressure on Gerrard.
Some of the rumours seem promising; the Daily Mail has reported Benitez’s interest in signing Atletico Madrid’s Argentinean winger Maxi Rodriguez on loan, while others have indicated that the Liverpool manager could swoop for both Ruud van Nistelrooy and Rafael van der Vaart at Real Madrid on loan. I hope these rumours turn out to be true as five man midfield of Van der Vaart – Aquilani – Gerrard – Mascherano – Rodriguez would be fantastic, but I am not holding my breath. Attacking displays, such as the one against Reading, must be improved upon if Liverpool are going to finish high up the table and changing personnel in January is for me the only way this will be made possible.