UNBEATEN at home, safely through two rounds of the League Cup, Merseyside Derby winners and well within reach of fourth place.
By any objective measure Liverpool are on the up, with the prospect of being three points off the top of the table after the coming weekend’s matches a realistic one.
A significant renovation of the team has not led to a falling-off in points gathered – in fact the club are ahead of the curve compared to the corresponding fixtures last season.
Most fans are feeling more optimistic than they have since the false dawn that was the 6-1 thrashing of Hull City early in 2009/10 (a reminder that even as the foundations of Rafa Benitez’s empire began to crumble under the weight of chronic under-funding, his Liverpool remained capable of seriously hurting teams).
All of this has come despite the failure of at least four of the club’s signings since January to quite find their best form.
Of course in the binary world of tabloid football coverage, where every player except Tony Hibbert must be divided into one of two lists headed ‘flops’ and ‘aces’, this is bad news for Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing.
All have made significant contributions. All except Downing have scored at least once, while the former Villa man has frequently provided the kind of consistent width and quality which suggests Liverpool can develop an extra dimension to their play.
Henderson has taken some criticism after being given an extended run in the first team and may face a wait to nail down a definite place. The young midfielder should have been prepared to hit a few peaks and troughs in his development – he will also find Dirk Kuyt as tough to shake off as any opponent.
Adam and Carroll, though, face little competition in terms of the specific roles they perform.
Liverpool have other strikers, but none (at least in the senior ranks) similar to Carroll.
Liverpool have other central midfielders – including, potentially, Henderson – but none whose style mirrors that of Adam.
The pair are pretty much one-offs, and that brings with it some problems as well as advantages.
While at their best both can use their gifts to overwhelm opponents, they are at risk of being worked out in advance and negated by wily opponents.
Adam in particular has struggled at times to adapt his game to circumstances, to match his finesse with decisive, original and swift thinking.
Perhaps Dalglish has been sold a pair of duds – a duo who’ll never quite make it at the top level due to the limitations which have prevented their Anfield careers from blossoming immediately.
A kinder reading of the situation would be to say that both Adam and Carroll are struggling to adjust in much the same way as a player from abroad might need time to bed in to the Premier League.
There was plenty of talk of Liverpool signing players with Premier League experience this year.
There is surely a difference, though, between playing in a team fighting for survival and one aiming much higher.
The main change for players of the quality of Adam and Carroll is that they are no longer the lead actors in a straight-to-DVD comedy, but have key parts in an ensemble drama with Oscar aspirations.
This distinction is an important one, and explains not only their failure fully to settle but also the nature of their travails.
Both are used to being the focal points of their respective teams, expected to carry lesser team-mates who would also give them the ball as often as possible.
That won’t happen at Anfield, and it can mean some of the rough edges of the pair’s games are exposed.
Every time Carroll is absent from the box when a cross is delivered, every time Adam is caught in possession as he attempts a low-percentage crossfield ball, you sense the legacy of their time running the show at lesser clubs.
Those aberrations could be forgiven more easily when the entire team was working to provide you with another cross, or another opportunity to gleefully ping the ball 50 yards onto Marlon Harewood’s unresponsive head.
Adam and Carroll have been bold in seeking to develop as players outside their comfort zones. The Matt le Tissier option is a tempting one, but instead they have followed in the footsteps of another former Newcastle goal-botherer, Andy Cole.
Cole’s step up to a higher level with Manchester United was fraught with problems as he grasped the importance of taking the chances he did get in a team not entirely geared up to create them.
While Cole never quite shook off the doubts of some, he retired with 229 league goals, a clean sweep of domestic honours and a Champions League winners’ medal. Let’s be fair and say it’s more than he’d have got had he stayed at St James’ Park.
Liverpool FC needs ambitious, hungry footballers who are keen to develop their games and win things. In stepping out of their comfort zone and moving to Anfield, both Carroll and Adam have shown they fit that profile.
As Rob Gutmann has pointed out, Carroll in particular is showing signs of adapting to a more constructive, flexible role already. That said, the movement and awareness he showed in stepping away from his marker for the goal against Everton suggest he can still offer a potent goal threat.
In Adam’s case the process could be more gradual, and he like Henderson may find he sits out the occasional game, particularly once Steven Gerrard is fully fit. It should be seen as par for the course for a player still in the very early stages of the biggest transition of his career.
At 22 and 25 respectively, Carroll and Adam have time on their sides. They also have ability and the faith of one of the best man-managers ever seen in the English game.
That should be enough for us to cut them a bit of slack while they grow out of their first among equals phase and develop into Liverpool players in the fullest sense.
Great post, Steve. As an avid film lover, I love your line, “The main change for players of the quality of Adam and Carroll is that they are no longer the lead actors in a straight-to-DVD comedy, but have key parts in an ensemble drama with Oscar aspirations.”
It’s so true and a great analogy. Well said.
I largely agree. I think Carroll and Henderson are young enough to be moulded and adapt. I worry that Adam is being found out. He doesn’t seem to have the presence, passing ability and ball retention ability to perform consistently at a high level. I really hope he proves me wrong and I’ll certainly give him time (despite the odd curse in the pub aimed at him).
I am all for giving Carroll the support he needs because, imo, he is working hard and is showing the right attitude. Most importantly, he is willing to learn from his mistakes.
However, the same can’t be said for Adam, who after being sent off against Spurs was back to his tackling worst against Wolves. His set pieces and passing are a joy to behold. But for his passing, he must be given time and space to do so. But the Premier League is such a fast paced phenomenon that one is rarely afforded those aforementioned luxuries. Given the time and space, Adam can hurt the opposition. But that is hardly the case at the best of times. Adam must be willing to learn and understand his teammates before attempting Hollywood passes.
I am very much keeping an eye on Adam as I find he does not keep to his position and leaves gaps in the midfield, leaving Lucas to cover for him. I am not convinced at all at his ability to control the midfield. I am astounded to find that Lucas and Adam only traded 5 passes with each other during the Derby. that frankly is shocking.
When and if Gerrard is fit, Adam should spend some time on the bench. Away from home, he has been abysmal and has showed that our midfield will be overrun. I fear to think what will happen if he starts against United. But I’m not KD and I can’t make his mind up for him. But imo, Gerrard as the captain has to start. And Adam has to learn and not think that he has arrived just because he has moved to Liverpool.
Great article Steve.
I tend to agree with Clark a little bit about Adam. After an initially bright start he seems to be drifting in the background a bit in each game but as any footballer will know, its all about confidence. And I think he is suffering from a lack of it at the moment. You start to question if you can make that 25 yard pass so you go for the Ray Wilkins option – 10 yards sideways or backwards. Keep your positive stats up.
The only other thing I would say about Charlie (and Carroll come to think of it) is that he looks a little bit unfit to me. I don’t mean to Le Tissier proportions or anything but just a little bit compared to the other players. He never looks like he can last the full 90 at 90% effort or above – stats may prove me different but its just how it looks….
Great piece Steve. Media obsession with the club’s ‘best eleven’ will always be with us I fear, despite the paradox of the general acceptance that top flight football is about the depth of the full playing squad and not just the eleven who are selected to start any particular fixture.
True competition for places is something LFC have not had for a number of years, so to be in a position to debate the role of so many of the ‘first team’ is a very welcome position to be in! YNWA