Thursday, 31 January 2013

Arsenal 2- 2 Liverpool: 2 Points Lost, But It’s Not All Over

On 30th January, Liverpool faced Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. After going 2-0 up with 30 minutes to go, they conceded twice in three minutes and the game ended 2-2. This leaves us 7 points off 4th, the same as before the game.

The game started well for Liverpool. Suarez looked very lively, and Sturridge was making good runs. They capitalised on this in the 9th minute, with Suarez’s deflected shot looping past Szczesny and into the net. Arsenal were also looking strong in attack though, and Reina was forced into some excellent saves. Liverpool still looked on top however, and Agger saw his header cleared off the line. Minutes later, Sturridge was denied by a smart stop from Szczesny.

Liverpool came out for the second half and continued to play strongly, resulting in a great goal for Jordan Henderson in the 60th minute. He got through two Arsenal defenders (although to be fair, one of them was Andre Santos!) and after seeing his first shot saved coolly slotted in the rebound. However, Arsenal hit back quickly and efficiently. Giroud scored from free kick in the 64th minute, followed by a great hit from Walcott in the 67th. The game then quietened down until towards the end, when Arsenal had a huge chance to win it. The ball was crossed invitingly into Giroud, who couldn’t get the ball out from between his feet. Seconds later, Suarez had a chance to win the game, when he got clear of the defence after a nice ass from Downing and saw his shot saved by Szczesny. The rebound then almost fell nicely to be tapped into an empty net, but it didn’t quite go in.

Liverpool were playing better than Arsenal for the majority of the match, and on balance probably deserved the win. However, our defence was poor (although nowhere near as poor as Arsenal’s), and going into the game I think most fans would have said a draw would be reasonable. Fortunately, Tottenham could only manage a draw at Norwich, meaning Liverpool remain 7 points off 4th. Admittedly the gap will be hard to close, especially with a tough fixture against Manchester City at the weekend, but it is certainly possible. If we tighten up our defence for our game against City and become a bit more clinical with our chances, we should be able to manage a win.

Overall, I think that Liverpool performed reasonably, but there was definite room for improvement. The defence needs to tighten up a bit, and Sturridge especially needs to work on his finishing, but in general the signs are promising. Also, with Coutinho available for us next game, our midfield should be tightened up. Hopefully if we can make these small adjustments, and the new signings gel well with the team, then we will be able to make 4th place a reality.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Why We Could be Back in the Champions League Next Season

Liverpool currently sit 7th in the table, on 34 points. The team currently in 4th place is Tottenham, who are 7 points ahead on 41. However, I think that Champions League qualification is a realistic aim for us this season.

I know that some people will have stopped reading already, dismissing me as just another one of those desperate, delusional fans. However, to me this closed-mindedness is foolish. Firstly, there are only seven points between us and the top 4. Theoretically, we could be 4th in three games time! I’m not suggesting this will happen, but over the course of the season it’s certainly not impossible that we will be able to close a 7 point gap. It may be a slow process, but with 14 games still to play it could certainly happen.

Also, there is form to consider. Liverpool have been brilliant lately, with 3-0 wins over QPR and Sunderland, and most recently a 5-0 thrashing of Norwich. This is more than can be said for our other main rivals for 4th place. Arsenal haven’t looked so good, taking only a point from Southampton and putting in lacklustre performances in their defeats to Man City and Chelsea. Everton have also looked weaker lately, with draws against both Southampton and Swansea. Tottenham have looked the best recently out of our rivals, but even they were held to a draw at QPR. On top of this, Liverpool look set to get even better. Daniel Sturridge has been an instant success, and is constantly improving his chemistry with Luis Suarez. Meanwhile, Suarez himself is still in amazing form. If we continue to play as brilliantly as we did against QPR, Sunderland and Norwich, I see no reason why we can’t get 4th spot, and maybe even challenge for third.

Some people say that this whole thing is a moot point, and that it ultimately doesn’t matter that much if we get 4th this season as long as we keep up this steady improvement under Rodgers. I disagree. It is of utmost importance that we qualify for the Champions League for three reasons. Firstly, it will give all our current players a huge morale boost, and encourage them to play even better. Secondly, it will allow us to bring better players to the club, lured by the promise of Champions League football. Finally, and in my view most importantly, it will help ensure that we are able to keep Luis Suarez. He is an exceptional player, and although he is very loyal there is only so long a player of his talents can go without Champions League football. Steven Gerrard himself recognised this in a recent interview, saying that the team need to push for the Champions League. There are also financial benefits for qualifying for the Champions League, which will again help us sign more big names.

In conclusion, qualification for the Champions League is a possibility for Liverpool this season, and it is vital that we push for it. The benefits for the club are vast, and frankly I've missed seeing my club play in such a prestigious tournament. Bring on Europe!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Defence

Thanks partly to injury and partly to squad rotation, Liverpool have fielded many different back 4’s over the course of this season. In fact, some haven’t even consisted of 4 at the back. Brendan Rodgers has experimented with many different players in varying formations. The question is, which combination works best for LFC?

My personal favourite combination of defenders is (from right to left) Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique. They are all very talented, and Johnson and Enrique are very good at pushing forward and starting attacks. Indeed, Rodgers has experimented with playing them in the wing-back role, which in my opinion is extremely effective. When they play at wing-back, they are given more freedom to attack, which really unlocks their full potential. Obviously this means they have to track back a lot to make sure we aren't left vulnerable at the back, but when they do get caught too far up the pitch, Agger and Skrtel are solid defenders, perfectly capable of covering.

Unfortunately, this combination is not currently possible, as Jose Enrique is out injured. In his absence, Brendan Rodgers has been playing Johnson on the left and Wisdom on the right. This works fairly well, but I think Johnson is much more effective at right back. For this reason, I would play Downing at left back and keep Johnson at right back. Some may argue that Downing is needed as a winger in the front three, but personally I think that Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge is the best attacking combination.

Although I said earlier that my favourite pair of centre-backs is Agger and Skrtel, they may well have some competition for their places in the starting 11 when Martin Kelly returns from injury. Although he has often played as a full-back for Liverpool in the past, he is a centre-back by trade, and I think he works best there. Agger is a great defender, and I think he is certain to keep his place in the team, but Kelly may well give Martin Skrtel a run for his money. Skrtel, though usually solid, does make some costly mistakes. If Martin Kelly can show that he doesn't make such errors, he may well break into the first team once he recovers from his injury.

To summarise, my current favourite combination at the back is Johnson, Skrtel, Agger and Enrique. However, in the absence of Enrique I think Downing should function as a left back, and Skrtel may well lose his place when Kelly returns. It is good that Rodgers has been experimenting so much, but now we are more than midway through the season, we are at a stage where we need to consolidate our position. He should now pick the most effective combination of defenders, and stick with it until the end of the season.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Mansfield 1- 2 Liverpool: Welcome Back to the Suarez Debate…..

On Sunday 6th January, Liverpool faced Mansfield in the third round of the FA cup, in their second fixture of the year. New signing Daniel Sturridge scored for Liverpool, followed by a Suarez goal in the 59th minute (a cause of much controversy, as replays show he handled it into the net). Green scored for Mansfield in the 79th minute, but it turned out to be a mere consolation.

Liverpool played very well for most of the match, creating a lot of chances. Sturridge had a great debut, and could easily have scored more than 1. Suarez was, as usual, impressive, but his performance was overshadowed by the handball incident. Although I would love to find a way to do so, I cannot defend the referee’s decision. The ball was handled into the net, and therefore the goal should not have stood. This would of course have meant that the game would have ended 1-1, meaning a replay would have had to be scheduled. I feel sorry for Mansfield, who played well and deserved better.

However, although I cannot defend the referee, I can certainly defend Luis Suarez. In fact, in my view, he has done nothing wrong. It is unclear even from the replays as to whether or not his handball was deliberate. Either way, he cannot be expected to turn round and tell the referee to discount his goal. Although he will not be proud of scoring a goal like that, ‘they all count’ as the saying goes. In the end the goal proved crucial to our victory, and although I would have preferred him to score another way, I am still glad he got the ball in the net for us.

Of course, a lot of people will not be satisfied with this reasoning. Already, people have started picking on Suarez, singling him out as a cheat and a disgrace to the game. These people, in my opinion, are being frankly stupid. This is the first handball incident I can recall Suarez being involved in, and as for all the diving accusations, it’s not like he ever gets given any penalties! If his supposed ‘diving’ worked to his advantage, I could see why people would be angry, but the fact is that he has only been awarded one penalty in the premier league this season, despite numerous fouls on him. Suarez, in my view, is not a cheat, and certainly no more so than a lot of other players in English football, who in contrast are practically worshipped by the media.

In conclusion, I am not defending Suarez’s goal. It did strike his hand, and therefore should not have stood. However, Luis Suarez did nothing wrong. Whether it was deliberate or not, he cannot be expected to tell the referee to discount his goal. Even the Mansfield manager accepted this, saying that he did not feel cheated, and that were it any player other than Suarez there would not be this much fuss. I have utmost respect for this manager. He is an example to everyone associated with the game, as he accepted the decision, even though it was a wrong one, and moved on. If everyone behaved like him, football would stop being about politics, and then we could all go back to enjoying the beautiful game.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Wing-Back System- Ideal for LFC?

Over the past year, Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique have been very good full-backs for us. They have always had a tendency to venture forward, especially Johnson, and have also been solid when it comes to their defensive duties. However, under Rodgers, they have been moved slightly, into a more advanced ‘wing-back’ role.

I think that this is a very good idea. The new position gives the two players a lot more freedom to attack , which in my opinion has really brought out the best in Jose Enrique. He didn’t start the season well, but when Rodgers decided to play him as a wing-back, he came into his own. He has already got a few assists this season, and indeed a goal. Also, when necessary, he is able to get back and defend well. This means he is, in effect, able to contribute positively to both defence and attack, making him very useful.

The new wing-back system doesn’t really affect Glen Johnson’s play that much. He has always been an attacking full-back, and so in his new position he basically plays as he did before. However, now he knows he is able to attack and be sure of cover behind him, his marauding runs forward do have more freedom about them. Consequently he, like Enrique, has already managed to contribute with some goals and assists this season.

So it would seem that our defence is much improved thanks to the introduction of the wing-back role. On the face of it, that is true. However, there is always the imminent risk of injury. We saw this in the game against QPR, when Enrique limped off nursing his hamstring. Because of this, it would be good to bring in some back-up wing backs in the summer. I know this seems like a long way away, but it is important to plan ahead. Obviously there are some that immediately spring to mind who would be brilliant, such as Phillip Lahm or Marcelo, both of whom are hugely attacking full backs, but unfortunately they are both clearly out of our price range. One person who could be a viable option is Adriano, who plays for Barcelona. He is equally talented on both feet, meaning he could play on either side of the pitch, and at 28, though he probably still has quite a few years left in him, should not come at a premium price. If we were able to get him for around £15 million, I would say he would be a great buy.

To summarise, the introduction of the wing-back role to our club by Brendan Rodgers has been extremely effective. It has allowed us to become more attacking, and has brought the best out of Johnson and Enrique. The only real issue is that we don’t have much back-up, and so it would be great if we could look to bring someone in when it comes to summer.