Jeff Goulding looks ahead to Wednesday’s visit of Real Madrid to Anfield.
If you’re scraping around for a pre Real Madrid match metaphor on which to hang your article, an impending storm, with a Spanish sounding name, isn’t a bad one. So I have to thank the weather demons for delivering Hurricane Gonazalo just before Real Madrid blow into town. Let’s hope our back four can cope better with the ‘Galacticos’ than my fence panels have with the wind currently battering Liverpool.
It’s fair to say that on current form the omens are not good. We are hardly going into this game in confident mood. Things just haven’t clicked for us yet. There are some mitigating factors of course. Any team would struggle to replace Luis Suarez goals and creativity, let alone deal with losing his strike partner to injury too.
With Champions League qualification delivered, the recruitment team were always going to buy in bulk. The squad was desperately thin last season and couldn’t have coped without significant additions. This has meant a relatively large number of recruits having to adapt to Brendan’s way of working and each other.
However, we don’t seem to have learned the lessons of last season in terms of our defence. It is fair to point to the fact that this is virtually a brand new back four. There is bound to be a period of adjustment, but for me these are all quality players, and they all cost a premium. If they’re not the most expensive back four assembled, then they are certainly up there.
The problem seems obvious to me. Many will disagree with me, but we don’t lack quality in our back four. What is badly needed is leadership and organisation. You don’t need Alan Shearer and ‘Match of the Day’ to tell you that, you can see it every time we concede a set piece near our goal. That strong vocal leader was what we lacked last year, and we haven’t found him yet on current evidence.
It was suggested that Dejan Lovren would be the answer, but so far he has struggled to deliver. The keeper also has to carry some of the responsibility. On Sunday his shot stopping was exemplary, but his decision making is poor at times, and he appears passive at times when he should be organising the players in front of him. This is particularly apparent at corners and free kicks.
In addition our decision making in terms of striker recruitment seems suspect with hindsight. I’m not knocking Mario Balotelli here; I would still like to see him paired with someone else. We are not getting the best out of him as a lone striker. That’s never been his game as far as I can see.
For me it’s just surprising that we haven’t added another quality forward, and the loss of Sturridge to injury highlights that. I know the club tried to get Sanchez, but it all seemed too little too late. If it was true that they knew Luis was going as far back as last Christmas, then why didn’t we have a plan B and a Plan C in place. You wonder how much of an impact the collapse of the Borini to Sunderland deal actually had on our striker recruitment.
So it is against this back drop that we go into arguably the biggest game of the season. Failure to get a result against Madrid will leave are hopes of qualification hanging in the balance. In reality we could end up scrapping it out with Ludogorets for a Europa League spot. Wednesday’s game is that big, in my opinion.
For Liverpool to prevail we will need to see a complete turnaround. As Brendan himself said post QPR, “Everything needs to improve.”
In total contrast to the Reds, Real Madrid looks a team at the peak of their powers. After a shaky start, which saw them fall to two defeats in three, they appear to have got their acts together.
They currently sit third in La Liga, having won their last five games, which include three five-nil results and an 8-2. Their goal difference stands at plus 21 after 8 games. Given the way our back line struggled against Zamora I feel like going the toilet every time I think about Ronaldo and Rodriguez up against Skrtel and Lovren.
Fortunately for us, football doesn’t always pan out the way the form book tells us it should. Paul Tomkins hit the nail on the head recently when he pointed to the peculiar football law, that teams often play ten times better against teams that are ten times better than them (if that makes sense). There can certainly be no complacency against Madrid, and I feel there won’t be.
If we are to upset the form book we are going to have to battle for our lives. We just didn’t seem to give a damn against Basel, we were similarly lacklustre against Ludogeorets and against QPR on Sunday we were out-muscled and bullied by a team that looked like they wanted to get off the bottom of the table.
That will need to change, and we will instead need to see the same team that harried and pressed so well last season. The key will then be what we do with the limited possession we have. Against QPR there were few positives, aside from the pace and sharpness of Coutinho and Sterling. Liverpool will need to break quickly and in these two we have speed in abundance. Both have also shown they can finish off opportunities.
I have been concerned about the pair lately. They have each suffered dips in form and consistency, but on Sunday both looked like they were getting back to their best. I can only imagine how they are both feeling today. They must be buzzing with anticipation. Wednesday’s game is exactly the type of world stage these two will relish. I can’t imagine there will be any fear, both have shown they can be big game players already. They are young; they have the world at their feet. They just need to go out and steal the show.
There is a storm coming, but we all know what usually follows. We have been there so many times before. The crowd will rise to the occasion; we just need every man in Red to do their bit and maybe, just maybe we will see in that golden sky together.