A few weeks ago, the notion of 2015 seemed like a rather magical, mystical one. But a few boozy celebrations, countless chocolates and cheese-cracker combos later, and it’s disappointingly similar to the year before.
The turn of the year does, however, give us the opportunity to reflect on the last twelve months and in regards to Premier League clubs, what they can improve upon. After all, to improve is to change, but to change often is perfection.
And with that House-of-Cards-inspired fable in mind, we’re running the rule over the latter portion of Liverpool’s 2014, earmarking what they can improve upon in the second half of their Premier League campaign.
As Jamie Carragher argued in October, Liverpool are nothing short of woeful when it comes to defending set pieces and easily amongst the worst in the Premier League.
The Reds have conceded eight goals from either corners or free kicks in just 20 Premier League outings this term, constituting nearly a third of all their goals conceded in the league, which is far too high for a club targeting Champions League football.
This problem isn’t exclusive to the current campaign or the last twelve months; rather, it’s been an unfortunate trademark of Brendan Rodgers’ two-and-a-half year tenure at Anfield and, quite clearly, far more work needs to be done on the training field.
When even your leading centre-backs, such as Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure, are losing their marks at set pieces and committing basic errors, something is undoubtedly amiss. It makes you wonder whether the Reds do any defensive set piece preparation at all.
In the two-and-a-half years since Brendan Rodgers first took the Anfield helm, Liverpool have spent a rather incredible £212million on 25 players in the transfer market, but we’re still waiting on that marquee signing.
The Reds have certainly come close to signing some coveted names in that time period, including Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa, Willian and Alexis Sanchez to name a few, but all have gone on to strengthen their domestic and continental rivals instead.
Landing a high-calibre stellar purchase will not only strengthen Liverpool’s starting XI but furthermore open up the top end of the transfer market to them, which is a must if the Reds are ever to return to their dominance of the 1970s and 1980s – or for that matter, their FA Cup and Champions League escapades of the early 2000s.
It’s something Brendan Rodgers has already commented on, declaring in November that Liverpool must work ‘harder and smarter‘ to land their top transfer targets.
With Liverpool’s Captain Fantastic recently confirming that he’ll be leaving for LA Galaxy at the end of the season, it’s now imperative that Brendan Rodgers gets best use out of Steven Gerrard between now and May.
The first issue is one of game-time management; the Liverpool gaffer has been keen to rest the 34 year-old’s whenever possible this season to maintain his fitness levels and prevent injuries, but there appears to be no clear pattern. Gerrard was left on the bench when the Reds travelled to Real Madrid in the Champions League for example, but bizarrely started in their Premier League fixture previous against Newcastle.
Again, Gerrard scored the brace against Wimbledon that got the Reds through to the fourth round of the FA Cup last weekend, but Liverpool’s squad should possess enough quality to cope without the England centurion against a League Two side. In 2015, Rodgers must prioritise Gerrard’s first team involvement with greater emphasis on the quality of opposition.
The second issue is in regards to positions. There seems to be a constant debate over whether Gerrard should be playing in a Pirlo-esque quarter-back role or as a No.10, but the solution is rather straightforward in my opinion – simply play him in central midfield, giving him the freedom to slot into either role whenever necessary.
Brendan Rodgers is a manager who likes to chop and change between fixtures, continually experimenting with formations, systems and personnel.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with that but at some point Liverpool need to decide upon a system that suits them best – in other words, a bona fide plan A.
Rather worryingly, the Reds have used five different formations in the Premier League this term, ranging from a midfield diamond to a 3-6-1, and have spent the last few weeks trying to implement a 3-4-3.
It’s clearly improved results in comparison to their early season form, heralding a run of four wins in their last six.
But it’s dependent upon a number of players operating in unfamiliar positions, such as Lazar Markovic at left wing-back, Raheem Sterling as an out-and-out striker, Emre Can as a centre-half and Philippe Coutinho as an inside forward, and for that reason alone cannot be considered a long-term solution to Liverpool’s turbulent form.
It also gives the impression that Brendan Rodgers is still yet to decide upon his strongest starting Xi, and that his summer signings were made without any clear plan or philosophy in mind.
There’s no kind way of saying this; Liverpool’s goalkeeping department is, quite frankly, atrocious for a club that wants to be playing Champions League football.
Simon Mignolet has never quite adapted to Liverpool’s level since joining the club 18 months ago, and if his form was bad before, Brendan Rodgers’ decision to drop him for ‘an indefinite period‘ appears to have left the Belgium international completely devoid of any confidence – especially when attempting to recycle possession.
Unfortunately however, Liverpool’s goalkeeping depth only gets considerably worse from there. Understudy Brad Jones probably wouldn’t even make it into the starting Xi of most Championship clubs and is dangerously out of his depth in the Premier League, keeping no clean sheets, making only three saves and conceding five in just three league outings for the Reds this term.
After that, Brendan Rodgers is left with academy youngster Danny Ward, who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page despite being a registered member of their first team squad, which pretty much says it all.
There’s lots of departments currently lacking in quality and balance, but if Brendan Rodgers is to do any business this January, investing in a dependable goalkeeper must be his first port of call.