Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool tenure has failed to ignite. A stuttering start to the season has dispelled any hope of a honeymoon period and instead exposed many of the same old frailties. Nobody expected a quick fix but signs of progress were anticipated, however small.
Sadly, there have been none to speak of. Instead Hodgson has grappled with the side, bumbling from one faux-pas to another. For all his experience, he seems incapable of imposing any real change to a painfully stagnant team. Last night’s turgid draw in Utrecht further evidenced the on-field demise and the manager’s initial shortcomings.
Reds supporters are by no means fickle and this one is no different. We are famed for our unwavering loyalty and stop-short of calling for anyone’s head prematurely. But by the same token, we are clued-up on our football and capable of noting grave tactical errors. Three months into the job, Uncle Roy is making too many of these.
Firstly the overall style of play is mind-numbing. With each game the side is set-up primarily to avoid defeat. Caution underlined Hodgson’s work at Fulham, who excelled in their role as underdogs. The basis for any success was organisation aimed at frustrating the opposition. We witnessed it first hand when they ground-out a stalemate at Anfield last term.
But transcending that approach to Liverpool, who can outclass most opponents, has not worked. Moreover, it is wrong. Players of the calibre of Gerrard, Torres and Cole can spearhead a more offensive style of play. If given license to attack, that trio could inspire victories against most domestic opponents.
As it is, they are shackled – leading to approach work which is laboured, predictable and lacking any zest. There is minimal creativity, and a dearth of chances for Torres to feed upon.
Right now it is no exaggeration to say Liverpool are the most boring side in the Premier League – an upsetting statement. As well as the big three, the likes of Spurs, Villa and Man City all hunt victories. We on the other hand hope to grind them out, without limited reward.
Team selection has also proved baffling thus far. If the manager is to proceed with two deep lying central midfielders, one must be capable of springing attacks courtesy of his range of passing. Never should both Lucas and Christian Poulsen be paired in tandem. Both self-proclaimed stoppers, neither has the vision nor quality required to initiate chances. In addition, they sit so deep it leaves an almighty chasm between themselves and the forward four. This simply adds to the lack of service but also pens the defence in all too often. Jamie Carragher could be heard throughout the Utrecht game imploring his team-mates to push-up. Frustratingly though, they were boxed-in as a result of how deep the midfield chose to be.
A permanent change in formation also seems out of the question, as if 4-5-1 is ingrained upon Liverpool forever more. By accident we stumbled across 4-4-2 both last night and at Eastlands, but failed to embrace the alteration. Therefore, brace yourself for a revert to type against Blackpool this Sunday. A fresh approach may be just the tonic and could cajole a side accustomed to the same set-up for three years or more.
Roy also seems to have developed a dose of ‘square peg syndrome‘, symptomatic of all to have occupied the hot seat in recent years. Raul Meireles, despite being somewhat of an unknown quantity, has played his entire career from the centre of the park. Why then has he been pushed out wide since joining the Reds? The Portuguese star resembles Jo Brand in a beauty contest. Evidently flustered when on the ball, he consistently looks inward to retain possession.
Again, such conservatism undermines any forward forays. The same could be said of the opposite flank, where a bewildered Joe Cole has struggled this month. Signed with a view to playing-off the front-man, that theory has been abandoned almost immediately. Like Meireles, he has been tossed out of position, as though he cannot be trusted with a central berth. For all his obvious skill, Cole is right-footed and continually looks inwards also. With risk of morphing into a parrot, this kills any width and overloads the middle.
Given the sluggishness of their play, Liverpool are crying-out for wingers. The idea of promoting Glen Johnson to the flank has been divisive but now may be the time to test that option. Admittedly, this contradicts the idea of starting players in their favoured position but if Hodgson is to persist with that logic, at least do it with a shred of purpose.
The bleakest moment of this season up to now was obviously the humbling at the hands of Northampton Town. Though he should not be criticised for blooding youngsters that night; his selection of substitutes proved the ultimate downfall. Of those chosen for bench duty, Nathan Eccleston was the most experienced. That left Hodgson vulnerable from the off, if, as has so often been the case, the ‘reserves’ failed to produce. Would it have hurt to have say Cole on the bench? Torres maybe? The former needed games after a lengthy suspension, while the latter has been searching for form and goals with no avail. Both may have swung the pendulum that wet night.
The result itself also extinguished any real hope of securing silverware this year. The old adage of it only being the League Cup may be bandied about but it represented a trophy, something we are without since 2006. Hodgson should have shown it more respect given that fact.
I also fear elimination could curtail any progress made by Dani Pacheco. In pre-season Hodgson challenged the young Spaniard to break into the first-team but what chance will he have now? The odd cameo is not enough, nor is ninety-minutes played out of position on the right flank. A classy talent could be wasted unless the manager takes a punt in the near future.
To a lesser degree the same could be said of Ryan Babel. An obvious misfit, he has not been given a chance to re-ignite his Anfield career under a new boss – something he may have relished. For all his infuriating weaknesses, Babel does offer something different and potent, which should not be completely ignored at this time.
Press conferences have also produced some strange anecdotes to put it mildly. Propaganda it may be, but when Hodgson masks dire showings against Birmingham and Utrecht by claiming we won valuable points it casts him as in denial. The same could be said of his positive spin on the loss at Old Trafford. In the coach’s eyes that defeat was a close-run thing but the truth is we were outplayed throughout and only Steven Gerrard’s brilliance spared our blushes.
Hodgson always struck me as an honest guy with a lot of self-respect, not someone who would kid himself and supporters with such blatant tosh.
Then came the criticism of fan protests before the Sunderland game – branding them ‘unhelpful.’ As one of thousands of supporters involved in an ongoing email campaign and general drive to oust the Americans, this angered me somewhat. The very future of our club hangs on a knife-edge and as vigilant fans we are desperately seeking a positive resolution. Dismissive remarks of that ilk are discouraging and hardly helpful. Though retracted in a blaze of backtracking late Saturday the quotes had already been heard.
RH has also conceded he is unsure of where to play the aforementioned Meireles and needs more time with him on the training field. Given the fact this is our marquee summer signing, I find this nonsensical. Homework should have been done and Roy should have had a set role in mind upon his arrival. How can this be explained?
Last week he went as far to say that expectations are too high. I disagree. We are realists. We do not expect to be winning the title this season, perhaps not even challenging but we do expect to be higher than 15th and showcasing a more progressive brand of football.
Overall Hodgson seems to be stuck in a mid-table mindset. His tactics prove as much, as too his ambitions. That begs the question, is this job too big for him?
The above charge sheet is incriminating and suggests the answer to that question is yes. Nevertheless, for all his faults Hodgson still has my backing, for now. He was always walking into a chaotic situation, with an immediate disadvantage of not being Kenny Dalglish.
The club is shrouded in a hurricane of uncertainty and perhaps off-field dramas are impacting on his reign. Nevertheless, without dominating the Premier League we anticipated better. Better tactics, better style, better performances and better results. Time will tell whether the former Fulham man is out of his depth or if he can stabilise the wreckage. One certainty is he must improve, fast.