Liverpool have had an indifferent season so far, especially compared to the highs of last season’s title challenge. Currently eight after 20 matches – with just eight victories and seven defeats – it was always going to be difficult once Luis Suarez left the club.
Add to that Daniel Sturridge missing the majority of the season so far through injury, and that’s 52 goals taken out of the side. Any team would struggle but recent form suggests Liverpool are slowly getting back to their best and are just seven points off a Champions League position. With Sturridge expected back sooner rather than later, a top four finish isn’t completely out of the question, especially due to the inconsistencies of some of the teams above Liverpool.
Liverpool are currently six games unbeaten – four in the league – and are still in both domestic cup competitions. Whilst a two legged League Cup semi-final against Chelsea will be extremely tough to overcome, nothing can be ruled out with Liverpool and their love of the League Cup. And in the FA Cup, a kinder home tie against Bolton awaits, a match they will be strong favourites to win.
Although their last Premier League encounter ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Leicester, Brendan Rodgers’ men have certainly shown vast improvements in the past month. A 3-4-3 formation has been implemented with two wing backs as part of the midfield four and both Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho allowed to drop deeper if needed. This formation has seen Liverpool become a little more solid at the back whilst more adventurous up-front, as demonstrated in the 4-1 defeat of Swansea. This type of formation is suited to Steven Gerrard’s style of play, as demonstrated in recent weeks, and he will be a huge loss when he departs at the end of the season.
But the weaknesses still appear and, despite having two wing-backs that can make up a back five off the ball, the defence still concede too regularly. One of the first times Liverpool used this tactic was against Man United in the 3-0 loss at Old Trafford. Liverpool matched United for most of the match, created many clear cut chances, which may have resulted in goals had they been able to call upon a quality centre forward instead of makeshift option Raheem Stirling. The Reds’ consistently poor defensive displays are also clear indications there are still areas in which Liverpool must improve, but they are not a million miles away from competing for a European place again.
They must either buy a centre forward this month, or at least start playing with one, because it could prove vital in their search for consistency and a top four finish. Rickie Lambert might have had a tough start to life at Liverpool, but he is able to score goals if given the opportunity and, while Mario Balotelli has been poor, a loan move away from Anfield could be what he needs to rebuild his confidence in front of goal. Daniel Sturridge returning will be like a new signing for Brendan Rodgers, but only if he can hit the ground running after a lengthy lay-off. But he is the type of striker Liverpool have been missing, a proven goalscorer who has impressed greatly since arriving in Merseyside.
It was always going to take time to adjust to Luis Suarez’s departure but there are signs that Liverpool still have a side full of quality. A bit more time should be allowed because the club can still fight all the way for a top four finish and perhaps even some silverware come May.