A belated happy new year to you and your unloved ones. That last match was mightily entertaining wasn’t it? Who needs the January transfer window? We actually did but galvanising and all that jazz. Football is often about tension when the biggest sides meet but Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side ignored this way of working. This Liverpool side has mastered the art of starting exceptionally and quickly on home turf. While the Theatre of Dreams is becoming the Theatre of Nightmares for its hosts across the M62, Liverpool’s "This is Anfield" sign could also read "Welcome to Hell" for visitors. Just concede an early or first-half goal at Anfield and find out the true meaning of ETW
Last season there were questions about how Liverpool fared in the biggest games. We could compete and we looked quite neat but securing victories was a difficult feat. That proved so away to Chelsea and Manchester City in December days but previous victories against Manchester United and Tottenham indicated that Rodgers’ side was making the right strides. A manic away draw at local rivals and Champions League chasing Everton was acceptable considering the game’s events over 90 minutes. The only defeat that displayed a disparity in class was the private lesson conducted by Arsene Wenger’s side at the Emirates. Liverpool were outpassed, outpressed, and simply outfoxed. Played six, won two, drawn one, and lost three against the best sides in the league heading into 2014. Not bad for a side chasing a top four spot but room for improvement.
One win in thirteen against Arsenal was an unenviable record but Wenger’s side has often had the measure of Liverpool. Roberto Martinez’s Everton were making rapid strides and arrived at Anfield confident that they were equals. Both were thrashed and it isn’t a Brendan Rodgers-esque hyperbolic outpouring to suggest that the two results were somewhat kind on Liverpool’s opponents as they did not truly reflect the magnitude of destruction wreaked by the Merseyside men in Red. Everton should have joined Tottenham or Norwich in receiving six and seven goal tonkings replete with a tidy clean sheet. Man City put six past Arsenal but conceded three; Liverpool scored five but should never have conceded one. Deduct one goal for Arsenal and add a couple more for Liverpool to gain a truer understanding of the gulf between the sides.
When Arsenal memorably (or not) lost 8-2 to Manchester United in August 2011, it wasn’t as bad as this. For a start, they have designs on greater things than they did that season and justifiably so. This is a good Arsenal side that has topped the Premier League for much of the season, qualified out of a tough group with Borussia Dortmund and Napoli, and responded excellently to disappointments away to the top flight’s Manchester clubs. This is not a weak side and Manchester United will most likely find out in midweek that Wenger’s side knows how to respond to adversity.
Played two and won two against the league’s best sides this year. Actually, played two and battered two. It could have been a lot more and that will imbue any Liverpool supporter with much confidence. Not forgetting that everything in life is actually the worst, there are a few sobering facts that merit mentioning. Liverpool are only three points ahead of Spurs and just five ahead of Everton, which amounts to being matchday or two from being on level points with those sides and that should not be so. However, the league never lies so there’s that to consider. Yet a side that has pulverised Everton, Arsenal, and Tottenham as well as quite a few of the sides struggling in the league should have at least a six point cushion when glancing back at its nearest rival. There’s more.
Only Manchester City have scored more goals and possess a better goal difference than Liverpool. The league’s top scorer is within our ranks and he is only one assist behind Wayne Rooney who sits at the top of the assist charts. That same Liverpool player is also the best player in the league and surveys all from the zenith of the European Golden Boot charts ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa. Continuing with goal scorers, only Luis Suarez has scored more Premier League goals than Daniel Sturridge while Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard feature highly among the league’s assist charts. Philippe Coutinho is in the middle and midfielding midfield with plenty of assists to come if he retains his current form. Those that doubt Coutinho should ask another young and promising number ten who resides in North London.
Is there more to consider? Take a guess. Manchester United are nine points behind Liverpool and travel to Arsenal while Liverpool travel to the league’s basement club (more on that in a few hundred words or so ladies and gentleman). To finish behind a side with such a rickety defence, soft midfield, and overawed manager would be unforgivable. Tottenham resume Europa League action and will endure the irritating midweek-Sunday schedule for as long as they remain in the competition. Everton’s firepower is greatly reduced without Arouna Kone, Romelu Lukaku, and Lacina Traore.
Liverpool have problems too and almost all are of a defensive nature in terms of performance and personnel. An end to Joe Allen’s fitness worries would result in excellent cover in midfield for Jordan Henderson or Philippe Coutinho while Lucas Leiva’s return would probably result in cover for Steven Gerrard. Rodgers’ redeployment of Gerrard and Coutinho is interesting but that will be discussed another day. What it does do is offer Liverpool two options at the base of midfield instead of one and Coutinho’s rebirth as a tigerish and energetic midfield playmaker may make dashed dreams of adding Rakitic in January hurt a little less. Cries for the composure of Alberto in midfield are fulfilled by Coutinho’s presence and Coutinho-Alberto, Henderson-Allen, and Gerrard-Lucas could be the first-choice and second-choice midfield setup for the remainder of the season.
Major midfield digression aside, we need our defenders back. Well done against Arsenal Cissokho but Enrique or Johnson should take your place as soon as they’re fit. You made up for that howler against West Brom (more on that game too coming soon to a lower line near you) Kolo and thank you for being such a good squad member but by Fowler, Sakho or Agger should hurry back from Crocksville to partner Skrtel. Kolo Toure has been playing in the left-sided position in the heart of defence, which is mostly unfamiliar to him judging by his spells at Manchester City and Arsenal. That’s not to offer excuses but some context. Skrtel will remain first choice in the right-sided slot central defensive slot for the rest of the season and rightly so. Scepticism from ETW about Skrtel’s suitability for Rodgers’ system has been laid low, albeit temporarily, by determined performances. The big Slovakian’s professionalism, loyalty, dedication, and heart was never in question so it was fitting that Suarez passed the armband onto Skrtel after receiving it from Gerrard.
Who wanted a fullback in January? ETW did but wasn’t available to partake in the peddling/flogging/cajoling/promoting of horses along with the good folk of the TLO community. In August, who thought they’d be heralding the return of Jon Flanagan from injury? The young Liverpudlian looks like a capable and dependable fullback on both sides and his rejuvenation was quite unexpected in this league season of the…well...unexpected. When Enrique and Johnson return, one of them will have to take a place on the bench alongside Sakho or Agger. Who saw that coming? Question marks remain over Glen Johnson’s form and Enrique’s fitness. Was Johnson carrying an injury so debilitating to excuse dreadful performances on the pitch or does the player require a new contract/transfer/competition to revive him? Can Enrique recover full fitness this season or are we looking at next season for meaningful contributions from the muscle-bound Spaniard?
All things considered and quibbles aired, ETW likes exactly where the club is at the moment. There is much to play for in England’s most cherished domestic competitions and there are elements that can be improved upon. Looking ahead to the next game only for the race for the top four, Liverpool could be in for a treat. Tottenham travel to Newcastle, Man United travel to Arsenal, and strikerless Everton are at home to stingy Crystal Palace. ETW doesn’t like to gamble with actual money but enjoys the predicting and gambling hustle. Think two away defeats and a home draw. Even if that’s not the case and all three win, playing the league’s bottom side should be little problem to a side who destroyed the league’s top side this past weekend. Fulham were the sort of side (but Rene has nipped that in by removing Taarabt, Ruiz, and Berbatov in line with a more dogged approach to survival) that Liverpool should do well against home or away because they tried to play a little. Fulham are not facing a side that will throw in a million crosses where a GBP37 million between the lines titan is tasked to play wide and throw crosses in to that heading specialist RVP. There'll have to be a different approach to stop a Liverpool side that counters with menace and can hold possession quite comfortably. Just as Liverpool failed to beat West Brom after inflicting the heaviest Merseyside derby defeat for decades, those sides who flatter to deceive fail to consolidate after achieving stunning victories.
Think of how Jose Mourinho’s brilliant tactical victory over Pellegrini (forget about his nonsensical mindgames) was followed up with a routine victory over Newcastle. That’s what’s needed. Brendan Rodgers’ has shown that he can be a clever tactician with a side that can deliver resounding victories but what will happen after that? What transpires after the hero rides into the sunset after defeating his arch nemesis? Does he die from a scratch from some odious upstart as Mercutio did? Does he allow some obsessive coward to make a name for himself through assassination? Of course not.
Liverpool are presented with another opportunity to build on an excellent victory. If the game goes ahead, Liverpool can show that they can defend set pieces, hold onto leads, close out tight games, and/or keep clean sheets to continue forward momentum. Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge, and now Coutinho are excelling in a balanced attack that helps us a little bit more at the back. We’re not far behind the top three and that is exactly how it should be. We may not win the Premier League crown but we’re the emerging force in town. After the season we’ve had so far where we’ve shown that we can score and then score lots more, Liverpool should finish in the top four.