After the usual excitement in the build-up that surrounds the derby match against the Blues, the game certainly didn’t live up to the anticipated occasion.
We were however, perhaps due a flat derby game, considering some of the incredible clashes we’ve been lucky enough to have witnessed over the last few seasons, but it was a game that won’t live long in the memory and it wasn’t the memorable last derby that legend Jamie Carragher would have hoped for in his 30th and final Merseyside derby.
It was an encounter that lacked everything associated with the traditional derby clashes we are used to seeing. There wasn’t any tempo to the game, very few hard but fair challenges, very little quality (especially in the final third) and the atmosphere inside Anfield from both sets of supporters quite clearly reflected this despite efforts from reds and blues to lift their own teams.
The most heated fixture historically in the Premier League never even really became lukewarm, despite the help of the Anfield sunshine, and the fixture has left us strangely short of talking points in comparison to previous derbies. However, one discussion point that has been not only been born out of the derby but has unfortunately been present in a number of recent games, is the lack of tempo and urgency in Liverpool’s play currently.
“Pressing” is a word that we have heard mentioned a lot since Brendan Rodgers took charge, but it is a style of play off the ball that has been displayed just as many times as it hasn’t this campaign. Part of this is down to the fact that it is something we cannot carry out every game, due to a lack of mobility in certain areas of the pitch which is something that I have spoken of before on This Is Anfield.
However, last week’s game at Newcastle showed what can happen if the team starts the game on the front foot, forcing the issue, taking the game to the opposition on and off the ball. But a little too often this season we haven’t started games with enough ferocity and gone at them from the first whistle. The recent matches in the derby, against Chelsea and the goalless draw at home to West Ham are examples of how games can pan out if we don’t start with urgency and tempo.
The slow and lethargic starts that have seen us draw 4 of our last 5 games, only cause problems to ourselves, as it leaves us less time to rescue the game, so it is really in our interests to make sure we come out of the blocks quickly. And the stats in argument for starting well are in our favour: Of our 14 league wins this season, in 13 of them, we scored the first goal, Villa away being the only exception to that where we came from behind to win 2-1.
It clearly shows that when we start strongly and take the lead in games, we grow in confidence and have the correct tactics and plan of how to go onto win games and claim maximum points. We have the pace and mobility in forward areas of the pitch to go in search of the ball as well as the ability to then dictate play and cause damage, and this is certainly something we should make more use of. And of our 9 defeats this season, in seven of them we conceded first, showing that we find it difficult to come back from behind, yet another reason as to why scoring first is as important for us currently as it has ever been.
Next season will see expectation increase on Rodgers after a season of “laying the foundations” and results will be expected to improve as the team launch their assault on the top four. It is obvious that it is important for us with our current style of play, to score first as we struggle to come from behind but this needs to be improved and the way to do this is by adding more consistent intensity, tempo and urgency to our performances, on and off the ball.