By Mike Nevin
LIVERPOOL are bloody awful at the moment. Six defeats in 7 games tell their own story, with, in particular, the displays at Old Trafford, Sunderland, Newcastle and at home to Wigan hard to defend. The spectre of facing a highly-motivated, confident Everton side at Wembley looms large and Liverpool need to wake up quickly if they are to compensate for a dire league campaign with a second dose of silverware.
The Reds have dipped massively in performance since Christmas, when the major gripe was not achieving the wins – through a combination of poor finishing, finding opposition keepers in great form and some rank bad luck – our displays merited. Most recently, against Newcastle, a typically bright start couldn’t mask an insipid further 70 minutes, to match a lifeless, almost gutless surrender to Wigan at Anfield a week previously. Throw in the late collapse at Loftus Road, a meek effort at Sunderland, and being outplayed at Man United and you have performances in stark contrast to the qualified optimism that arose from our early season form.
The win at the Emirates, the victory at Goodison, dual success in league and cup at Chelsea, the home games against Man City and Man United (twice) saw Liverpool look like a different side to that seen in recent weeks, and all against good quality opposition.
So what’s gone wrong?
First of all, the loss of Lucas Leiva has been a crippling blow. We don’t have a player of the same ilk to deputise and his value to the team is more evident now in his absence than it appeared to many when he was running his penultimate game before injury (against City at home), and at Chelsea in the League Cup when he suffered his knee injury.
If there’s criticism to be levelled here, why did we not try and address this in January with an attempt to bring in a defensive midfielder? And having made that decision, why haven’t we worked out the best solution with the players available to compensate with a consistent selection in midfield since? Henderson, Adam, Gerrard, Spearing, and now Shelvey appear to have been rotated into a perm any 3 from 5 policy, in a vain search for an effective midfield. We’re as far away from finding the right blend in the middle as we were when Lucas’s gloomy injury prognosis became evident four months ago.
Amid the midfield conundrum, there is continuing debate over the best position for Steven Gerrard. It’s without question that he no longer possesses the legs to be the barnstorming player he was 3 years ago. And yet, his Derby hat-trick in the 3-0 win over Everton – an oasis of hope in a desert of recent mediocrity – showed how effective he can still be, albeit, and this is the key point here, in the opposition’s final third. Similarly his returning cameo as a sub against Newcastle at Christmas saw him change the game, but again in an advanced position. Otherwise, starting from a deep-lying central midfield role, Gerrard has looked too weary to get involved further up the pitch, at times looking lethargic for long periods, while his distribution from deeper positions has been far from consistent.
Other players don’t seem to flourish or be brave enough to take responsibility for influencing the play with Gerrard exclusively demanding the ball deep inside his own half. Compounding the issue, has been the acute drop in form of both Charlie Adam, before his injury, and Jordan Henderson who both at least showed some glimpses of drive and creativity earlier in the season, leaving Kenny Dalglish short of alternatives to Gerrard in the middle of midfield, when he might secretly be inclined to play him closer to Suarez and/or Andy Carroll. Either way, we’re not seeing the best of Steven Gerrard, (even if he is fading) in his current, withdrawn role.
In the case of Henderson, who is now out of the side after being consistently selected for much of the campaign, the wrath of the Anfield crowd appears to have taken its toll on his confidence just at a time when an opportunity to probe from the centre, which many supporters were advocating previously, should be the making of him. Instead, we have a young player shorn of belief, with growing pressure falling upon him to accompany an already burdensome price tag, mulling things over on the bench. It remains to be seen if he has the mental fortitude, when called upon, to contribute significantly for the remainder of the season.
In the case of Stuart Downing, there have been too many false dawns. As recently as the Carling Cup Final, a man-of-match performance and a winning goal of some quality against Stoke in the 6th round of the cup has failed to convince Dalglish to award Downing a regular place despite Craig Bellamy’s irregular fitness patterns and Dirk Kuyt’s admirable but declining solidity. A consistent Downing would at least see some pace injected to a sometimes pedestrian midfield. Again, on balance, the winger’s season has been one of disappointment for the money invested, reflected in a stark lack of goals and assists for an attacking player.
The problems up front are well documented. We are crying out for a goalscorer, or at least a consistent performer to share some of the attacking burden lumped on Luis Suarez. Suarez hasn’t been able to mirror his prolific Ajax scoring record in the Premier League, but he remains Liverpool’s only consistent goal threat. His form, purely in a creative sense has been erratic since his ban, when many thought an enforced lay-off might have benefitted him as the season wore on. He has also developed an infuriating tendency to be easily dispossessed, perhaps trying too hard to create something from nothing.
There have been few signs of Suarez and Carroll developing a partnership, but this hasn’t been helped by Dalglish leaving him out when seemingly on the verge of some better form. Conversely, Liverpool have looked most fluent as an attacking force since Dalglish’s return, this season and last, when operating with a more mobile arrangement up front with the likes of Kuyt, Bellamy or the under-used Maxi Rodriguez playing off Suarez. The whole issue of selection, and the intended style of play that Carroll’s inclusion decides, seems confused by the size of the fee paid to Newcastle last season. Although Carroll played at Wembley in the Carling Cup Final, he has often been benched against quality opposition, which suggests Dalglish remains unconvinced.
More to the point, if the intention when signing Suarez was to pair him with Fernando Torres, before his decision to jump ship, why did Dalglish and/or Comolli opt for a player with such contrasting attributes in Carroll?
The whole issue of who spearheads the recruitment policy is one which has fans scratching their heads, and while it’s Liverpool’s policy to keep such things under wraps, some clarity regarding who is actually responsible for this season’s largely disappointing signings would make judgement of the whole situation a lot easier – at least for the supporters. Dalglish’s willingness to bench Carroll, Downing and latterly Henderson hints at dissatisfaction with the very players whose failing contributions are bringing him personal criticism from impatient supporters.
Until last month, we were at least able to boast an excellent defensive record, but as the wheels of the season have gradually loosened, we are now shipping goals far too readily. The loss of Daniel Agger’s calming presence at centre-back can’t be over-estimated here, especially as it has coincided with Martin Skrtel looking shaky for the first time in an otherwise excellent season. Sadly, Jamie Carragher’s star is fading, which manifests itself in him looking panic stricken whenever the opposition play a searching ball into Liverpool’s penalty area.
The absence of the brittle-boned Agger also tends to see us play with a deeper defensive line; one which often seems on top of an under-pressure Pepe Reina. Reina’s frustrations at a poor campaign by his very high standards were all too evident at St James’ Park; which has left us with the prospect of an untried keeper (Doni, or even Brad Jones) marshalling a wobbly rearguard for the upcoming, potentially defining clash of the season against in-form Everton at Wembley. The return of Agger is crucial ahead of that game, as is that of Glen Johnson, who is under-rated defensively and lends an obvious extra attacking dimension to a side currently struggling to create meaningful chances.
On the face of it, Liverpool have a myriad of problems, but in the main they are identifiable and rectifiable, even in the short term. It’s easy to lose sight of the form which propelled us to a first Cup Final in 5 years, and the brink of a second. It’s easy to forget that with key players fit and in-form, we had lost just 2 league games before December. It’s easy to forget that we won our first trophy for six years only a few weeks back. Now though in the wake of several embarrassing defeats, whatever the actual quality of the players at Dalglish’s disposal, it’s fair to say that all but a few are under-performing. It’s a huge test of his management to see if he can muster some strength and determination in this adversity from his players. It’s time for the familiar pre-match talk of “delivering” to stop and for us to actually see some of the qualities identified when we signed these players.
A winnable FA Cup semi-final lies ahead, but only if the Reds show some of the nerve, passion and quality that has been sadly lacking from their vapid efforts in recent weeks. They owe us, the manager, and most of all themselves a performance at Wembley.
Think one of the most disappointing aspects of Downing is that he was signed as a ball-carrying winger who was capable of putting a decent ball in for Andy Carroll to attack. But it’s the ball-carrying element that has been most frustrating. For Gerrard to be able to properly get up and support the attack from the middle it needs someone who can stretch opposing defences by taking them on and pulling opponents out of position. Downing’s shown little to nothing of this, contributing to an ever-flatter midfield and ever more isolated front players.
Couple that with the absence of Lucas meaning our fullbacks haven’t had that safety net there to get up the line and attack as much as we’d like them too and it’s made us pretty easy to play against most of the time. We’ve been flat, the midfield’s been completely undynamic really and we just look to Suarez to do something out of the blue to open teams up. That’s plan A. Then we move on to the total and utter lack of any plan B and in-game changes. . .
Yet another generic post from you lads failing to ask questions of the manager. It’s fine to bang on about players but you haven’t once said the buck stops with the manager it’s very simple. No game plan and no set formation are simple fundamentals the manager has failed at big time. Players not knowing their role – another fundamental for a manager. A rotation system with a squad not good enough to rotate – another management fundamental. Blame players, JH, Fergie, tiredness, sky and refs but the buck stops with the gaffer
I think you’ll find there are 2 or 3 points in there that question managerial decisions. It’s collective responsibilty; tactics and selection come into it, but a manager can’t be held responsible for everything that happens on the field. There’s improvement needed from everyone
“but a manager can’t be held responsible for everything that happens on the field.”
Im sorry but this is a naive view, ALL managers at ANY club are judged on results which are dictated by on pitch events. To be honest if the point of this article is ‘I want Kenny to succeed based solely on my absolutely justified love of the man and all he has done for the club’ then I wouldnt have an issue with it, because it would be a firm and reasonable view on the debate that seems to be at the forefront of all our minds presently.
However what is hard to stomach is people who didnt give our previous manager ANY time, all of a sudden now believe that managers deserve time, and they cant be held responsible for everything that happens on the pitch just because it suits their agenda.
I think in Liverpool’s case blaming solely the manager is narrow-minded and naive really. The article did ask questions of the manager but at present Liverpool’s problems don’t rest with the manager alone. Players aren’t pulling their weight and are letting the manager down, and in that case it’s perfectly fair to call them on so.
Great piece Mike.
It is clear to many how much we have missed Lucas defensively recently, but hasn’t been too widely commented upon is how this has impacted on the team’s attacking intent, his ability to cover for others along with Agger’s and Johnson’s talents in bringing the ball forward intelligently have been sorely missed.
I know it is easy to overstate any player’s contribution when they are not in the side but ensuring we have adequate cover/competition for Lucas must be one of the key transfer issues the club face in the summer.
I think the real issues are above squad level. Managment and recruitment are where I feel the spotlight needs to be.
Thats not saying that the players dont merit scrutiny, or absolving FSG of any stake in our current issues.
But as an opinion piece on the players I dont find much here that I dont agree with. However I agree with the post above re: another generic post. Critical opinions and constructive criticism are not detrimental to a club, the only debate on Liverpool at the moment seems to be if Kenny is the right man to manage us but this site is consistently ducking this debate.
I think this post, along with the discussions on the podcast, have been perfectly conducted. The reluctance to directly blame Dalglish is not “ducking the issue”, and does not come from blind worship of a club legend. Instead I think it comes from an admirable sense of humility as supporters who have not played the game professionally, or managed title winning teams, nor had access to events behind the scenes.
Liverpool FC is an organisation that is failing, and the most visible and important part is on the pitch. The embarrassing debacle at Newcastle was the culmination of the combined efforts of the owners, the club management, the coaching team, the players, and to a certain extent the supporters. It is all too easy to blame Dalglish for this collective failure and all to easy to add fuel to a “Kenny Out” campaign.
When I listen to the AW, I sense a growing sense of unease about Liverpool’s performance and management. There is plenty of implied criticism of Dalglish – especially observations about players not seeming to know their jobs on the field – but are any of us ready yet to identify Dalglish as the defective part of this increasingly dysfunctional machine? Did the removal of Rafa solve the club’s real underlying problems?
When Dalglish returned, I watched Hodgson’s dispirited group transform into a fluid and mobile pass-and-move team over the space of a few weeks. At times, it was like being transported back to 1988. The demolitions of Man Utd and Fulham were particularly impressive – the complete opposite of today’s performances – not only did everyone know their job on the pitch, they were able to swap positions and retain shape. Where did all this go? Is this still Dalglish’s vision of the team? Do we want to lose the man who can get a team playing like this?
Why is it the owners fault? The fans wanted kenny, they got him.. The manager wanted money to spend.. He got it to piss up the wall.. What more can the owners do?
We are now a club of double standards.. We moaned about the last two cowboys constant being in the press and dragging the clubs history and fans thru the mud, now we moan because our new owners have kept quiet. We moaned at the last manger for dire passionless performances, now we say dire passionless performances are ok coz it’s kenny.. He’ll get it right. I wouldnt trust him with a transfer budget.. Would you?
I believe that Benitez should come back to the club. Before you all jump on this as criticism of Dalglish, or calling for his head, I am not advocating the departure of Kenny. I think there is room for both, if Comolli is to be sacrificed, as seems more likely than Dalglish. Why would this work? Because it has worked at mufc for so long..ferguson is the mouthpiece of the club, but his coaches are responsible for the way the team plays. He doesn’t take coaching sessions on the pitch day in day out, he delegates, but he does manage the image of the club in the media. And it was in the handling of the media that both Hodgson and Benitez failed some Liverpool fans so miserably, Hodgson ofc far more than Benitez.
This is where Dalglish has reconnected the club with the fans..there’s no “my mate Alex”, no “formidable” Northampton, he has for me at least partly restored the dignity of the club so badly represented under Hodgson.
Which brings me to Benitez. Say what you want about the man, he delivered on the pitch. And in my opinion, his relationship with the media was quite one sided, because whether his English wasn’t up to the task, or he just was not as canny as Kenny, he allowed the narrative of an irrational loner, a cold paranoid, to be given koin. But it did not affect him from a football point of view, not nearly as much as his relationship with H&G did, It just allowed the narrative of the critics to grow unchecked, and led to the awful, appaling situation where some LFC fans were referring to him in the same, racist, derogatory language as mufc fans were using.
So could Dalglish manage the club and Benitez coach the team? Would either be happy? It’s unlikely in the extreme of course, but what a combination it would make, with Kenny’s press conferences and post match interviews, and an unencumbered Rafa’s team on the pitch. The best of both worlds. Unfortunately, it will never happen, despite my optimism above.
I agree somewhat with an earlier comment railing against the Dalglish mafia, it seems that on some forums any criticism of Dalglish is strongly discouraged, and indeed Dalglish has got such an easy ride from TAW that Omerta surely must be the order of the day. However, should things decline further, all this strong denial will do is feed the critics and succour the proponents of the previous incumbent.
So what now? All LFC fans are asking the qustion now, and even worse, we are contemplating the horrible vista that we may still have some way to go downwards, with an unsackable manager and a group of unmotivateable players. Is this what is causing the depression among us? The fact that in Rafa and Roy we had a way out, a cause we could point at and see light beyond..or have we finally emerged from beneath the Rafa bubble and are seeing it in some perspective? Are we finally contemplating the idea that we are another Villa, or Everton….underfunded average achievers, the fans exploited and unheeded?
Apologies for the ramble, I’ve been a fan of the club since May 1974 and I let passion for the club take precedence over composition
I think the problems that haunted the club towards the end of Rafa’s tenure and in the time since, haunt the club still. I am genuinely very worried. And I miss Rafa and his team of misfits ruling Europe :)
I work in Newcastle and have had dog’s abuse since the whistle on Sunday. Somebody said to me “Your lot looked like they’d never even met each other”. They are right – we look like eleven lads who just meet up once or twice a week for a knockabout.
The thing I can’t get my head around is that on the pitch we had Gerrard, Carragher, Reina, Bellamy, Skrtel and (to an extent) Suarez all of whom have got more experience and nous than the entire Newcastle squad put together. Where the fuck was that on Sunday? As soon as Cisse scored the header – game over. Might as well have blown the whistle then. I was fucking embarrassed sat in the ground watching. When players of that experience and proven mental strength crumble like those around them so readily I can’t help but think that it is purely because they are completely and utterly disillusioned with the shite that is going on around them and/or what they are being asked to do.
I agree with most of the article, but would go further to say that Agger is the bigger loss than Lucas. Our downturn in form matches his injury. I think Enrique suffers without Lucas and his form has dipped since Lucas’ injury – he lacks the double-up protection Lucas gives, and also has developed a frustrating tendency to try and beat his man inside whereas Lucas was previously invariably there to collect a simple five-yarder to keep it flowing. I like Jay Spearing, but he’s not Lucas.
Working up here if you say to any Boro fan – Downing – £20m? They laugh. Sunderland fan – Henderson £20m? In hysterics. Newcastle – Carroll – £35m? They can’t breathe. Massive errors and fair enough they might all be decent footballers, but part of doing homework on spending those volumes of money is about a player’s head and these 3 are all sorely lacking. Carroll in particular – anybody who plays football themselves to a reasonable level can normally take one look at a somebody’s touch and say either “player” or “shite”. Carroll just doesn’t look in any way like a footballer and as stupid as it may sound, I don’t want Liverpool to be a team in which a big battering ram like Carroll is effective as it’s not how the Liverpool teams that I grew up loving played football. To balance that, I thought it was an appalling decision to bring him off on Sunday – pure embarrassment for the lad and probably shattered the final shreds of confidence that remained.
There are so many things wrong it is painful – too many crap players, no pace, not using our best players to the best of their ability, different system every week, no discernible playing style, horrendous transfers, powder puff weak mentality, hopeless and embarrassing excuses trotted out yadda yadda yadda.
It seems to be boiling up into fan in-fighting – are you with, or against Kenny? Why does it have to one or the other? For me – I’ll support Kenny and don’t want him gone any time urgently. His status does mean that he deserves more time than the average manager – because history has shown that he is not average. But that doesn’t mean I can’t say I think he’s made some fucking appalling errors and is currently 95% responsible for this. It it doesn’t turn around, I don’t personally think he will delay too long before gracefully bowing out.
[quote]The demolitions of Man Utd and Fulham were particularly impressive – the complete opposite of today’s performances – not only did everyone know their job on the pitch, they were able to swap positions and retain shape. Where did all this go? Is this still Dalglish’s vision of the team? Do we want to lose the man who can get a team playing like this?[/quote]
We already have lost that man, we didn’t know it at the time as he was brought injured and was then unfit but the purchase of Carroll set Liverpool down the true path of Dalglish’s vision. Blackburn mk 2.
Agree that Carroll purchase is the root of many of our problems – a rushed and ill-advised investment from a new management team. I had hoped that Carroll would give us extra options and more physical presence, meaning we could play quick pass and move and mix it with a more direct game when it suits us. Obviously not working, but is that down to the players not executing the plan, or is it simply a bad plan?
It was a bad plan, insofar as a panic buy can be the basis of any sort of strategy.
I don’t see Dalglish being in charge next season, I’d hope any new manager would see that Carroll and the other CHAD players brought to support him have simply not been good enough for the modern game (I’d probably keep Hendo on the basis of being young enough to be developed) and with a shrug sell them on for whatever can be got and switch to smart quick players – who don’t have to cost the earth if the scouting is good enough. That’s another “issue” though isn’t it?
All well and good blaming the players, who bought them? All well and good blaming the positional play and tactic, who decides that? and for good measure who buys the players then fails to find a role for them? Ok ok hang me out to dry, I have criticized Kenny, I know he won this he did that blah blah! He is not doing a very good job, there I have said it! He is picking teams that often play without a clue tactically and look lost whenever we go behind. He has blamed injuries, bad luck and tiredness ! I don’t want to see a new manager a new team of coaches a revolution just so we can start the “team un transition” mantra all over again ! What I would like to see is Kenny and his coaches develop a coherent playing style that fits the players we have drill it coach it play it! If new signings are needed buy players who fit into the pre determined plan, not just he’s ok or he’s cheap we will work out what to do with him later! Do the job that is often too far down the list of priorities “coaching!!!” you don’t see Brendan Rogers or Paul lambert screaming for more cash they have turned out teams playing good football on a limited budget. If Swansea & Norwich can do it why not Liverpool?