Ramachandran Chittur looks at the lessons to be learnt from the 2-0 defeat at Arsenal and how it could shape changes at Liverpool.
All the hopes of a victory at Emirates and we sitting perched at the top of the table have been dashed, but is it all that bad for Liverpool? My answer would be a big NO: recap to last season where at this stage we were getting off the relegation zone and battling our way to the middle of the ever crowded table.
This season we have been miles ahead, we have continuously been near the top of the table, never having dropped off the Top 4. The main aim for the season till now has always been to be cementing a place in the Top 4; however, we are in a position where we can mount a Title charge.
What happens from now till end of December will actually define whether we are genuine title contenders or the Top 4 contenders. We have the team, maybe not the squad for it.
For all the results we have been grinding week in and week out we have never been at our real best apart from the performance against West Bromich Albion.
Apart from United we had not faced the “BIG” teams and in Arsenal we had a team that was our acid test. Arsenal has been phenomenal this season with their performances and they have been flying high as the entire team buoyed by their midfield (my view the best in the League at the moment).
Contrast this to Liverpool and we are nowhere near our best. The injuries, change in formations and the midfield dilemma have played some role in the team not being effective till now.
The game on Saturday for Liverpool was lost in the midfield and this has been pointed out in almost all the analysis. We were outnumbered, outplayed and out thought completely in that department. Without Flammini I thought we had a genuine chance of questioning their defence but we never could do that.
The SAS combination had also an indifferent outing as they could not muster a serious threat till late in the second half. The blame seems to be more on the complete lack of service from the Midfield. Apart from Henderson, neither Lucas nor Gerrard looked comfortable in handling the trio of Ramsey-Carzola-Ozil.
The silver lining in the defeat, however, is that we still are 3rd in the league and we are only 5 points off the top spot. The loss has helped the team and Brendan Rodgers to address issues which are pivotal in making a serious title threat.
1. The Gerrard Dilemma:
Steven Gerrard is an iconic and world class footballer. Even the bitter Sir Alex Ferguson knows it and the only reason he denies it is because of his huge ego.
Gerrard has been one of the most influential player and captain in the illustrious history of the club. He deserves all the accolades that are bestowed on him as he has carried Liverpool on his shoulders throughout. However, at 33 can he still be doing it? Aren’t we burdening him with all the expectations of him carrying this young Liverpool Midfield?
The club and the manager are at crossroads now. We are lacking the cutting edge in the midfield to win games like the one we lost on Saturday and against Southampton. Stevie G is not the player who can keep easing the defence and also bomb into the box to help out in attack.
Against Arsenal the match was all about world class midfielders on show however one player who was hugely anonymous was Stevie G. Time and again he was beaten and too easily by the midfield strength of Arsenal.
At times during attack such was the strength that it was the 5 midfielders of Arsenal versus the 2 of Liverpool. With Lucas also not having the pace to outsmart a midfield like that, our midfield became a gaping hole.
In the first half Arteta had more touches (67), competed in more duels (11), made more tackles (5) and completed more passes (57) than any other player. From the graphics below it could be clearly seen that the Arsenal midfield was camped most of the time in the Liverpool half with Stevie G and Lucas unable to control the free flowing and quick passing of Arsenal
In terms of effecting the game Stevie G has not been able to do it throughout the season apart from a game or two. The time now has come for bold decisions from Brendan Rodgers. I would ideally suggest using Stevie G as a Super Substitute instead of starting the game.
This would give more chances for him to change the dynamics of the game and controlling it much better. He needs rest and he needs to be used sparingly to extend his longevity in the game. He maybe more effective in the No.10 role as he excelled in that role against West Brom and as a Super sub he can bomb in the box and be the extra man when needed.
The injury to Stevie G may have come as a blessing for the team as we can now address the midfield dilemma that we face.
Arteta’s (8) first half tackles (red), passes (yellow), blocks (green), clearances (blue), interceptions (purple) + Arsenal‘s average positions
2. Change in Formation:
With the return of Coutinho it has become imperative that Brendan Rodgers needs to change the formation back to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-2-2-1. Allen needs to be phased back to the side in place of Gerrard.
Joe Allen is technically gifted, has the legs to run the midfield and can read the short as well as long range passes. He was our top performer in the first 10 games last season and what is easily forgotten is that he excelled in the controlling role in the midfield.
He was the machine that held the forwards together with his precision passing and also shielded the defence when needed. With him back in the side the midfield will be more compact and can employ the pressing game more effectively as Allen is a better exponent of it.
There are few options for Brendan Rodgers right now to shuffle his midfield so that we are ready for the big games that will follow in a week’s time. Allen, Lucas and Henderson can form the crux of the midfield.
Suarez, Coutinho and Sturridge can form the potent attacking threat for us. Of course without Moses, Sterling or Ibe we will not get the natural width and hence it is important that Suarez starts out wide on the left.
This allows him to provide width for the team, allow the left back to provide over lapping runs, also he can wander from here to the centre thus creating more bodies in the box.
This can be applied to Coutinho as well who is capable of doing the exact same things when placed on the left. Suarez can then play behind Sturridge in the No.10 role.
3. Agger as a Left Back:
Phil Thompson recently suggested that Agger can be deployed as a left back in this current team. When most would have baulked at the suggestion, it does look like an interesting piece of observation.
Agger is traditionally a left footed player and early in his career he used to play in the left back role. With Enrique injured, Cissokho failing to impress post his injury, and Sakho being more assured in the centre back role it might be shrewd in getting Agger to play left back.
After Gerrard’s injury, he has become the natural successor to the captain’s armband. Thus making him left back might be a risk worth taking for Brendan Rodgers.
With Agger’s years of experience for Liverpool, his hunger to prove that he belongs in the first team and his all-important tactical understanding of the game might prove to be a game changer in the left back role.
4. Moses, Sterling, Ibe and Alberto:
One of the starlets of last season Raheem Sterling has not featured prominently in Liverpool’s team this season and this can be attributed to his off field antics. Brendan Rodgers rightly asked him to get a control of his off field life to ensure that he is more effective for the team.
A hungry and motivated Sterling, I believe, can scale the heights as last season. One of the shrewdest pieces of business done was the arrival of Moses on loan. He has had a reasonable start in the Liverpool shirt, and looked more effective out wide either on the left or right.
He never really looked comfortable in the no. 10 role. But with the emphasis more on the 3-5-2 formation he lost his place in the side to the wing backs. However, a change in that formation can re-kindle the talent he is known for if he is deployed either on the right or left of the attacking 4.
With Ibe and Alberto also waiting in on the sidelines we have a potent attacking threat to break down rigid teams as well as hold our own against the big teams.
One of the things maybe Brendan Rodgers can do more is use up all his substitutions to keep the squad fresh and hungry. It is always good to have a bench where the squad knows they have a realistic chance of competing for a staring place in the team.
This weekend serves as a perfect catalyst for Brendan Rodgers to make changes to the formation, positions and certain personnel that will help in addressing issues that were so prominent in the defeat to Arsenal. The defeat was hurting but it might have a positive effect on the team.
If we are able to make subtle changes to the team and are in and around the top 3 by end of December, we can very well sustain a realistic title charge.
Keep the Faith!