Lack of squad depth halts recent improvement

Liverpool 1-1 Wigan Athletic
Saturday, 12th February 2011

For all of the progress and positive vibes surrounding Liverpool over recent weeks, this 1-1 stalemate in game which most were expecting Liverpool to win is just as telling a result as any other, if for contrasting reasons. A home draw with Wigan Athletic will no doubt serve as a reminder that this Liverpool team is far from the finished article. There is some significant work still to be done, both on and off the field if the Reds are to sustain their recent steady improvement.

This was more of a minor setback rather than any great cause for concern. Liverpool were made to pay for a lack of killer instinct and a generally below par performance, having taken an early lead. Steve Gohouri’s offside, second half goal earning a point for a Wigan side who have become something of a bogey team for the Reds over recent seasons.

Liverpool have now triumphed just twice is their last seven meetings with a Latics side which have almost exclusively been competing at the wrong end of the Premier League table during that period.

Kenny Dalglish was quick to put things into perspective afterwards. Pointing out that, after four consecutive victories including a win at Stamford Bridge, dropping two points can hardly be considered a disaster. Particularly when taking into consideration the precarious positions which the Reds have found themselves in earlier in the season.

However failing to beat Wigan Athletic at Anfield is sure to be a blow to aspirations of a late challenge for the final Champions League qualification place. A prospect which had been gaining increasing credibility after the recent dramatic upturn in form.

The outcome owed much to a lack of quality and genuine depth to Liverpool’s squad. Current man of the moment, Raul Meireles, bagged his fifth goal in six games but then had to be withdrawn in the early minutes of the second half – apparently due to illness.

And Liverpool were further hindered by other notable absentees in the shape of influential figures such Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger. Whilst Andy Carroll also remains some way off making his debut in a red shirt.

This display will have confirmed to Dalglish that many of the replacements currently at his disposal do not meet the required standard. It is this factor which may be liable to hinder any tangible achievement, this season at least, for a team which is still undoubtedly progressing in the right direction. Strengthening the current squad will surely be paramount on the agenda come the summer.

Liverpool reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, having experimented successfully with three centre-backs and wing-backs in the previous two games. Luis Suarez made his full debut in attack, alongside Dirk Kuyt. However, the Reds struggled to gather any momentum. Whilst genuine quality was the exception rather than the rule.

Although, that said, had the Reds demonstrated a greater clinical edge in the first half they may just have put this game beyond the visitors, before Wigan had been allowed to take stock and rally after the break. Kuyt was the first to test the Wigan goalkeeper from distance in the opening stages.

Suarez has already become a popular figure on the Kop. And a performance high on energy and inventiveness will have done little to harm the Uruguayan’s reputation amongst the fans. His direct approach was typified when he showed a good turn of direction and pace to get into the box. Before sending a shot beyond Ali Al Habsi but against the foot of the post.

Liverpool had already since taken the lead. Fabio Aurelio’s cross from the edge of the penalty area was partially cleared by Gohouri. However a technically excellent first time volley from Meireles gave Al Habsi no chance. The Portuguese has been a man inspired since the return of Dalglish and is evidently relishing the opportunity to play under his new manager.

Liverpool’s play was tidy and encouraging in spells. But they struggled to sustain any real threat of a second goal. As Wigan improved after the interval.

The Reds could do worse than to take a lesson from this Wigan team. Liverpool too often lack pace and penetration from midfield and on the wings. With Victor Moses, Charles N’Zogbia and the impressive youngster James McCarthey, this is one area in which Wigan possess some measure of strength.

Roberto Martinez’s team have been floundering in and around the relegation zone throughout the season. However the visitors battled well and looked a genuine threat in the final third on occasions. So much so, that they are sure to give themselves a genuine chance of Premier League survival if they are able to continue in the same vein for the remainder of the season.

Replays proved that the Wigan equaliser was offside – if only marginally. Although the men from Lancashire would probably have felt hard done by had they not salvaged a point. N’Zogbia sent in a cross from the right which was touched on by Antolin Alcaraz. Gohouri – who was still forward from a set-piece just prior to the goal – knocked the pass past Pepe Renia at the far post. And the goal was allowed to stand, despite the Ivorian starting from a position just ahead of Martin Kelly.

Liverpool needed to freshen things up and alter the course of the game, even prior to the equalising goal. However changes to personnel failed to offer the required improvement. The loss of goal scorer Meireles early in the second half was a blow. He was replaced by David N’Gog. Whilst Milan Jovanovic was also granted a rare chance in place of the tiring Kuyt. Yet neither offered much encouragement.

Suarez was often the most likely source of a goal and he came as close as anybody to claiming the three points. The forward was brought down by Gary Caldwell on the edge of the box – The Scot lucky to escape with just a caution. And Suarez picked himself up to curl the resulting free-kick against Ali Habsi’s crossbar.

Suarez curled another effort over having taken up his favoured position in the left channel and receive the ball from Maxi Rodriguez. And Aurelio drove a powerful shot from 20-yards just over the bar late on.

Ultimately the two teams had to settle for a point which, on reflection, both deserved. A blip to Liverpool’s recent upturn in fortunes. But perhaps a timely reminder of the job still to be done all the same.

Man of the Match
Lively and encouraging full debut from Suarez. On another day, he could have rounded it off with a goal. Should, hopefully, benefit from the return to fitness of Gerrard and Carroll.

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