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THE HALFWAY HOUSE

by Karl Coppack // 9 January 2013 // 15 Comments

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By Karl Coppack

THE Christmas programme marks a vital period in any season. Those three or four games can transform a mid table team to one pushing for the European places or shove another towards the relegation places. It takes just days for a pretty good start to fall to dust or elevate a club from poor to okay. No one wins the League at Christmas but it can set a tone.

On this occasion, LFC have seen a decent return with nine points from four games and it could have been better had it not been for the gutless display at Stoke – a game which was a blueprint on how to beat us with highlights being ‘get in their face, stand on their toes and want it more.’

Those nine points represent the best Christmas period since 2005-6 when the European Champions took 10 from 12 points and 2008-9 which yielded 7 points from a possible nine. For the lowest haul in the last decade you have to look back to last season (5 pts from four games) and, for the underlay of the cellar carpet of a Christmas return, Hodgson’s three points from four games, which included a home defeat by a side absolutely begging to be relegated. Sour times.

The Christmas fixtures also marks the halfway point of the season and the 2012 stats tell two different stories. While we’ve done well recently, the first half of the season yielded a nugatory 25 points, the joint lowest for decades. Joint lowest with…well, guess.

It’s rare to take more points in the second half of the season than in the first and, the Hodgson/Kenny season apart where Kenny amassed eight more points than the first half total, it’s never by much. Unless we can defy the odds we’re looking at a points tally in the low fifties – roughly the same as last year. Not quite the Year Zero we looked forward to last May.

Of course, no one expected miracles. We have an inexperienced manager with his own ideas and a first team who don’t seem overburdened with heart or brains. For every fearless young shaver gamely thrown in in front of capacity crowds, we have the lily-livered shithousity of Stewart Downing and for every piece of genius Suarez can seemingly summon up at will we have the lumbering grace and nodding dog performances of Jonjo Shelvey (I know he’s still a kid but there should be more to his footballing brain by now).

Brendan has had a lot to contend with thanks to the scrawled suicide note of the last transfer window and his necessary reliance on youth over fresh signings and the main problem sits squarely in Massachusetts. If the club were prepared to draw a line in May and apply a fresh structure to see in the new age, they’ve done it in name only.

Alarm bells began to ring when the plan to have a Director of Football was shelved. Appointing some redoubtable character with years in the game to work with a young manager and effectively combine energy and experience was a good idea but was dropped about three weeks later when, with respect, the manager of Swansea wanted something else. That something else being exactly the same system that seemingly failed under Dalglish. Year Zero looked suspiciously like Year 130.

That said, one FSG element has been satisfied and that’s to have a younger man at the helm. Brendan wears the rose of youth upon him and can develop his own model and philosophy upon the club in more time than Kenny, who maybe only had five or so years in him before being replaced. (Incidentally, ‘philosophy’ just means a way of doing things and is used in the way that high-minded journos used to bang on about how Tony Adams ‘ponders’ when they meant ‘thinks’ so let’s not pretend otherwise. Every manager has a philosophy. Sam Allardyce has a philosophy.) Fenway like young players and young managers. Ask Clint Dempsey. Ask Kenny Dalglish. Ask, well, Jen Chang.

That’s a perfectly acceptable standpoint. As has been mentioned on the podcast in recent weeks, football clubs are like sharks – they need to keep moving to survive. We don’t want to be in a position where we’ve got six first teamers over thirty and nothing coming up behind them but you do need a blend of the two. After all, that price experience? When Houllier had Owen, Carragher, Gerrard, Heskey and Fowler in 2001 he recognised that an old head in the changing room was a good idea. Brendan has Carragher and a somewhat taciturn Gerrard in that department but what happens if and when they move on? If we’re not buying the odd 29 year old because of the lack of sell-on fee where are we going to be in Year Five? Not everything is divisible by a spreadsheet and a solid end of year report to the board. In 77 we had Ian Callaghan and in 86 we had Hansen. It’s better to have a player on the pitch who has experience when we’re holding on to a flukey one nil against a team who are battering us than a bunch of kids whose every fibre is panicking about winning a game they shouldn’t even be in.

The biggest criticism of FSG, now that the fires of Kenny’s sacking have been reduced to embers, is the lack of club based CEO. Who is Brendan reporting to and how often? Henry and Werner have barely been to a game this season to oversee their manager’s new ‘philosophy’. How much can you govern by email and phone calls? Ian Ayre can run between Boston and L4 but there are gaps all over the place. Take the documentary, for example. Being Liverpool wasn’t made for us, it was made to beg for fans and overseas sponsorship, but giggling at blowjob jokes and advice on motorbike maintenance delivered by the highest LFC employee in the city was embarrassing. I’ve no beef with the documentary as such save for the odd cringeworthy moment but there should have been someone at Anfield who could see the potential pitfalls. Someone to say ‘Ian, no one’s interested in your bike and it’s not really relevant.’ Ian just wanted to show what a cool guy he is and it’s his say.

The signing of Sturridge was (eventually) done well so maybe there’s an upturn in their performance. It’s been a learning curve both for the young manager and the inexperienced owners but Liverpool isn’t a club for dress rehearsals. There are no friendlies with which to experiment. We’ve just had our lowest half term points total and although the fans are patient the rest of the League is running away from us with some speed. The club needs its owners now as much as we didn’t need the old ones. They need to come across the water and look at the battle we face. If they think it’s fine without them we’re looking at six pointers with Villa and Stoke rather than capitalising on the errors of teams with whom we used to compete.

Our players have a psychological issue with going behind in games and rarely fight hard for first parity and then victory. We can afford the odd bad game as Stoke proved, that happens, but we can’t afford our owners to do the same. Come on, pilgrim, come and govern us.

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15 Comments

  1. A good piece Karl, imo Ayre needs a boss sitting in the office next to his. Also if FSG want to be absent owners why don’t they do a Swansea and give a percentage of the club ownership to a supporters group and have someone from that group appointed to the board of directors?

  2. Maybe FSG have elected to take the route a lot of fans are taking and going down the pub/ watching games via the internet.
    I am all for handson owners but do we really need Abramovic style, where he watches every game and practically picks the team, the manager’s ofice coming complete with a revolving door? The Venkys turn up now and again, as does the Man city crowd. The Glaziers, where are they?
    FSG’s worst appointment (apart from Comolli) has to be Ian Ayre, his gaffes are becoming legendary.
    I agree with you mind that a few grizzly old experienced pros would be handy in the dressing room, but surely only by picking the right 24,25 year olds who form the basis of the team for a number of years and grow into those self same pros you want.
    I did not want BR and I’m not sure him even now that results are starting to pick up. The fact that the team started badly and could not get any consistency is what has killed our season Stoke did the same to Benitez and Kenny, they are our bogey team of the moment. Everton traditionally pick up more points in the second half of the season than the first and that perhaps is where we start, by pushing on and scrap for games, getting rid of those who haven’t the stomach for it.
    No hands on owner is going to effect that.

  3. worth reading and some relevant points but I think the article comes across more snide when trying to be amusing. going by the pocosts I thought that TAW guys didnt watch being liverpool.

  4. just thought I would point out is podcasts not pocasts – bloody phone!

  5. For the record, I started to watch but turned off after 10 minutes feeling Liverpool had just appointed David Brent as manager.!

  6. I’m not a TAW guy as such. Just write for them. If my tone was snide it wasn’t intentional.

  7. Oh come on – its always been way too cheap to vent on Downing. We had team wide tactical issues which BR seems to have had a good shot at solving – often to the benefit of scapegoat players.

    Stoke was a bad day, but frankly I’ve been concerned about vulnerability ever since the 2 5 win against Norwich. The win clouded the issue – we’ve seen the same vulnerability to quick counter-attacks and/or midfield-defence weaknesses over and over. I am a supporter of BR but I woudn’t blame the players alone for Stoke.

    You can’t really read too much into our half-way points total though – detractors certainly try but if you have watched all the games its clearly a fast evolving tactical story and its likely to carry on through till summer. But we have a great opportunity to see where we are over the next 3 battles…

  8. “The win clouded the issue – we’ve seen the same vulnerability to quick counter-attacks and/or midfield-defence weaknesses over and over”

    Agree with this. It seems that if we lose the ball after one of our bouts of interminable possession, the opposition are at our back four in a blink. I don’t think this is that unusual for teams used to monopolising possession, even your Barcelonas. If you’re set up to offer multiple choices to the man in possession then you are necessarily taking risks positionally. The trick is to not lose possession, or do so very rarely. This is the main problem Rodgers faces: not enough players in our first 11 are quite good enough to make the most of his preferred playing style. We’ll be better at it next year than this and better the year after that, even with the same players. But will that be good enough? Possibly, but only if we’re simultaneously making the most of our game superiority when we have it.

    I’m prepared to give Rodgers more time, not because I think we’ll ever be able to play a way under him that reduces our vulnerability to the counter-attack, but because more ruthlessness and dynamism in attack renders that vulnerability irrelevant and reaching that higher level going forward is, I think, within our reach. Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez, Suso will all be better in 2-3 years than they are now, and Ibe, Sinclair, Nacho, Teixeira, Adorjan and Pacheco will, hopefully, be knocking on the door or already established as first team players. We need one or two of them to become the player we think they can be and we’ll be sitting pretty.

    /undilutedoptimism

  9. Come on pilgrim.Come and govern us?

    I don’t think so Karl and I don’t think you do really.Enough damage done already.

    What I see is some kind of trumped up philosophy about “pass and move”.Then I see Allen passing to a player then running alongside him?Then I see Downing looking hopeless and playing left-back,left mid-field left wide.Being more or less told he’s going in January then it’s as though he’s thought” well sod this,I might as well just go out and enjoy it” and suddenly seems a much better player.

    Gerrard;standing in front of the back four and playing the short ball to Johnson or Agger or Enrique.Then lately going out as though he too thought “sod this for a game of soldiers,I want to win this.”

    So,I see improvement.And I think it’s despite Rodgers!I think that most of the players have changed their own dynamic and have decided to do what they themselves are good at!

    After all,that’s all that Shankly and Paisley ever did.Good players ,allowed to do what they were good at.No rollerball,volleyball or moneyball or whatever it’s called.

  10. At the close of the podcast ‘One off the wrist’, the contributors all offered a prediction for the Manchester United game. The majority, quite reasonably, expected us to lose, one suggesting 4-2.

    The problem I have with this is the mindset we have already adopted. We expect to lose. Even when Kenny Dalglish was floundering last season, sans Suarez, sans Lucas, sans Gerrard, at no time did we approach ANY game accepting – and expecting – that we might lose. We are now mid-table in every respect. I cannot come to terms with LFC allowing its manager to learn on the job, buying only players with whom he has worked previously and pointedly ignoring players we already have that he didn’t sign. Allen, for example, does little but run around like a blue-arsed fly but gets selected all the time. Henderson is a much more useful player and has worked very hard indeed after refusing to suffer the indignity of being used as a makeweight for Dempsey. He should be the third man with Lucas and Gerrard if we are to have ANY chance at all, but Rodgers seems to think of him as a substitute only.

    I do not believe Rodgers has the tactical nous to combat what the panel rightly suggest will be the biggest danger – Van Persie. Swansea never won a game under him when they fell behind, and already we have seen that f we concede a couple of goals he bolts, mentally; he is as likely to take off Sterling and bring on another forward rather than attempt to counter the threat. He is a one-dimensional tactician.

    We began this season outplaying City and Manu. Now they’ve all seen him go to water against Villa and Stoke (the latter loss was no big deal, it was how he responded to it that disturbed me), no team any longer has any apprehensions about LFC.

  11. What’s with the Shelvey rant? He doesn’t hide, has the technical ability and vision and is always looking to create something. Obviously he’s a bit raw, that’s par for the course and the only way to lose that rawness is to play games, which also implies he will make mistakes. The fact that he has played in different positions actually shows he does have a decent football brain. He’s certainly looked better than a certain Bundesliga winner. I also don’t see the point of laying into Downing when he’s actually had a decent run. Is it enough? Not really, but you never know, a few more goals might give him his confidence back.

    The rest makes sense, the structural problems at board level really need some sorting out, it’s bordered on the ridiculous for too long. Can’t say I’m overflowing with confidence though.

  12. I listen every week to the podcasts which I thoroughly enjoy and I also listened to the recent Brendan interview on TAW. One thing that stood out is Brendan’s explanation of his introduction of Steve Peters the Sports Psychiatrist to LFC. LFC first noticed Steve Peter’s work through Craig Bellamy’s significantly improved performances which Craig had privately pursued. LFC were so amazed, that they were worried that Craig was on drugs! Peters is best known for his input to the British Cycling Team and we know how that worked out in the summer!

    Sunsequently LFC have contracted Steve Peters to provide Sports Psychiatry services to the squad at LFC. This was reported by the Echo and LFC website on the 25th November. This seems to be the elephant in the room that noone seems to want to mention. Clearly Downing, Henderson and others (dare I say even Gerrard) have benefited from this facility and we are now seeing the benefit of this on the field. It’s long been commented that both Henderson and Downing have been lacking in confidence and I am convinced that both of their recent step change in performance improvements have coincided with this. I mention this, because if they have both improved as a result of this, we should be patient to at least the end of the season with Downing and Henderson, get behind and support them and we might just get some value from these guys.

    @andyrtyrrell

  13. We do posses older players with experience other then Gerard and Carragher, they are Reina, Agger (captain of Denmark) and Skertel (captain of Slovakia).

  14. I don’t want to see FSG sitting in our stands watching games. They’ve put their faith in Ian Ayre (for obvious reasons) but he’s not up to the job. Personally, I think we just need to replace him and it’ll be ok.

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