Liverpool have had a very disappointing start to the 2014/15 season which is compounded after the highs and performances of last season. So who is to blame…
Its quite easy to single out certain players or the manager, but are they the reason behind the slump in form.
Steven Gerrard seems to be coming in for quite a bit of criticism of late, comments made about his age and his impact in the team but lets be honest, you can’t fault his love and dedication to the club. He is younger than Lampard who is still performing in a Premier League club at the top end of the table. Whilst Gerrards stats my not be as impressive overall compared to last season, I think he has been one of our better players.
Last season we had a settled midfield with Gerrard being partnered by Henderson. A combination that obviously worked well. This season Gerrard has been partnered by a variety of midfielders – most new to the club. Players like Can and Lallana etc. We have also seen Allen and Lucas return too. Henderson has not shown the form or consistency of last season and the other midfielders have left Gerrard exposed and unsupported. Its incredibly difficult to pick up 2-3 players running through the midfield on your own. The amount of time and space the opposition have in that area is unacceptable, They have time to look up and pass the ball around Gerrard easily, not pressured into mistakes like last season. The intensity and desire to get the ball back is missing.
When Gerrard has the ball, he is being pressured by the opposition. Often he has little time or even the option to pick a long forward pass due to the lack of movement around him or ability of the players ahead. Obviously his assist stats are going to be a lot lower if our front line are incapable of putting the ball in the net or making intelligent movement. The players around him need to support him too – he can’t do everything on his own – it is a TEAM game!
I cannot think of ANY player that has performed to the same level as last season. It is unfair to class Sturridge in this though as he has been injured since September – something that I think is a major contributor to our slump. However I don’t single out Gerrard as being the problem as he has still been one of our better players.
So is the Manager to blame. Is Brendan Rodgers not motivating the team, getting them playing to the standard and intensity we expect as fans? Is he picking the right team? Well maybe a bit but I do think he is in a difficult position. The players themselves are NOT performing to their potential and making mistakes. He is restricted by the players available too. As a manager you have to pick te best team but if everyone is under-performing then that is difficult. Looking at our strike force, we are seriously lacking fire power. Sturridge has been out injured, Lambert doesn’t have the ruthlessness, movement or pace, Borini is a headless chicken and not accurate enough, Balotelli is inconsistent and certainly not settled in and none of these work back (although Balotelli has shown that he is willing to add this to his game). Defensively we have seen far too many mistakes and no cohesion either. Mignolet has no serious competition and even with his mistakes is still a better option than Jones. The new comers haven’t settled in to the standard they showed at their previous clubs either.
Lets now talk about the new players signed and the major one that we ‘lost’ during the summer. Suarez was always going to be a major loss. His movement and unpredictability gave us something that made Liverpool something special last season. It also meant that opposition defences couldn’t support the midfield as they had Suarez and Sturridge to contend with. It’s no secret that I think we didn’t invest that wisely with his departure. I was critical of the decisions to buy Lambert and Lallana especially for the amount we did. I still think that Shaqiri would have been a much better option and I doubt Bayern would have refused a £20m bid – less than we paid for Lallana! Whilst the Manager has some imput in our signings, he is part of a committee. Ayre has not exactly done well with his negotiating – over paying on many players and refusing to pay a few million up front to secure others allowing other clubs to step in and secure these players. Its obvious that the committee option isn’t working for Liverpool. I can’t fault the owners overall as they have invested in the club – we were one of the top spenders and it looks like Liverpool will be redeveloping and expanding Anfield Stadium too.
So who is to blame, well I believe it is a combination of factors, circumstances and reasons. The players themselves must hold their hand up and accept that their own performances have not been at the standard expected – it is difficult for Rodgers as its the majority of players. You can’t drop or substitute an under-performing player for another under-performing player and get success. I doubt that Rodgers isn’t working hard to motivate and get these players up to the standard required. He is trying different combinations and attempting to get things right with the available squad. The committee responsible for buying players must take some responsibility too. They must of known that Suarez was leaving and what money that would likely generate too. So why didn’t they target a suitable replacement. I would quite happily not seen Lambert and Lallana signed IF that money had been utilised to buy a top quality Striker. Lallana was unnecessary in my opinion as we have Coutinho, Allen, Henderson, Sterling and even Ibe proved he could play at that level pre-season. Balotelli is and never will be able to play up front on his own and only Sturridge has the ability to play alongside him. I still think Balotelli can and will offer more and fit in better with a player like Sturridge up with him.
So what can Liverpool do to fix this situation. Well I do think some investment in January is required but that is a month away. Certain players need to be told to buck up their ideas or be sold in January. We obviously need a better strike force and a Goalkeeper – something I said before the season started. I said that Liverpool would struggle without Sturridge and Balotelli. even with his international status wouldn’t be our prime striker or get goals without Sturridge. I do think we need to look at our back room staff too – particularly our committee for buying players.
I don’t think we need to do things drastic like sacking Rodgers or dropping/selling Gerrard. I know he has been dropped to the bench against Stoke today but I believe that is more down to managing his fitness and his age. It would be difficult to expect him to play 3 matches at the standard we expect in 7 days – especially after all the travelling too. Rodgers may not be as experienced as some managers but he has also proven that he can turn things around and has a good tactical brain. He is also not frightened to drop players regardless of their status if he thinks it will benefit the squad. He is obviously trying to get things working for Liverpool, despite being hampered by squad availability, performance levels etc.
As a Liverpool fan, I just hope that we have damage limitation for December. I hope we get a result against Basle and don’t drop too many points before investing in the squad in January and clearing out some of the dead wood we didn’t get rid of in the summer. I hope that something ‘clicks’ for the new players too. After the start we have had, 4th is looking less likely but I still believe it is a possibility so lets get behind the team and give them a 12th man from the stands.