Monday, 24 February 2014

Liverpool 4-3 Swansea: Post-Match Thoughts

One day, I’ll sit back after a Liverpool game feeling relaxed and calm. Yesterday was not that day. As per usual the reds produced a goal fest, eventually coming out 4-3 victors over Swansea City.

As usual, Liverpool came out of the traps very quickly. Swansea were overwhelmed by the speed and precision of our attacks, and consequently we were 2-0 up after just 20 minutes courtesy of goals from Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson. The first, coming in the 3rd minute, was the result of an exquisite pass by Raheem Sterling. He curled it with the outside of his right foot, and it fell beautifully into the path of Daniel Sturridge. He never looked like missing- indeed, Suarez was celebrating before the shot had even been taken! Sturridge rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home. For the second, Sturridge turned provider. He showed some nice skill out wide and then passed the ball to the feet of Henderson. The 23-year old then placed the ball perfectly into the top corner; Vorm could only watch on in despair.

So far, so typical of Liverpool. Sadly, the turning of the tide was also horribly predictable. The selling of Shelvey to Swansea was clearly a good bit of business on our part (see my views from the time here: , but he was always going to come back to haunt us. So it proved, as he started the Swans’ comeback with a one-touch curler into the top corner from outside the box. It was a spectacular goal, and he showed some class by not celebrating it. This class was matched by the Kop, who applauded him. In an ever more cynical game, it was extremely nice to see from both Jonjo and the fans. The next goal was nowhere near as classy, but just as predictable. A defensive error from (you guessed it) Martin Skrtel left Mignolet helpless to stop Bony’s shot.

All of this took place within the first half an hour, so fans were left trying to catch their breath! However, Sturridge wasn’t letting us take a breather for long. After a beautiful chipped ball into the box from Suarez, he headed home emphatically from close range to give Liverpool their lead back. They took this lead into the break, but once the game got back underway it didn’t stay intact for long! Skrtel has been making us anxious all season by wrestling with attackers, and on this occasion he was penalised. It was a little harsh, but within the rules of the game Liverpool didn’t have too much cause for complaint. Bony took the penalty, and though Mignolet went the right way he couldn’t quite get a hand to it. This made it 3-3. Shortly after this, Brendan Rodgers opted to take off attacking threat Raheem Sterling for midfielder Joe Allen. As we needed a goal and Sterling has been in such fine form of late it did seem a little odd, but after the Texeira switch when we were at 2-2 against Fulham and needed a goal I have resolved never to doubt Rodgers’ wisdom in substitutions again! He once again proved why he is the Liverpool manager and I’m not, as Allen brought us a lot more midfield control, which in turn led to creation of more attacks. In the 74th minute this brought us the goal we needed. Suarez scuffed his shot and it deflected into the path of Henderson. He saw his first shot saved, but made no mistake on the rebound.

After this, in quite un-Liverpool style, the reds had little trouble holding on to the lead. This hard-fought win is very important- after the game had finished Tottenham suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Norwich, leaving us 6 points clear of 5th place. Our Champions League place is consequently looking pretty secure, so now we can switch our focus more to the teams above us. With 11 games still to go the title is by no means out of reach for us, though it will have to be a close to perfect run-in. Still, if we can keep grinding out results such as these, then anything is possible!
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: Are we Title Contenders?

Yesterday, Liverpool pulled off yet another huge win at Anfield. This one was perhaps the most impressive yet- the home side smashed 5 past the then league leaders Arsenal, and could have had 10 or 11! The win moves them to within 4 points of Manchester City, and just 6 off top spot. The result has left many suggesting that Liverpool are genuine title contenders.

This claim is, at least, nowhere near as ridiculous-sounding as it would have been at the start of the season. The very fact that this article can be written is a sign of how far the club has come in such a short space of time. However, realistically, it is unlikely that Liverpool will win the league this season. Their home form is astonishingly good- they have won 11 games at Anfield, drawn 1 and lost 1. This leaves their home points tally second to only Chelsea’s. Where things start to fall down is form on the road- Liverpool have picked up just 16 points on their travels, the same amount as 12th placed Aston Villa. Unless our away form picks up, it is hard to see a scenario in which we are topping the table come the end of the season.

That said, when you look at the standard of play Liverpool have shown they are capable of, it is extremely hard to rule them out altogether. Arsenal, who as I just said are usually so good away from home, got absolutely ripped to shreds in yesterday’s match. Liverpool came out quickly and ferociously- within the first minute they had taken the lead through a Skrtel header. Inside 10 minutes the lead was doubled; Liverpool’s intensity did not slip for a moment, and Arsenal simply couldn’t deal with it. Skrtel provided it again, heading the ball extremely well right into the top corner. Sterling got the 3rd just minutes later- he got on the end of an excellent ball by Suarez and poked it home. Before the 20 minute mark had been reached the game was as good as over- Coutinho produced one of the passes of the season for Daniel Sturridge, who finished extremely well. Early in the second half Sterling scored the 5th and final Liverpool goal, beating Szczesny on the second attempt.

When the team play like this, it is hard to imagine them not winning the title! Coutinho was excellent throughout the game- his passing and dribbling were second to none. It appears he is finally fully back to his pre-injury form. Despite not scoring for once, Suarez was also in inspired form. Sturridge was excellent as usual, once again getting on the score sheet. Sterling’s electric pace caused the Arsenal defence many problems. The defence was also generally solid when called upon, something that hasn’t been the case all the time this season for Liverpool. If we can find a way to carry this form into our away games, then you would be a very foolish man to rule us out of the title race.

Sadly though, the fact is that we don’t play like that every game. The side that took apart the league leaders so effortlessly had been held to a 1-1 draw at 18th placed West Brom the week before. Consistency is something that Liverpool are really struggling to find- it seems that they perform better against the bigger teams, and take it too easy against what should be easy opposition. We have an advantage over our rivals this season in that we are not in the Champions League- we should be making the most of this by ensuring that our intensity stays at the very highest level in every game we play.

There is also the issue of stupid errors- we saw one in the draw to West Brom when Kolo Toure gifted Anichibe the equalising goal, and we saw one from Gerrard yesterday. Although the latter was completely inconsequential in the grand scheme of the match, it was still an example of the kind of rashness that makes our potential push for 1st much more of an uphill struggle. His sliding tackle in the box was needless- he was never going to get there, and he left the referee with one of the easiest penalty decisions he’ll ever have to make. This is the sort of thing that must go from Liverpool’s game sooner rather than later.

To sum up, we certainly have the potential in our squad to compete for the title, but whether or nor we will is another story altogether. The away form isn’t currently good enough for us to mount any sort of serious assault on 1st place, and we will need to find a way of winning more often against the ‘smaller’ teams. Brendan Rodgers put it very nicely in the post-match interview: the Premier League this season can be considered a four-horse race, but Liverpool are just a foal.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Monday, 3 February 2014

West Brom 1-1 Liverpool: Post-Match Analysis

Yesterday, Liverpool were hosted by West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. Despite looking in control for large periods of the match, Liverpool were unable to hold their 1-0 lead, and ended up taking just one point away from the game after drawing1-1.

Liverpool didn’t start quite as brightly as usual. West Brom were clearly fearful of getting hit on the counter-attack, so didn’t commit many men forward. This made it tough for either side to create any chances, leading to a cagey opening 20 minutes. Eventually though, Liverpool’s supreme attack was able to break the deadlock- Luis Suarez produced a lovely cross after some great trickery on the edge of the box, resulting in a simple tap-in for Daniel Sturridge.

This opened the game up a little. Our failure to strengthen in defence in January means that our back line is still very vulnerable, and the Baggies proved this. They produced multiple half-chances, and though they didn’t really test Mignolet in the first half it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The trend continued after the break, with both sides looking like they had the potential to score. Suarez came close to the doubling LFC’s lead, denied only by a good 1-on-1 save by Ben Foster. Gareth McAuley also came very close for Albion; his headed effort was kept out thanks to one of the saves of the season from Simon Mignolet. Just as Liverpool seemed to be getting into their rhythm and shutting West Brom out of the game, disaster struck.  Kolo Toure, who was only in the team due to an injury to Mamadou Sakho, attempted a ridiculous pass across his own back line. Presumably he didn’t see Anichibe lurking nearby, as his pass went straight to him. Anichibe was then left with the task of smashing the ball emphatically past Mignolet, which, to be fair to him, he did very well.

This defensive error is by no means an isolated incident. Throughout the season, the defence has looked very shaky, and it has undeniably been costing us points. We were all gutted when Liverpool failed to sign Konoplyanka on deadline day, but the more worrying issue is this: why were we trying to sign a winger? Other than Sakho, all of our centre-backs are sub-standard. Flanagan has proved himself to be better than we first thought this season, but he is by no means a player one would associate with a Champions League club. Cissokho has been dire all season, although to be fair to him he actually performed quite well against West Brom. In short, we need an overhaul of the defence, and whether it is the fault of FSG, Rodgers or Ayre, we aren’t getting it. The current squad is by no means beyond finishing in the top 4, but our lack of defensive signings has certainly made it harder. If we can still reach it, hopefully a positive multiplier effect will ensue- better players will want to join us as we have Champions League football, so our team will improve, resulting in us doing even better. On the other hand, if we don’t manage to get in the top 4, we risk losing our key player, Suarez, without whom we will really struggle.

Anyway, back to the match. After the shambolic concession of the equaliser, Liverpool, as one would have expected, pushed harder in attack. Sadly though, they lacked their usual attacking potency. Sturridge was operating in a wider role than usual, which made him quite a lot less effective, and by his standards Suarez was having a bad game. Sterling was our best attacking player, but even his pace and quick feet weren’t really able to create anything threatening. Matters weren’t helped by the amount of times West Brom fouled our players to prevent a promising attack. In spite of our efforts to force the issue and get a winner, the game finished 1-1.

Overall, the result is a really disappointing one. Fortunately Tottenham also dropped points at Hull and Manchester United were beaten by Stoke, so the loss didn’t allow our rivals for 4th place (other than Everton) to gain on us too much. We are also still only 3 points adrift of Chelsea, who today go to City. It is clearly by no means a season-ruining result, but the players will need to be at their best even in the ‘smaller’ games if we want to maintain a proper challenge for 4th place or higher with the squad we have.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013