Up for discussion in this week’s RedKopi Discussion Panel;
- Four successive defeats
- The Lucas and Mascherano midfield partnership
- Have we got the manager, the squad, the players, the spirit and the belief to secure a first Premier League crown this season
“For The Kop, though, this was not meant to be another year of hole-plugging and Scouse defiance. It was supposed to be the campaign when a 20-year wait came to an end.”
– The Guardians Paul Hayward
Mark: “The River Mersey sits turbulent, discordant and raucous for another week. Not since April 1987 have Liverpool suffered four successive defeats.
We suffered our fourth Premier League defeat of the season at the Stadium of Light, a result that left Liverpool a distant eighth in the Premier League, seven points behind the leaders Manchester United.
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Matthew: “Beach ball or not, we were atrocious against the Black Cats on Saturday. We were totally out-muscled by a very resilient and organised side, who on another day, could have easily been two or three up by the hour mark. It was a nightmare, from start to finish.
The three at the back did not work. We looked all over the place at times and failed to create any real clear cut chances until the last ten minutes. It was a shame that the game was decided by such a freak goal, but that can be no excuse for what was an awful performance. Sunderland well and truely deserved the three points. A vast improvement needed.
Mark: “On Tuesday night, despite Martin Kellys impressive full debut at right back our defeat to Lyon left our hopes of Champions League progress on a knife edge. Yossi Benayoun’s 41st-minute opener was cancelled out by substitute Maxime Gonalons and an injury-time winner from Cesar Delgado.
Sam: “To me, against Lyon, we had a much better game than the fare we’ve seen lately, and were in control for much of the match. Looking at stats from the Beeb, we had identical possession, identical shots (both on and off target, with six each!), and one more corner (6:5). We fouled more though, 11 to seven, suggesting we were either put under more pressure or panicked more.
This to me the Lyon encounter was our best game in a while, with our youngsters shining on the night. All of Lucas, Insua, N’gog and the precocious Kelly did us very proud. Though not entirely back to his offensive best, I still thought Agger was solid at the back and will find his shooting boots soon. I didn’t feel entirely deflated and thought if we can play that way against the Mancs we will have a chance.
I express worry about our lengthening injury list but have optimism in our depth. Our Reserve players, alongside fringe ones like Voronin, might still help us hold the fort pending the arrival of our core axis (Gerrard-Torres) while Aquilani enjoyed a 15 minute run-out for the reserves on Wednesday night during our 2-0 win over Sunderland at Prenton Park.
We shouldn’t be hard on ourselves to be honest, and I have this gut feeling things are about to turn for a surprising finale to this season.
Mark: “Despite recent results, one of the things that has impressed me the most this season has been the form of Lucas in the centre of midfield. Lucas has come under close scrutiny following Alonso departure. So far I feel he has proved he has a bit of everything, he’s young, he’s very calm on the ball, he is an excellent passer and he can also get forward. ”
Sam: “Is there a more maligned player on our team today? I feel that any “issue” with Lucas extends beyond “replacing Alonso”. The club’s going through a very difficult phase, with fans getting increasingly frustrated with the current state of play, and for whatever reasons its Lucas we’ve pinned our angst on.
We love history at Anfield so I’ll remind our fans about a number of things; on March 14 2008 Lucas contributed to our win over Man U (away), ironically playing in Alonso’s place. On April 14 his goal almost gave us another come-from-behind win in the CL at Chelsea. Despite our loss at White Hart Lane, Lucas was solid in central midfield. He hardly put a foot wrong against Deberecen at Anfield, constantly disrupting their play and finding Reds with his passes.
Tetteh: “Lucas has been pushed into the deep end this season and he has held his own. He’s gotten more physical, is better in possession, has made several crucial tackles and is growing with each match he completes for our team. He has showed tremendous mental strength to stay focused and maintain some self-belief despite a rough season last year where he was occasionally booed and sometimes unfairly singled out for blame in bad team performances.
I have been pleased that he has improved so much since last year, and although he isn’t a direct replacement for Alonso and has had to take many steps forward to fill that void, he has more than held his own – arguably our best player in at least one or two matches so far, and only pipped to the man of the match when Yossi scored his hattrick against Burnley.”
Mark: “His performance that day against Burnley was eyecatching. He had just returned from international duty with Brazil the day before that game and prior to our game he had to have an injection for a knock he picked up on international duty, however, he pushed himself through the pain barrier and turned in a brilliant performance. With Mascherano still in Argentina for treatment on his injury, Lucas played the holding role alongside Gerrard and frequently won back possession and spread the play intelligently
Matthew: “Before I start, I’d like to state that I am not one of the people who have consistently come on here and ‘slagged’ Lucas off, rain or shine. But the truth is he isn’t good enough.
There has been a slight improvement from him this season, granted. He seems to be getting more stuck in and timing his tackles better, but still, he offers very little offensively. He still jerks responsibility for me. He never seems to look or command for the ball. He just seems to hide at times.
Saturday was another prime example of this. Playing alongside an inexperienced player like Spearing and with the absence of key players, we needed him to stand up and be counted. He didn’t.”
Craig: “Whilst Lucas has undoubtedly improved this season and deserves credit for overcoming many of his doubters, I still feel that his game is perhaps too limited when paired with Javier Mascherano in midfield. I always felt that some of his critics were overly harsh on Lucas last season and that he was often used as a scapegoat when others equally performed poorly, although in fairness he did put in some poor performances last season. He is, of course, only young and playing regularly for Brazil at such an age must stand for something.
He likes to keep things simple and looks to move possession on quickly rather than keeping the ball, which can at times be a good quality. But, whilst his pass completion stats may be very good, he will very rarely attempt a risky or incisive ball and seems to desperately lack an attacking instinct.”
Mark: “He has been asked to replace Alonso so far this season when in reality he is perhaps better suited to fill in for Mascherano.”
Sam: “He’s more like Mascherano, in fact near identical. Same energy, prone to the odd bad tackle, but even then, more offensive. I feel that Lucas is best played alongside a different player, this season that player being Gerrard. Gerrard will do more offensive work, leaving Leiva to clean up alongside him, and protect the defense behind. I don’t think Lucas-Masche is working – at least as of now. But then again, playing Gerrard and Lampard together has confounded all until Capello showed up!
Craig: “I agree that Lucas is more suited to the ‘Mascherano’ role than the ‘Alonso’ role and the issue this season had been that pairing Mascherano and Lucas together has resulted in a lack of creativity and ability in possession from midfield. I don’t feel Lucas is creative enough to play this role and the recent defeat to Lyon was a prime example of this, with the Reds midfield lacking creativity and unable to gain an element of control over the game.
I feel that when Alberto Aquilani is fit there will be a choice between Lucas and Mascherano as to who will partner the Italian, and I can only see Mascherano’s defensive ability winning that contest.”
Matthew: “His partnership with Mascherano is too defensive and lacks creativity and control. You are right when you say that he is more suited to a ‘Masch’ like role, but we don’t need, nor want two players doing that role and Mascherano is on a completely different level to Lucas anyway.
We all know Mascherano’s role. He is the destroyer. His job is to offer cover to our defence and break up the oppositions play. Masch doesn’t offer an awful lot offensively, although this season he has improved in that sense with his passing and cross field balls that he has tried more often. I really do think that this has come on because of playing with Lucas. Maybe Masch feels he has to do this to make up for Lucas?
For me, the person who plays alongside him needs to offer something offensively to make up for this and help link up with our forward players. With Alonso we had someone who made us tick. He was a player who would always keep the ball moving and offered something creatively with his passing ability.
This season we have neither with Lucas. A steady player, but just not what we need. Aquilani sounds like the right sort of player, but lets just hope with all the expectation resting on his shoulders to deliver, he can do. Because, by god. We need him too!”
Sam: “Let’s also remember Lucas is only 21. He is a lot like Kuyt in character, with both going through a phase of doubt and criticism, yet hanging on to become team lynchpins. We can do with more of such.”
Mark: “Kopblog editor Gerry Ormonde recently commented “Lucas deserves a huge amount of credit for the effort he has put in and for never letting his head drop even when it seemed at times he has been surrounded by doubters”
Sam: “Regardless of what detractors claim, Lucas has been very consistent this season, with solid performances in just about every game I’ve seen. He gives 110%, works hard, never puts his head down (as has been observed by others), and just won’t quit.”
Tetteh: “Lucas still has his critics and still has a fair amount of improvement to make before he’ll win over some of his doubters. But his status in our team reminds me of the way UTD fans treated Darren Fletcher a few years ago when only Alex Ferguson seemed to understand why he was in the team. That trust from the manager was crucial and Fletcher is now a very important member of Uniteds squad.”
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Mark: “Moving away from Lucas… Everyone at Anfield is determined to secure a first Premier League crown this season…… Have Liverpool finally got the manager, the squad, the players, the spirit and the belief to go all the way?”
Sam: “Do we have the right manager at Anfield? To answer this, it would be instructive to look at what our team is like (overall). Why is it that every season end he is linked with the giants of soccer, the Real Madrids’ and Juves’? Our squad lacks depth, which is as clear as daylight to the sighted. We lack strong alternatives at right back, striking, our wings, and all in all, lack personnel we can interchange in our favored 4-2-3-1.
Despite this, we keep overachieving – and again, all without having funds to buy the quality we need to go to the next level. Our current spirit reminds me of someone who’s made it in life having overcome inferiority complex earlier on. No matter what they end up achieving, there are moments they remember what they used to be and get deflated. We do act inferior at times to the rest of our competitors, esp. members of the Big Four. Our fans Jekyll and Hyde support doesn’t help either, abandoning the team (silence) when we’re down. This is an area we can definitely improve.
Back to our manager, is he the right one? With what I’ve enumerated above, and plenty more, we’ve still been able to win a CL title, return to another final, win the European Super Cup and FA Cup, and push Man U all the way to the title last season. We’re yet to drop below fifth in the league (while consistently proving a handful in Europe), all without financial support from (non-existent) owners, and competing against cash-rich teams. I don’t see a better manager for us than Rafa. We will win the League, this year, the next or wherever. Our chief opponent isn’t from the Big Four, but from within us.
Craig: “This is the eternal recurring question which comes up every season. Liverpool came so close to achieving that elusive 19th title last season and there is a real sense among many fans now, considering the recent desperate form, that last year may have been a major opportunity missed.
The debate which has been raging this week has concerned Rafa – whether his time has come or whether he should continue. I don’t feel this is even really up for debate at the moment.
True this is a crucial time for Benitez to prove himself and is arguably the toughest period of his tenure in charge at Anfield. But Liverpool are not really in a position to be sacking established managers, with an apparent lack of money, resources and adequate replacements. Getting rid of Benitez would certainly result in us taking a step back further in the short-term and it was only a matter of months ago that everyone was lauding the manager for his achievements.
The club needs stability so ultimately the man in charge has to be considered the right man for the job. Whether he will be the right manger ultimately I guess only time will tell.
In order to win such a tough league you have to have a squad of top quality players. The Reds proved by coming so close last season that they do have some outstanding players, capable of winning major honours. However the recent injury crisis has served to highlight what many had feared, Liverpool don’t have the necessary strength in depth, especially when compared to the likes of Man United and Chelsea.
It is frustrating because Liverpool do have a very similar squad to last season and on that evidence they can be genuine title contenders. But I always felt that it was absolutely necessary that the squad was improved over the summer in order to move forward. This was’nt achieved; whether due to a lack of funds or a lack of nous in the transfer market no one really knows.
But the squad short in too many areas. Strikers are a prime example, Fernando Torres may be possibly the best striker in the world but others are needed to back him up and one really should have been signed in the summer. It is frustrating to see Peter Crouch, Robbie Keane and Craig Bellamy, three players who have worn the Red shirt in recent seasons, all performing well for their respective clubs. Whilst all departures had their reasons, surely at least one should still be sat on the bench at Anfield?
In terms of spirit and belief, I think last season provided the team with good experience and proved that many do have the resolve and belief despite narrowly missing out. However I feel that there is a chronic lack of confidence and belief in the team at the moment, which doesn’t help the poor form. I think there also sometimes seems to be a lack of leaders; perhaps trying to hold on to Sami Hyypia for another year would have been a good idea in hindsight.”
Tetteh: “I think we have what it takes to be involved right up until the end once again this season. But then again, so do UTD and Chelsea, and City are also looking somewhat dangerous. Arsenal are threatening to be a force to be reckoned with as well.
So although I believe we have what it takes to push our title challenge right up until the last couple of fixtures, I’m also convinced it’ll be one of the closest races in a very long time between more than just 2 teams. To win those kinds of races, in addition to the manager, the squad, the players, the spirit and the belief, you need a little bit of fortune, especially with injuries and the occasional close refereeing call that goes your way.
I’m hopeful we’ll lift the title this year, but it’s far too early to be either overly optimistic or pessimistic. So I’ll get back to you in February.
Sam: “A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are. In my time at Anfield we always said we had the best two teams on Merseyside, Liverpool and Liverpool reserves.” Bill Shankly
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