Brendan Rodgers makes amends

I had been highly critical of Brendan Rodgers’ handling of Liverpool in the game at Basel in mid-week. There was a flurry of criticism all over the interwebs after that game, and no doubt a lot of it reached Rodgers. And in last night’s win against West Bromwich Albion, he seemed to make some amends.

There were a number of things in last night’s game that showed that Rodgers is again showing some imagination, after having stalled (along with the rest of the team) in recent times. For starters, Philippe Coutinho played deep, almost like a regista (deep-lying playmaker) next to Steven Gerrard. This meant that the two box-to-box midfielders Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana could actually play box-to-box than being boxed in. This led to much better cohesion in Liverpool’s play.

Then, Rickie Lambert offered something different up front than what the static Mario Balotelli had been offering in recent times. Lambert moved ¬†– more than Balotelli, though nowhere as much as the injured Daniel Sturridge would have – and provided the focal point of attack. His touch and finishing were poor, though, and he still looks nowhere close to the player he was at Southampton. But his presence helped in another way – in that his long-standing understanding with Lallana helped them play a beautiful one-two which ended up in Lallana scoring Liverpool’s opener.

One of the great tactical games of Liverpool I’ve watched (it’s unlikely anyone else will call the tactics of this game “great”, though) was the FA Cup final against Chelsea in 2012, in what turned out to be Kenny Dalglish’s last game in charge of Liverpool in his second coming. At the hour mark, Chelsea led 2-0, and Liverpool had struggled to break past the buses that Chelsea had parked. And that’s when Dalglish introduced Andy Carroll, who had long been out of favour at the club following his GBP35m transfer from Newcastle United.

Carroll is a big guy, and he suddenly offered another route for Liverpool to attack – the first ball would be played by Brad Jones (the reserve goalie) long, and Carroll would invariably get to it, and hold it up – this turned out to be a surefire way of getting past Chelsea’s buses (and Chelsea didn’t know how to react to this change in tactic), and Liverpool pulled one back, and could have had more.

Following Carroll’s sale to West Ham United, though, Liverpool have lacked this “route two”. Last season especially, when teams proceeded to park buses in front of Liverpool, there was no way to get around them apart from the usual quick-pass-and-move route. And Liverpool suffered.

The coming of Lambert and Balotelli, though, has reopened the “route two”, and it was interesting to see Liverpool take that route several times during the game yesterday. It will be interesting to see when Sturridge comes back if Liverpool might play two up front and play the same route, but it would work better as a Plan B (IMHO).

Coming back to yesterday’s game, Balotelli’s dropping seems to have inspired him and he put in a much better performance than midweek when he came on for Lambert two-thirds into the game. He held the ball up well, acted as a great focal point and tried hard not to be caught offside. Hopefully we’ll see this side of Balotelli more as we go along.

The most interesting thing about last night’s game, though, is that in the last fifteen minutes, Steven Gerrard was back to playing in the old “Gerrard role”, with Lucas having come in to the holding midfield role. Gerrard played his old role well, and created a couple of chances following interplay with Balotelli. It showed that Gerrard is still good at what we’ve known him to be good for, except that he can’t play that way (it’s a very demanding role) for ninety minutes. Given that he’s much better in attack than defence, it’s a good ploy to get in a specialist holding guy (Lucas or Emre Can) for the last part when Liverpool is trying to close out the game.

It was only a very close win, and it came against West Brom, but it was an important three points and showed that Rodgers has started thinking again. Hopefully with the return of all the injured players after the international break, Liverpool can start playing again like they did against Spurs.

Analyzing #LFC

It’s been yet another frustrating season as a Liverpool FC fan. You might say that this can be said but just about every season, but unlike in the last two seasons when we played shit and there was no hope, we have actually been playing well this season, and just haven’t been able to convert that into goals. I didn’t watch the loss to Fulham and I agree we ¬†were absolute shit against Spurs, but King Kenny’s statement that we “deserved” to have won every game apart from that Spurs game does have some merit.

I don’t remember the exact stats right now, but two things stand out. LFC has the maximum number of shots that have hit the post or crossbar this season (eighteen, if I’m not wrong). And we also have the lowest ratio in terms of goals to shots on goal. So basically it seems like we’ve been doing pretty well getting the ball into the D, but have been quite wasteful from there. The other notable stat that comes to mind is that we have conceded the least goals this season among all teams (13, I think), and that includes the time when Johnson and Agger were injured, when we had become somewhat porous. Now, with a settled back five, we seem to be doing quite well defensively despite the season-long loss of Lucas Leiva.

Despite the attacking opportunities and number of shots on goal that we’ve got, I’ve felt throughout this season that there has been something missing about this team. There’s something disjointed about the attacking moves. There’s a lack of cohesion. Back when we had Xabi, we had a natural route to switch flanks on the attack – simply pass the ball back to Xabi who will control the game. Unfortunately, good though he is, Adam is not in the same class, and so this route doesn’t seem to be that fluid.

For the first month, I thought the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle was Gerrard, and though he was good (against Man U, etc.) after seeing him play I realized he was not the answer I was looking for. To be absolutely frank, I don’t think his absence from the team (from a purely sporting perspective, without taking into account leadership and morale) has had that much of an impact.

The win against Aston Villa came quite easy (after the couple of early goals, the game was won on autopilot), but I think the big gain from the game was the performance of Jonjo Shelvey. Of course, he wasn’t involved too much, but the little I saw of him (including that back-heel that set up the first goal) showed immense promise, and hopefully he can be developed into a fine advanced midfielder. Speaking of which…

So, I think, the missing piece in the jigsaw is a clever advanced playmaker. A classic number ten, as they would call him in South America. Someone like Juan Roman Riquelme, or Mesut Ozil, or even Iniesta. Someone who plays high up the pitch, and can distribute intelligently and pass accurately. It seems now that Adam has taken on this role, but he seems a bit too slow at times, and not accurate enough. I think he is suited for a more withdrawn playmaking role, and a good number ten in front of him can do a great job of tying the team together.

It is for this reason that I was sad to see Raul Meireles go, for I thought he was someone who was quite capable of being developed for that role (I quite enjoyed how the Arsenal game transformed after he came on). Gerrard has the drive and ambition and pace and all that, but I don’t think he’s smart enough for that. Shelvey might be developed there but for now he’s too young. I’ve seen Henderson play there but again he seems to play much more like Gerrard and much less like an advanced playmaker.

That leaves two players in the squad who are capable of playing that role, but both are away on loan, and both displayed horrible form when they played for LFC. Hopefully the loan spell will help either or both of Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani to get back to form, and hope that King Kenny and co realize that the advanced playmaker role is the one that they’ve been sorely missing, and are able to keep either or both of these two when it comes to next season.

For now, though, there are other worries, with Suarez having been banned for eight games. I guess the season will continue to frustrate.