LIVERPOOL have scored about a billion goals this season, winning by three, four, five.
They’ve dug in, winning 1-0 at home when under the cosh.
They’ve freaked out, winning 0-5 away from home with panache.
They’ve been pegged back by half time and won with style.
They’ve been 2-0 up, conceded and kicked back on.
They won every kind of football match except one.
Here is the list of Liverpool games this season against sides that aren’t in the top seven they’ve failed to win:
- Swansea Away 2-2
- Southampton Home 0-1
- Newcastle Away 2-2
- Aston Villa Home 2-2
- West Brom Away 1-1
In each of these games Liverpool been level or behind with twenty to go and haven’t forced the game in their favour. Newcastle also were down to ten.
There is no list of games against sides that aren’t in the top seven where Liverpool have scored a goal to equalise or go ahead in the last fifteen minutes.
The first thing to point out – and it is important to point it out – is that it is a short list and only contains one defeat. In the four seasons that precede this one, this list, by February, would be far longer and that’s because of what’s been discussed above – scoring first and standing firm or scoring first and setting fire to the game. One reason there is no list of games where Liverpool have scored to equalise or go ahead in the last fifteen minutes against the poorer sides is that there have been few occasions they have needed to.
The second thing to point out though – and it is important to point this out too – at no point in the last fifteen minutes of any of those games listed have you felt Liverpool have their opponents under relentless, error inducing pressure. That they will crack their opponents will. That they will grind them into the dirt, until they are limp, exhausted, giving up chances, begging to be put out of their misery, submit to the sweet relief of the grave. In none of those games can I recall a goalkeeper pulling off miracles in the dying embers, defenders straining sinews to keep out another red wave, the football match cracking like a walnut in a vice, shelling pinging off about to have an opposing manager’s eye out.
They haven’t turned the screw.
There are two reasons for this, each as valid as the other. The first is being able to make changes from the bench, replacing quality with quality, introducing fresh legs as capable as the players being replaced at their freshest. Talk of transfer committees, priorities and that slippery bastard value is valid here. Fill it in this gap yourself:
The second is that this side isn’t one built to do gradual, unstoppable accumulation of pressure. It’s either all over you, pulling you apart or it isn’t. It’s a blade, not a steamroller, but a blade which can blunt itself over ninety minutes. The players instinctively look to stab, stab, stab. They don’t try and shepherd the game through its final stages, create an ever smaller pen for the sheep opposite, put the fear into them. Instead it’s the jugular with every lunge, letting the sheep scatter and having to start the process again if unsuccessful.
One of the things we love about this Liverpool side is that they aren’t a metronome ticking ever faster, they are a hands in the air banger. Tops off.*
Tops off is brilliant. Tops off is why there is only five games in that list, why any lead Liverpool have over those behind them can have the goal difference point added to it, why Liverpool are magic and David Moyes is tragic.
But the problem Liverpool have in the second half of their season is that the skill that is evidently absent is likely to be required that bit more often. Liverpool now aren’t a surprise. Both Pepe Mel and Paul Lambert have set up and then tweaked sides stocked with poorer players into a team that can frustrate Liverpool across ninety minutes in the last month. Liverpool’s away games are against sides fighting for their lives and the oft spoken of tough home games are likely to be tight on occasion. Liverpool are more likely to have games of football that are on a knife-edge with twenty minutes to go – it is inevitable that Liverpool will be all square or a goal behind with fifteen to go at least three times between now and the season’s close. There needs to be an answer when this question is asked.
A solution could be found. It could be on the pitch in the form of slipping Sterling back to full back to allow another attacker. It perhaps could be on the bench in the form of Alberto, a man whose glorious lack of pace necessitates the game slowing and whose decision making Liverpool could possibly make greater use of. It could be on the training pitch – and it probably will be looking at the wonders this manager has worked on Liverpool’s attacking – instilling patience into a young team when it feels as though every second is heart-stoppingly vital. Finding that extra pass that leads to a clear opportunity soon rather than a half chance now, popping the ball off and getting everyone ten yards further forward rather than turning into trouble. There is such a thing as trying too hard and Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool is far more likely to be guilty of that than the opposite.
It could even be buttressing the bench, occasionally starting one of Sturridge or Suarez or one of Henderson, Coutinho or Gerrard from it, recharging their legs for challenges to come while being able to introduce them as time ticks on should the eleven on the pitch be struggling to finish the job. A big call yes, and more likely to ensure tops remain on but Liverpool have amassed the goal difference. They now need the points.
Liverpool have shown almost everything this season. Everything to be considered a very good side that can for the first time in years look at the mountain of greatness, take a pencil from behind the ear and at least start jotting some ideas down about scaling it. They’ve been irresistible. Now it is time to be inevitable.
*Metaphorical tops off. Let’s keep some sense of decorum.
(Pics: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda)