Liverpool’s half-term report would frustratingly read: could do better.
After 21 league games the reds currently sit a somewhat disappointing seventh, punishment for a chronic lack of cutting edge. There has been undoubted progress since August but a consistent failure to convert chances has cost the team dear. The January transfer window provides the perfect opportunity to remedy those struggles and Kenny Dalglish must move heaven and earth to acquire a proven goal-scorer.
Saturday’s draw with Stoke was a dour affair. In-keeping with so many home games this season Liverpool toiled and struggled to break-down a resilient backline. Yet unlike previous stalemates at Anfield, where chances have been fashioned if not converted, this weekend saw a distinct lack of creativity. One shot on target tells a sorry story and Luis Suarez’s absence was glaring.
Opting to play Dirk Kuyt as a lone forward bemused many. Given the Dutchman has notched just a single goal all season the reasoning was hard to fathom. The decision also highlighted blatant indifference towards Andy Carroll, surely tailor-made to face such bruising opponents.
Kuyt has been a terrific player for Liverpool and will always be held in the highest esteem. Nonetheless his performances this term have bordered on the embarrassing. His work-rate is of course guaranteed but his touch and influence in the final third seem to have deserted him. A victim of rotation his confidence has suffered from no longer being guaranteed a first-team spot. He is by no means a lost cause but Dalglish must get more out of him between now and the end of the season. A drop in the Dutchman’s goal return has hurt the side, who rely on him reaching double figures most seasons. With the likes of Charie Adam (2), Jordan Henderson (1) and Stewart Downing (1) providing precious little in the goal-getting department the burden is on Kuyt to chip-in and help-out. His headed miss at the Kop End on Saturday captured his recent plight quite perfectly.
Carroll meanwhile resembles a train-wreck of a striker. One of his sternest supporters even I am coming to terms with the fact this marriage may never work. Cumbersome, immobile, wasteful … the Geordie seems out of his depth and cuts a lonely figure. Admittedly, at times teammates have left him isolated and feeding on speculative crosses but the £35 million man must address his own failings and fast. He is far too slow on the turn and seldom darts into the box with any conviction. His control often halts momentum which is detrimental to our fast, counter-attacking style. And then there is his perplexing tendency to drift out wide as oppose to occupying defenders centrally. His lowly return of just four goals (two in the league) have set the side back and hindered pre-season expectations.
In many ways you have to feel for Carroll. Only 23 he is out of his Newcastle comfort zone, playing for one of the biggest clubs in Europe and weighed-down by a startling price tag. He also remains fairly fresh to the Premier League, where he enjoyed merely a honeymoon period at the start of the last campaign. Despite admirable support from Dalglish his confidence is clearly in tatters and he appears to be at a crossroads. It would come as no surprise to see him offloaded in the summer coupled with a host of ‘what ifs’. But the reds cannot wait that long to rectify their shoddy goal difference.
Both Arsenal and Chelsea’s inconsistency mean the top four is by no means out of reach. With the exception of Tottenham away there has not been a game where we haven’t had a strangle-hold on possession. Our downfall is those harrowing statistics in front of goal. The return of Suarez will provide some light relief but he alone is not the answer. A fabulous footballer and the architect of some glorious playmaking he is not an out-and-out poacher, ala Robbie Fowler or Michael Owen. Indeed the Uruguayan needs that kind of foil to compliment his superb approach work.
Predictably a whole host of names have been bandied about, some with as much credence as a John Terry police defence. Everyone from Darren Bent to Wilfried Zaha have been linked though Dalglish dampened all rumours last week when announcing arrivals were unlikely. In fairness few could blame John Henry and his board for ignoring this window in-light of the vast sums shelled-out for average return thus far. Ironically of the summer acquisitions our two cheapest have fared best. Craig Bellamy and Jose Enrique have proven far more effective than Downing, Henderson or Adam. However the lure and prestige of Champions League football may persuade a punt of some kind before February. After all our problems are not widespread but defined and treatable with just one signing or even a loan.
The morning press pinpoint Jermain Defoe as the latest in a long line of targets. A definite long-shot he would fit the mould perfectly for the right fee. An eye for goal almost as sharp as his eye for the ladies the England hit-man would thrive on opportunities squandered by our impudent frontline. Convincing Harry Redknapp to sell to a rival and the player himself to move north are two stumbling blocks but ones surely worth tackling.
Further improvements are required down the line – issues such as a right-winger and a creative midfielder but adding a striker in January would set-up a real push for the Champions League in 2012. That was the target at the beginning of the season and one still within our grasp at the half-way point. With home games on the horizon against City, United, Spurs, Everton and Arsenal we are entering a defining period, one in which we cannot afford to falter as a result of our own profligacy.