A much more encouraging performance from the Reds at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon will hopefully act as a platform for improved fortunes on the pitch for the remainder of the league season. A solid performance from the Reds against a distinctly unimpressive Chelsea side, with Liverpool arguably creating the better chances of the course of the 90 minutes and rarely threatened by Chelsea. If this game had been played a few months earlier in the season it may well have heralded cries of two points dropped by Liverpool fans, which in fact was perhaps the case; however if someone had been offered one point on Sunday morning I would have likely to have snapped their fingers off! Which rather sums up the course that this season has taken. A draw at Stamford Bridge is a respectable result at the best of times, but when you consider the current prediciment in the league and the poor form of recent months – combined of course with the debacle off the pitch – and a point away to a top three side has to be greeted positively.
Perhaps one of the most promising aspects to take from the Chelsea match was the remainder that on the pitch Liverpool in fact are not that far behind the likes of Chelsea, despite what the table implies. There are players at the club who can more than match the likes of Chelsea, Man U and Arsenal, although of course there are also a number of memebers of the playing squad who cannot. There are certainly areas of the field were Liverpool could improve, preferably with urgency in order to consistently bridge that gap, although the off field problems look likely to hinder any attempts make these required changes in the near future. The wide positions stand out as an area in need of a boost. Harry Kewell and John Arne Riise are two names that have consistently been accussed of lacking the necessary quality, and rightly so, although some of the other players in the full-back and wing positions could also be improved upon.
Ryan Babel is a player who has bundles of potential (you don’t play for Ajax and Holland at such a young age otherwise), we have seen this promise in fits and starts this season although he certainly does not appear to be the finished article. Babel does seem inconsistent and perhaps a little lazy at times but his pace and direct style of play means that he can causes problems for any defence, including Chelsea‘s on Sunday. He undoubtedly casues more of a threat than some of the other players in his position. Babel is the sort of player that will always cause a divide between those fans who want players to work hard and perform consistently all of the time and those who accept that a player such as Babel is liable to be inconsistent and suffer lapses in concentartion but are willing to accept that in the knowledge that he always has the potential to cause danger for the opposition. In this way he may be likened to a player such as Luis Garcia. Perhaps it is time to give him a lengthier run in the starting XI to show what he can do; I feel that it will probably be at least next season before we see the best of Ryan Babel.
The main problem which arises from playing Babel regularly in the side is his positioning. He does not seem to be a natural wide man and as a consequence regularly looks to cut infield with the ball. Babel’s best position is probably as a second striker in behind the main striker. This is a common problem throughout that squad, Yossi Benayoun also prefers to cut inside and even Jermaine Pennant can be guilty of lacking width at times. This lack of natural width and quality in wide areas is one of the key problems at present. Not only does wing play and quality crosses provide ammunition for Peter Crouch and Fernando Torres – both strong headers and volleyers of the ball – but it would also help Liverpool to spread the game more and make the pitch bigger, all to often this season Liverpool have tried to play to narrowly and through the middle with options lacking out wide. Crouch’s headed goal from Jamie Carragher’s cross against Sunderalnd was a perfect illustartion of the benefit of a full back over-lapping and providing a quality cross. Also in the Sunderland game Jermaine Pennant general provided a regular threat wide on the right, even though his crossing at times lacked quality.
The last two games against Sunderland and Chelsea were examples of Liverpool playing to there strengths. The battling spirit evident against Chelsea and the willingness of players to play out of position when required and still grind out a decent result against Sunderland can be viewed as a move in the right direction and will hopefully ilicit more confidence and promise and about this season and also about the club. The last two games have also highlighted once more that it is the same faces who can be relied upon regularly. The likes of Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia have been most the prominent figures willing to battle when backs have beem against the wall so to speak. Although the soild performances of Martin Skrtel after a shaky start and, dare I say it, even an improved performance from Dirk Kuyt at the weekend perhaps provide further reasons to at least attempt to be positive about the season.
Whilst this promise and endevour is unlikely to be sufficient alone in the long term, it has hopefully helped to stabalise the Reds season and instill some much needed confidence into the players and the fans alike. And just in time with an ever-more-important meeting with Inter Milan luming on the horizon, not to mention the battle to reserrect the league season and must win encounters with the likes of Middlesborough, Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United.