Liverpool: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

By , March 4, 2012 11:57 am

After the ecstasy of the Carling Cup victory last Sunday, Liverpool once again felt the agony the following weekend with defeat to Arsenal. It would seem that every time Liverpool appear to finally be clicking and on their way to a run of successive positive performances and/or wins, they continue to mystify the manager and fans with displays in which they are either dire (think back to Bolton) or unlucky combined with poor finishing (Arsenal, Norwich, United, etc.). Miss penalty, hit post, opposition keeper has a blinder, create chance after chance without scoring, rinse, repeat. This has been the short and sweet illustration of Liverpool’s season thus far.

There is no doubt amongst knowledgeable supporters just how much progress has been achieved in a little over a year since Kenny Dalglish returned as manager. And despite some poor results, poor performances, and results that just wouldn’t swing our way, anyone that thinks we haven’t taken major strides forward is deluded. The style of play since the second half of last season has been mostly excellent. The game against Arsenal was a perfect example of Liverpool demonstrating how they can completely dominate a team with movement, quick passing, and the right balance of players in the side.

Liverpool's Victory in the Carling Cup Was Meant To Propel Them Into the Top Four

Suarez was particularly on form against the gunners, while Dirk Kuyt was back to his old self, combining with Suarez and Kelly on the right extremely well. I for one was overjoyed to see Jordan Henderson in his preferred central role as he once again showed that is his best position. He had an excellent game and was voted Man of the Match by Liverpool.

I was also very pleased to see Spearing reinstated to the side. With Gerrard unavailable through injury, it was no surprise to see a central three of Spearing, Henderson, and Adam, but to me Spearing is essential in these games, especially with the continued absence of the much missed Lucas. With him allowed to cover the back four, whatever combination of Adam, Gerrard, and Henderson can feel free to do what they do best ahead of him.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with the assessment that the central pairing of Gerrard and Adam has been just shy of disastrous at times. Neither are deep lying defensive midfielders and neither wants the role. When they play together, there is a massive gap between them and defense which has left the team alarmingly vulnerable. Spearing in my opinion has done more than enough to earn a place in the side, and if someone must be sacrificed, it should be Adam.

Despite my last statement, I actually like Charlie Adam. What I like most about him is not his “Hollywood Balls,” but his continued effort and confidence in the face of failure. After a succession of bad passes, Adam never ceases to amaze me by still eagerly wanting the ball and continuing to make difficult passes. Against Arsenal, when the penalty was won, Adam enthusiastically ran to take it. Despite taking one of the poorest penalties ever seen against Cardiff, he was committed to atoning for his mistake. I give him credit because many players don’t have the bottle to take that chance with the possibility looming that they might screw up again. Not Charlie Adam.

Unfortunately, beyond his effort and desire, as well as some decent passing, Adam can be shockingly poor. He really is either brilliant or terrible and I can’t seem to figure out what triggers the great performances and what triggers the bad ones. But isn’t this the very same conundrum that has plagued Liverpool all season? Consistency is the buzzword of our campaign and it has yet to be found anywhere we look.

What was missing against Arsenal? Goals, pure and simple. Tactically the team was set out great, they created a whole host of chances, good chances, that were denied by the bar, the goalkeeper, confidence, some bad luck, and some poor finishing. Alas, once again, the story of our season. Does the lack of finishing make this a poor side? Not in my opinion.

Robin Van Persie Showed Liverpool What They Are Painfully Missing With His Clinical Finishing

I love watching Liverpool play when they play like they did against Arsenal, or Chelsea earlier in the season, or Norwich, or Newcastle, or any of the other great games they’ve had. Some of those they’ve won, but many (too many) have been drawn or lost due to some much needed good luck and of course, some clinical finishing. A poignant fact shoved in our faces adding insult to injury by watching Robin Van Persie have two touches, two shots, and two goals all game. What we wouldn’t give for someone like him in the side.

At the beginning of the season, when this pattern of domination and creation, but lack of scoring started to emerge, it felt like only a matter of time before the goals would flow. It’s now March and we’re still waiting. Liverpool have one of the worst chance conversion rates in the league and one of the lowest goal tallies of any Liverpool team in years. It’s shockingly obvious where the problem lies, but I can’t seem to figure out why or when this happened.

The second half of last season saw the Reds regenerated, playing some electric football (the 5-2 against Fulham comes to mind) and scoring plenty of goals. Then the well dried up. With even more attacking threat from a fit Carroll, Suarez, Kuyt, Adam, Downing, Henderson, and Gerrard, the team has scored far less goals and draining confidence began to take its toll. Instead of expecting to score with a shot, they expect to hit the bar or have it saved. How to change this pattern of thinking is up to Kenny and the players.

But it feels like the flood gates are bound to open at any moment. And when that happens, this team will be fairly unstoppable. You combine the great play, possession domination, and some decent finishing and so many of this season’s draws and losses become wins. If results went our way, we would easily be up near Arsenal and pushing toward third.

The most concerning issue Dalglish has at the moment is trying to figure out what his best team is. I still don’t think he, or the team, knows. Combine that with players still getting to know each other, certain players still searching for confidence (Downing, Carroll), and players out from injury (Lucas, Gerrard, Agger), and this season’s results make more sense.

It’s especially disappointing for the fans because every time the team plays well and gets a good result, they do the opposite in the following game or game after. But overall, the team is moving in the right direction. It was always going to take at least a season for this team to be completely overhauled and gel, and the performances show we’re on our way. The only thing missing are the results and all important goals. Not to say those things are easy to change, but there is enough of a platform to jump from at this point.

Some much needed firepower and top class players should be bought in the summer. Why no one was purchased in January is a mystery to me. Newcastle didn’t need any help scoring goals, and they went out and got another striker in January. We have been desperate, and yet for whatever reason, that wasn’t made a priority. This summer, it must.

At this point, the only good thing about ostensibly being out of the fight for fourth place is that perhaps the team can relax and play without pressure. This is what they did in the second half of last season, and they played fantastically well because they really had nothing to lose. You get the feeling this season that a lot of the new and younger players have felt the enormous pressure that comes with playing for Liverpool and it has hindered their confidence and performances. Take away that pressure, and we might just push it close. And let’s not forget winning the FA Cup which is still a genuine possibility.

It’s absolutely been a season of two steps forward and one step back, but we are slowly inching our way forward and playing better and better as the season has gone on, as well as already securing one of only four trophies on offer every season (one of three if you’re not in Europe). I have complete faith in Kenny Dalglish and the players to get things right. I, like many other fans, just need to accept it might take longer than we wanted it to. Such is being a fan and such is being a fan of Liverpool at the moment. But I believe the most important thing is we are moving forward and the future continues to look bright. After all, at the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky. So let’s walk on until the end of the season, giving the team our support every step of the way, whether it be forward or backward.

14 Responses to “Liverpool: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back”

  1. peter craven says:

    good article danielle. on the whole i agree with most of it.one of the biggest problems facing kenny and his future plans is that given the current playing staff at the club it is quite obvious that it suits us better to play a central midfield three with one up top. as seen yesterday and throughout the season our best displays have come with this formation. the problem for kenny with this is that suarez is not a natural goal scorer in the way that van persie is for arsenal. when we start with suarez and carroll we look ponderous in attack and lightweight in midfield. although luck has played apart in our disappointing points tally so far i think that our lack of goals is really down to kenny not being able to solve this formation conundrum. you mentioned your surprise at us not signing a striker in january, and i think we will definitely by strengthening in that position in the summer, but as we have found with andy carroll the january window is not the best time to be buying and hoping to get a bargain. although having said that we did with suarez. im as positive as youare about the future under kenny, but for now any new signing need to be of the highest quality. we are not that far away from being a very good side, anyone who thinks differently are being overcritical. cavani and harzard would be top of my list, though whether we can get them is a different discussion.

    for the rest of the season with the pressure now effectively off in the race for fourth maybe we will see a bit more composure in front of goal. although i dont think kenny will have thrown in the towel just yet, arsenal are well capable of still dropping a lot of points while chelsea and newcastle are certainly no better than us, but i would like to see kenny perhaps give raheem sterling or tony silva a bit of first team action. no pressure show us what you can do.

    ynwa

    pete

    • You make some great points, Peter. And I’d love to see those kinds of class players at Liverpool, but I have a hard time seeing it happening without some major things going our way first. The FA Cup and a real good run at the end of the season could give us some credit even if we don’t make 4th. But I think they need to massively open the check book, and that’s all we can do. If they want top 4 without being in top 4, that’s what needs to happen.

      It is hard right now because Kenny doesn’t know his best formation. He’s had to use this season to tinker and see what works best. Having injuries doesn’t help either. Losing Lucas for almost the whole campaign was a huge blow. He was our best player for a season and a half and you can’t expect to be the same team without arguably your best or one of your best players. Factor in Gerrard missing for large chunks, as well as Agger and of course Suarez for a third of the season and suddenly the team looks light. One or two games can be covered, but not for really long absences like we’ve had from our best players.

      I think there’s still hope, and most importantly with less pressure, we all hope to see the players relax and play how we know they can. Perhaps seeing some younger players might be good, who knows. I do trust Kenny and I think it’s a shame because a lot of people are blaming him for the team’s poor finishing. Let’s see where we are in two months.

  2. Paul Murphy says:

    Funny was sitting on the computer yesterday trying to get the words out of my head to do a blog on the same thing but could not tried 3 times instead just did a short one in status but this is exactly what I wanted to say some people are just better then others grate reed and decently makes me happy to read that some fans are thinking the same.

  3. 8Leg says:

    Danielle, agree with most of this but we really can’t be blaming injuries for our league position – I think the teams above us (particularly Arsenal, Spurs and Utd) have had more players missing through injury. And I think for the most part we have the squad to cope with a few injuries – even with a few out, good players like Maxi and Shelvey can’t seem to get any playing time at all. As you point out, our main problem – and maybe our only significant problem – is that we don’t have a natural goalscorer. I think this has been a problem for years, even when Torres was world class I don’t think we had enough firepower – other top teams have at least 2 or 3 natural goalscorers. The problem is going to be signing someone proven in this role at the top level when we’re not in the Champions League….

    • I wasn’t trying to use injuries as an excuse. I was simply trying to point out how difficult things get when your best players are missing for long periods of time. We should be able to cover short term but when you have 2-3 month or season long layoffs, that’s a big miss.

      And despite arsenal winning a couple games, they’ve been mostly poor this season as I’m sure their injuries haven’t helped. And just imagine where that team would be without Van Persie. Everyone misses world class players and we’ve had 2-3 missing all season. That was all I was trying to say.

  4. Tom says:

    Over £100 million spent on 2 strikers & 3 midfielders that have scored 12 league goals between them all season.
    Two thirds of the season gone and Liverpool have the lowest % of shots on target being converting to goals in the whole premier league, behind Wigan and QPR.
    They may sometimes be good at storming forward entertainingly, but are simply very bad at something quite important – putting the ball in the back of net. In fact they’re no better at that than Blackburn or Wolves.
    A solitary win from the last seven league games. A massive 27 points off the pace. After 26 league games (only 4 of which Suarez deservedly missed due to suspension), that’s not unlucky, that’s just poor.

    Maybe need a manager with greater tactical ability, that can deal with issues without embarrassing himself and the club and can do a bit more with £100 million.
    Dalglish does jump up and down smiling with his hands in the air really really well though. Some fans would still want him if he got Liverpool relegated though.

    • Tom, we didn’t spend 100m. You have to remember that we recouped a huge portion of what was spent, so net spend was somewhere closer to 40-45m. That’s a huge difference. People like to bat around this number because it sounds so huge, but in reality that’s not what we spent.

      Do we need some top top quality players? Absolutely. There’s no denying that we’re not where we want to be yet. But unlike City or Chelsea, we cant just spend 300m and jump from 6th place to 1st. Plus, if you remember, City have had their mega millions for a few seasons and they’re out of the Champions League, out of both cups and only just in their 4th season getting close to winning the league. What makes you think Liverpool can somehow do what they’ve done in 4 seasons in just one with a lot less money and no Europe to entice players?

      My point is this rebuilding takes time. Our team was horrible last season and they’ve made huge strides forward in just one season. While Adam, Downing, and Henderson may not be world class, they’re a hell of a lot better than Poulson, konchesky, and Ngog. You don’t go from 6th to a title challenge in one season, but improving while keeping your best players and adding even better ones each season will eventually get us there. Have some faith :)

  5. peter craven says:

    yep you are right about opening the cheque book. money talks and if fsg stump up the cash then i can see us getting the men we want. they have to be no or little risk signings similar to suarez. cavani i feel fits into that category and i feel a bid approaching £30m-£35 would get him. we have to be in for that sort of player if kenny is to have a chance of getting us back to where we want to be. otherwise it will be more of the same i fear. as you have already mentioned our defensive six is pretty well sorted and has decent back up. but if we start next season pooling any two from the four strikers we have now then nothing will change. personally i’d like to see hazard in as well, but im not greedy. cavani for starters. maybe was suarez already here there maybe a better chance than we think of attracting his international team mate.

    pete

    follow me on twitter @FALLLFAN

  6. James says:

    Good article well written. It really makes you stop and take a step back. If we are being honest, after last season we are in a much better place now and maybe we all got a little excited about what would happen this year following on from the second half of last year. We just need to keep reminding ourselves that we are getting steady progres that should gives us a stong foundation for many years to come.

  7. Tom says:

    Regardless of how the money was raised, Dalglish DID spend over £100 million on 5 players that have scored only 12 league goals between them all season. Fact.

    If you’re interested in Manchester City comparisons:
    They are 27 points ahead of Liverpool. With the same money Dalglish has spent so far, Mancini bought Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Gael Clichy, Mario Balotelli, Adam Johnson and Yaya Toure.

    If you’re interested in net expenditure:
    Arsenal are 10 points ahead of Liverpool after a season net expenditure of MINUS £22.75 million.
    The net expenditure replacing Poulsen, Konchesky and Ngog with Adam, Downing and Henderson, the comparison you make, was around £40 million.
    Hodgson’s entire net expenditure bringing in 8 players was around £10 million.

    But that team was horrible that has made huge strides?:
    Dalglish has just a solitary point more after 26 games than Liverpool had after 26 last season, one of the lowest points tallies ever at this point of a premier league season. Fact.

    Dalglish is little more than a mascot, rallying the troops and jumping up and down.

    • You missed my point. This year would be similar to Man City’s transitional period in 2008. They started spending money, but it’s taken them four seasons to get where they are, to have the clout and CL to entice top class players, and they can offer a lot more in wages. So you can’t compare Liverpool to them now, it’s no comparison.

      Each season since 2008-2009, they’ve systematically kept their best/better players while adding world class ones each window. We haven’t done that. We’ve had to sell many of our best players over the last few seasons and it’s almost as if we are starting from the beginning again. We can’t offer the same enormous wages and we had no European football to offer. World class players want Europe.

      You don’t support the team or Dalglish then I’m not sure why you bother being a Liverpool supporter. No one is entirely happy with where we are, but if you try to look at the positives there are a lot there. And remember it will take time to get back to the level at the top that those teams have been at for multiple seasons in a row.

  8. Tom says:

    I got your point. But it’s totally absurd to say Liverpool’s recent spending is similar to that of Manchester City’s first year under the current owners. Unless Liverpool are going to spend £120 million or so next season and again the season after that and then season after that.
    My point was purely how money has been wasted by Dalglish. Look at the top quality players Mancini brought in with similar price tags: again, ‘With the same money Dalglish has spent so far, Mancini bought Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Gael Clichy, Mario Balotelli, Adam Johnson and Yaya Toure.’
    Buying wildly overpriced, technically inferior, British players has been an expensive disaster. Liverpool now has one of the least diverse and technically proficient squads in the league. Would have been far better investing in good value, decent quality players from abroad like Newcastle have successfully.

    And Liverpool hasn’t developed a quality player of their own since Gerrard in 1998. Arsenal, United and City have developed talent incomparably better over that period.

    Dalglish is a massive problem. No one will ever dare question him, however bad things get. If you want to look to the future, maybe looking to the past with Dalglish isn’t the answer.
    Bringing in £120 million worth of players in just over 6 months to get to one of the worst points tallies in the clubs premier league history is not ‘huge strides’. His reign so far has been an underperforming, tactically inept, expensive PR embarrassment. But he did just about win the carling cup….

    Limited funds, disastrous transfer policy, ineffective academy, poor manager. I don’t see any of that changing any time soon. The whole premier league era has been poor for Liverpool. Cup success has only papered over the cracks.

  9. peter craven says:

    Tom says – Look at the top quality players Mancini brought in with similar price tags: again, ‘With the same money Dalglish has spent so far, Mancini bought Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Gael Clichy, Mario Balotelli, Adam Johnson and Yaya Toure.’

    mancini already had a very expensively assembled squad when he arrived and a team that was ready to challenge for a top four place. unfortunately kenny doesn’t have a bottomless pit like mancini and was starting from a position much further back in the league. its difficult to for us to attract quality players when when we cant compete in either the market or the wages we can offer.so far kenny has signed suarez bellamy and enrique that have been successful adam and henderson have been ok, downing and carroll have been disappointing. its not as bad as you make out. kenny is still to complete a full season in charge so i think you are being a little hasty in your assessment of his time as boss this time round. it took rafa 4 years to challenge for the title its taken mancini a similar amount of time.

    tom says – Dalglish is a massive problem. No one will ever dare question him, however bad things get.

    well thats just not true is it. you are not alone in your critisism. there have been plenty of articles saying similar things to what you are saying. you mention the points total, and yes its difficult to argue with that but thats not really the main reason why most reds are still firmly behind kenny. the style of football in infinitely better than we had witnessed in the previous two seasons and although the results have not always gone our way its clear to me that despite some obvious deficiencies our team is better than in recent seasons.you also make the statement that kenny has been tactically inept. how so? im struggling to think of more than a handful of games that we haven’t dominated this season. still we have been undone by lax finishing. arsenal at the weekend a good example.the team was set up perfectly to impose themselves on the opposition and should have won bad finishing is hardly tactical ineptitude. and to say he just about won the carling cup is petty in the extreme. stoke away chelsea away and city over two legs is pretty bleedin’ difficult mate. and if you expected just to turn up at wembley and sweep aside cardiff then maybe you need a look at the history of cup finals. it rarely happens. better teams than us have lost to lower league opposition.

    tom says – Limited funds, disastrous transfer policy, ineffective academy, poor manager. I don’t see any of that changing any time soon. The whole premier league era has been poor for Liverpool. Cup success has only papered over the cracks.

    not much we can do about the limited funds other than buy the best we can with the money available, we’ve had success and failure in equal measure imo. we could do better with the academy its true, but the man everyone puts forward as the master of bringing on the youth arsene wenger has won precisely nothing in the last 6 years. its true also that by the standards of what went before the premier league era has been a disappointment for us. but just how many clubs would want to swap our trophy haul for their’s in that time. plenty is the answer.

    pete

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