LFC 1-1 Wigan: Work in Progress

Liverpool 1-1 Wigan
Premier League
February 12th, 2011

Nobody really expected it, yet at the same time it was entirely predictable. It’s the way it always happens, though, so being held to a draw at home to Wigan on the back of a spectacular victory at Stamford Bridge should surprise no one. After all, it’s following the most memorable and magnificent performances that the reds always seem to falter a little, and today’s game is only the latest in a long line of results that furthers this trend.

Though in truth, Liverpool didn’t put on a wholly poor performance. Instead, it seemed like luck simply wasn’t on their side. After smiling kindly on them for the past few weeks, it had finally run out.

It ran out when Suarez hit the post after a dazzling cut inside to defy Wigan’s defence. It ran out when Wigan capitalised on an absent offside decision – as well as brief lapse in concentration from Liverpool’s defence – to score their scrappy equaliser. And it ran out, too, when Suarez doubled his tally of hitting the woodwork as his sweetly struck free kick soared high into the air after thudding against the bar.

On another day, Suarez may have been hunting a hat-trick in the game’s closing moments, the officials may have seen a close decision from a different perspective, and the reds may have marched towards a dominating victory. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that day where Liverpool could sit back and rely on fortune to do the work for them.

After an upturn in form saw the club get back to winning ways, it was easy to get carried away with Liverpool’s momentum, looking up – instead of down – the league table to see where the team could potentially end up. Indeed, prior to the game thoughts had shifted towards the lofty ambitions of resurrecting a challenge for the Champions League spots. Whilst these hopes were distant to begin with – and may have all but faded after the draw today – the simple fact that it even seemed a possibility indicates progress given the dire situation the club found itself in just over a month ago.

In much the same way, though, it’s easy to get carried away with today’s result.

Liverpool are in a precarious position as far as European qualification is concerned, having to rely either on the slipups of teams above them or on the chance that the winners of at least one of the two domestic cups are already qualified. Indeed, the only way for the reds to control their own fate is to win this season’s competition itself.

In this sense, then, today’s match at first glance feels even more damaging. Given the circumstances, it is a draw that bears remarkable similarities to an altogether different kind of result.

Simply put, it tastes like defeat, and with good reason.

But all is not lost for the reds. Whilst the result may have brought the team’s four-game winning streak to an inconspicuous end, it does not signal the end of Dalglish’s revival of the club. And the game, if nothing else, provides a stern lesson to the team: to keep their feet on the ground and pull towards victory, even when luck deserts them.

When Liverpool found its season slipping away from them, many were ready for it to be written off almost immediately, seeking to rebuild and prepare for next year. But the reds licked their wounds swiftly and, under Dalglish, emerged fighting quicker than anyone had anticipated.

But that idea of transition should still loom large.

This team remains a work in progress, and we shouldn’t expect instant results. In many ways this season should still be written off – the aim is to simply try and secure some form of European football for next year, and nothing more – and because of this, we shouldn’t lose heart over the smaller details of the season as a whole.

Instead, we should take note of the positives, and the optimism they offer for the future.

Raul Meireles’ continued excellent form – and the fact that he is potentially up there as the most lethal practitioner of the volley to have graced the sport – tops this list. He was inspired against Wigan and the team seemed to crumble after he departed just after half time. His disappearance allowed Wigan back into the game, whilst Liverpool, conversely, seemed to lose some of their attacking drive. After a modest start Meireles has become a talismanic figure at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield, and with every game he is looking more integral to the side than ever.

Luis Suarez, meanwhile, picked up where he left off against Stoke with an incisive attacking display filled with flair and finesse, and as I have mentioned, but for a few strokes of bad luck he could’ve changed the scoreline entirely. He looks to have settled into the squad quickly and everything points to a flurry of goals for him and the team once he gets to full fitness and sharpness. On today’s evidence, you wouldn’t think he’d been missing from the game for so long after his ban in the Dutch league.

A point that has been understated a few times this season is the absence of Steven Gerrard. Today, for example, the team didn’t seem to miss their leader too much, the negativity of the eventual scoreline aside. They played with confidence and fluidity, much in the same way they did the last time he was missing, during the 3-0 victory against Wolves. This in itself speaks volumes about the progressing spirit and reliance upon teamwork within the side; it is a far cry from seasons past, where Liverpool, the ‘one-man team’, have been so reliant on their talisman to propel them forward.

If anything, the question now is how he fits back into the team, given the form of Meireles and Lucas in the centre of midfield. You could argue that the team have played better as a whole when he isn’t there. It’s a nice problem for Dalglish to have, and it illustrates the depth of Liverpool’s team in that position.

Unfortunately, that depth doesn’t extend to the entire squad. Liverpool’s bench today perhaps decided the game. When the reds desperately needed a goal, the sub-par N’Gog and Jovanovic were all Dalglish could call upon, and their impact today was minimal. Johnson still doesn’t look perfectly fluent in the left-back role, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that the team could do with a quality winger to add more balance to a midfield that, at times, seems to try to do too much at once. Fluidity and interchanging roles are one thing, but sometimes it’s better to have a specialist rather than a number of jack-of-all-trades trying to fill out each position.

It all points to the necessity of that extra bit of investment the team needs in the summer to get closer to the finished article.

Of course, there is one more absence that I still haven’t touched on; one that may solve these attacking problems without further investment. When Andy Carroll finally makes his way into the team, the options in attack will be bolstered to no end, and one would hope that we will see the difference in games like today.

Against Wigan there may have been a fine line between success and failure; Liverpool will be hoping that 6 feet and 3 inches will be enough to bridge that gap in the future.

In short, when everything comes together, it’s plain to see that there is much more to come from the reds. Certainly, one disappointing result shouldn’t take away from the optimism that permeates Anfield at present. The seeds have been sown for future success, and now it’s all about playing the waiting game until they grow into a team with a winning mentality and the talent to match. Whether it materialises this season or whether we will have to wait until the next is irrelevant. Sooner or later, it will happen.

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