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.
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.
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.