FOOTBALL shouldn’t really dictate life but when you’re in you’re in. And on the back of what felt like a significant win – and a significant moment in getting a fit and firing Daniel Sturridge back on the pitch – I had a cracking bevvy on Saturday night and a boss weekend in general.
Had we lost I know it would have been different.
Enough time has passed between now and 5pm Saturday for events at Anfield to be viewed a bit more objectively. And objectively it was good but not great; good enough to win, good enough to beat a team that, this season at least, has matched Liverpool blow for blow, but not the champagne football this group of players is capable of. Nevertheless, it was a seventh place six pointer, if such a thing exists. And it’s Liverpool now with a foot on a claret forehead. Next target — Spurs.
West Ham’s record this season is remarkably similar to Liverpool’s. The Hammers have lost the same number of games — seven – they’ve conceded the same number of goals — 27 — and they’ve outscored us by two — 35 to 33 in 23 games.
So the result — and seeing Daniel Sturridge so clinically demonstrate what has been missing for Liverpool in terms of movement, intelligence, occupying of defenders and dead eye finishing — was what it was really all about. That and the sublime skill and remarkable vision of Philippe Coutinho (what a ball for the first, what a ball). That and that and Mamadou Sakho. That man is a beast of a defender. And not only does he defend, he puts Liverpool on the front foot. Forget how his frame and his gait make him look and concentrate on what he actually delivers instead — he threads some great balls. And if great balls aren’t on, he brings it out. One of my favourite moments of the game was when he steamrollered through West Ham players from one half to the other. He was pushing, shouldering, striding — some might say it wasn’t pretty but it was great to watch. He’ll make the odd mistake — the way he plays makes that inevitable and where he plays means it could be costly. But it’s worth it. It’s definitely worth it.
So there’s that, that, that and there’s Sterling — great finish (eight for the season now), looking liberated when dropped deeper once Sturridge was introduced, megging players, skinning players, looking like a star. And there’s Mignolet. He’s over his confidence crisis. He’s better. There are keepers out there with more ability better suited to what the manager wants — and Liverpool could and should have tried to buy them in this window — but this is a more convincing No.1 than just a few short weeks ago.
A great cameo from Ibe deserves acknowledgement too.
So they are — broadly speaking — the positives. There aren’t too many negatives as such. Lazar Markovic won’t look back fondly at that miss. We need someone who can threaten from free kicks in Steven Gerrard’s absence because that isn’t Jordan Henderson. Adam Lallana will have better games. But as moans go they’re minor.
No my point — and I acknowledge I’ve taken a while to reach it — is that Saturday’s performance wasn’t really a vintage one. And that’s a good thing. The first half in particular wasn’t the best (not helped by Andre Marriner it has to be said). What it was, was efficient. Liverpool did enough. They fought when fight was required and were creative enough to win it. It was machine like, systematic — and the ignoring of the ‘match fitness’ mantra (thou shall not perform well for a few weeks while match fitness is accrued) from Sturridge was spectacular’; the icing on the cake.
The form table now makes for comforting reading — Liverpool have taken 16 points from the last six. Annoyingly, Arsenal (15), Southampton (13 – thanks, Jonjo) and Spurs (13) follow. The actual table shows a four point gap to fourth for Liverpool to bridge and a five point gap to third. Mike Kennedy’s post about how realistic a top four finish is three weeks or so back made a lot of sense. But after comprehensively beating West Ham without reaching top gear after taking the best team in the country all the way over two legs in the League Cup, it’s hard not to start thinking odds of 11/2 (Ladbrokes) on Liverpool to finish fourth look on the generous side — especially if Sturridge can now stay on the pitch for the remaining 15 league games.
What Saturday also did though was prompt the what ifs. It didn’t take many pints for the ‘if Sturridge had been fit we’d be challenging for the league’ proclamation to be made. A 15-point gap to the league leaders suggest that’s fanciful but a look back at some of the more disappointing results (losing to Villa at home, to West Ham, Newcastle and Man United away, drawing with Everton, Sunderland and Leicester at Anfield) provides food for thought.
With a player that finds the corners of the net, and makes the runs that Coutinho, Sterling, Henderson and the rest have been crying out for, it’s not too hard to make a case for Liverpool residing in — at least — third place right now.
Sadly, that’s not the case and we’re left ruing the what might have been. It may take title-winning form from here on in to reach that spot. But with Liverpool’s play now being supplemented by Sturridge’s finishing, movement and presence, who’s to say that’s not in Liverpol’s locker? Last season’s charge for the line started in earnest in December. At this stage last season, after 23 games, the Reds were only eight points better off than they are now.
Chasing fourth isn’t anywhere near as exhilarating as chasing first. But more displays that inspire good weekends, and maybe a Champions League spot and, hopefully, a trophy or two? After the dark days of the soft touch Liverpool of only a few weeks back, I’ll drink to that.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda
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I was as heartened by our display in the first 68 minutes of the game as I was by the last 22.
Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled by Sturridge coming on and scoring with such ease. Ultimately, however, Sturridge coming and scoring was thus merely a formality. It confirmed that, with a proper striker, this team is what we already knew them to be: on a completely different level than the West Hams of the Premier League.
The important thing about our victory against West Ham is that it cemented the fact that we are moving upwards and onwards. No, winning games by a one goal margin – especially when we have difficulty scoring one goal, never mind two, is not comfortable. Nonetheless, despite suffering from the same crucial shortfall as we did on 20 September – the absence of Sturridge – we reversed the tables on the side that beat us 3-1 on that last date. We didn’t just find a stop-gap solution to scoring in the interim. We became a more cohesive team – a team in every sense of the word: our defense got solid; our midfield and wingbacks provided proper support to our forward(s). It has all been clicking in a way that it hadn’t between September and mid-December.
That’s the key. I think we all knew that Sturridge wasn’t a fluke. He needed to be the final piece of the puzzle, though – not the guy to bear the club’s weight on his shoulders. Yesterday showed the team can be the foundation he needs to win.
So yeah, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kennedy’s post, while insightful and informed, missed the mark – in my humble opinion – because it didn’t compare like for like. I sincerely doubt any club attempting to get from 8th to 4th or clear a 7-point deficit to earn 4th place had to do so while missing its only real scoring threat, who also happened to be the second-best scorer in the previous season.
I think we can do this. It’s going to be very difficult, but I believe it’s possible. The team needs to consider to show their character, though. They need to remain tenacious, they can’t afford to slack off on any game. If they pull this off, this campaign could be as historic in its own way as last year’s was. It could be just as important – if not more so – in terms of setting the club up for its future.
Winning the Uefa cup is possible too.
We seem to have a nice habit of getting our second wind at this time of the season also,
Fitness permitting I reckon we are a good shout for top 4 & a cup.
FSG / Rodgers failed to sign a nimble forward and purchased two static lumps. Just think what may have been had the £20 million wasted on those two, plus Lovren’s utter pointlessness been used to lure just one forward that would be better than Borini.
How do you lump FSG in with that decision?
Very pleased someone’s highlighted Coutinho’s amazing ball for the first goal, absolutely sublime. He had a fraction of a second to size up the deflection off the defender as it falls to him on the half volley, clock where Sterling is in that instant and dink that deliciously backspun(!) pass into Raheem’s stride for an easy finish. Superb
Don’t give up on Lovren yet. Sakho wasn’t convincing last year, either, and now everyone is singing his praises. If the Croat turns the corner, other clubs will envy our depth at CB much like they are starting to envy our increasingly multifaceted attack.
I appreciate playing 120 mins of football 5 days earlier is probably not as debilitating as we all take for granted but I was worried about West Ham. We’re not the most physical side anyway but jaded as well….
We’ve often done well in our games against Arsenal and Chelsea but I’m less confident about us against the likes of West Ham, West Brom and Villa. So, although it certainly wasn’t vintage from a purist point of view it gave me massive amounts of joy that we’d won the way we did. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed any game this season as much as the last 10 mins of Saturday. I love it when we bring a fringe player on and he looks brilliant. It’s an extra good player in the squad. I could have watched Sterling, Coutinho and Sturridge playing together forever. Ok, they weren’t on the pitch together for long but it’s a truly exciting prospect. Always a goal there and now with Sakho always unlikely the opposition will score. It’s hard not to ask ‘what if’. How many people across the world had that conversation on Saturday night! I think third but within reach of the leaders. Like everyone, I firmly believe the problems we had were not difficult to work out.
So yeah, next target Spurs. I’ll give them 8 days if they’re lucky then it’ll be ‘see ya later’.
P.s Not trying to give it the big one but I told my mates 6 weeks ago this would happen. We all backed them for top 4 – most at 9/1 and some at 7’s because they waited a game or 2. Also, my mate who backed them fairly big at the start of the season said recently that we’re so shit he’d give me half his winnings if we get top 4 as there’s absolutely no chance of it. Although that’s up for adjudication as he’s denying it now. It’s still a big ask but anyone who rules it out needs to question their mentality.
Let’s see, looking at it conservatively:
Liverpool – Aston Villa, 0-1. Let’s call it 1-1 with Dan. That’s a point, right there.
Liverpool – Everton, 1-1. Let’s call it 2-1 with Dan. That’s two extra points.
Liverpool – Hull Villa, 0-0. Let’s call it 1-0 with Dan. That’s another three points.
Newcastle – Liverpool, 1-0. Let’s call it 1-1 with Dan. That’s yet another point.
Liverpool – Sunderland, 0-0. Let’s call it 1-0 with Dan. There’s three more points.
Liverpool – Leicester, 2-2. Let’s call it 3-2 with Dan. That’s two more points.
I haven’t done anything too extreme here. I just assumed Dan gives us the edge against low-end sides playing at Anfield, which is hardly a revelation. I don’t have us reversing hard losses (at West Ham, at Crystal Palace, versus Chelsea, at United), nor am I making assumptions about Arsenal. A struggling Newcastle conceding a single goal to us in their home ground is probably the biggest stretch in the above list. By giving him just those six hypothetical goals in addition to the two he has scored for us (for a total of eight over 23 fixtures), I think I’m also taking into account the absence of the Suarez. Quite generously so, in fact.
Twelve extra points puts us in second place. A couple of the above results could still go bad, but we would still likely finish at 3rd. It really becomes a stretch as to whether we would finish as low as fourth.
That’s all assuming a healthy Dan. If he missed the same games as he did this time last year, we lose five points from the above list… and would still be sitting (hypothetically) at 3rd place.
Some of that of course has to do with United being uncharacteristically bad (again). They would be just two points behind us, and Arsenal and Southampton just one more point than that. In the long run, we could easily drop more points due to injuries or what have you, or United and Arsenal could start clicking even better with their new signings.
All the same, an even relatively healthy Sturridge would have meant we’re somewhere between confident about Champions League or screaming about just being three points behind Chelsea despite losing Suarez.
An important qualifier: that also assumes that Rodgers would have arrived at the 3-4-2-1 angle without Sturridge. Would he have? I don’t know. Hindsight being 20-20, it sure allows the club to play the most players in the right position, right? One hopes that an intelligent manager like Rodgers would have arrived at this conclusion eventually.
Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s a stretch to argue we’d have gotten the above results even if we’d stuck to a 4-3-3 or what have you. Maybe we wouldn’t have been as fluid, and maybe there’s a case to be made about us not discovering our current defensive solidity without the new shape. Nonetheless, we conceded the goals above with that ostensibly inferior (for our squad) shape. And it might be unfair to question whether we would do worse against Leicester with it.
A more fair question about this hypothetical scenario is whether Sakho and Lucas would have enjoyed the same renaissance if we hadn’t gone through this rough patch… To that, I don’t have an answer.
The lack of activity in the January window indicates either breathtaking complacency or an evaporation of confidence in our ability to identify and attract suitable recruits. Creaming out jeans over two young and unproven strikers, when we desperately need GK cover is beyond belief. Good as our recent play has been, we haven’t actually beaten anybody of note yet. Our hopes are more on Sturridge than ever they were on Suarez, even. At least BR stumbled onto – staggered onto – a solution to our pissweak defending that was there all the time but he alone couldn’t see.
Not sure there was a great deal out there Kevin. It’s not as though we’re alone, very few teams have done any serous business. I can see why the manger wouldn’t want to integrate any more players having finally stumbled on a method that works for him. It would be very hard for anyone to break into and improve the current team. We just have to hope and pray nothing happens to Sturridge or Lucas now. Should have bought a keeper though. Great to see Mignolet playing with confidence but what happens if he picks up an injury? Brad Jones? #shudder#
Hello Paul. I agree the team looks settled now, and not before time. He will still need to juggle players because of fixture build up. I just hope be resists the temptation to piss around with it to slot in his personal fsvourites. From now on the first names on the sheet should be Sakho Skrtel, Lucas and Hendo. No moving any of them unnecessarily to accommodate ANYBODY, with certainties of Coutino, Sterling and Sturridge, it leaves three spots to whack out between SG, Markovic, Can, Lallana etc, Nice problem to have for a change, but it was lack of options that forced Rodgers to make the right decisions anyway..,
I hope you get to manage a prominent Premier League football club one day. I hope that club plays wonderful attacking football. I hope that club in turn is plagued not just by a number of goals conceded that might be expected by an overly aggressive offense, but by ones due to individual errors and poor judgment, as well. I hope you try to buy a defender who you think will constitute a significant upgrade, and when that new, expensive signing (whose price tag almost certainly was increased due to the selling club knowing that your income for that year – from Champions League, from television rights, etc. – was skyrocketing), I hope you’re forced to deal with the difficult decision of either “slot in your personal favorites” or to turn right back to the very defenders who you knew were a problem last year. And I hope you respond with grace and patience to the supporters who second-guess whichever course of action you took as said individual errors and poor judgment – uncoachable stuff, in many cases – persist.
As for Joe Allen? He’s been in the starting XI seven times this season thus far. SEVEN. And it’s not as if he started because Rodgers was desperate to slot him in somewhere. Stevie, who I wish would never leave, didn’t want his minutes managed and that meant he HAD to play in a withdrawn position. That meant Rodgers’ choices as to which midfielder to play alongside (or behind, in some schemes) Hendo were rather limited.
So yeah, add that to my well-wishing for you, above. I hope that a beloved club legend ties your hands in such a manner that formations, squad selection, rotation, etc., are all impacted.
Not that this was the case for just this year. Allen started all of fifteen times in 2013-14. Mind you, a manager could be justified in insisting a signing that underperformed his first year get additional chances… but whatever.
You say he “stumbled” on the right answer of Lucas? I’d be willing to bet half the supporters didn’t rate Lucas on any given day before this run of good games became real. No, what really happened is Joe Allen got hurt and Stevie decided he would end his deadlock on minute management by announcing his departure. THAT freed Rodgers hands to explore viable options.
But people keep saying, “Oh, Rodgers wants to play his son.” Again, whatever.
I am happy that you were happy with a chaotic ever-changing lineup for four months for no good reason. I’m happy now! Are you?