So....Where we at?

Posted by Mr Dilkington on January 17, 2012, 04:15:09 PM

So we've reached the midway point of the season, and i don't think there's too many surprises at how the table has shaped up. Perhaps people expected the two Manchester clubs to be even further ahead than they are. After the start made by both sides, predictions of total domination were made by many fans, the press especially did their level best to make everyone believe this was a two horse race, despite the season only being two or three games old. Arsenal, after such a troubled start have recovered magnificently well, but are just one Robin Van Persie injury away from another potential downturn in form. Chelsea are perhaps the one's that have underperformed most. Villas Boas has showed incredible character and belief in himself and his vision for the club. Circumstance is a powerful beast however, and it's been a constant struggle for the young Portuguese manager. Chelsea have gone from a team right in the mix of a title race to a team apparently in 'crisis'. Tottenham on the other hand have performed brilliantly thus far. It seems like the decision to resist Chelsea's 40 million pound offer for Luka Modric has boosted their chances of a Champions League place, and seriously dented Chelsea's. They've also been able to get on loan striker Emanuel Adebayor interested and playing well. Gareth Bale is also pushing on from his breakthrough season last year and has already equalled his goal tally from last season at the midway point this. Then of course, Liverpool:


Jose Enrique, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Sebastian Coates, Craig Bellamy. Those guys were the signings made to take Liverpool from 7th place into the top 4. So far we've seen from everyone of them some of the quality's that persuaded Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli to bring them to Anfield. Not everyone of them have had it easy, but none of them have been 'stinkers' IMO.

The start of the season brought about a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Sunderland. It was a team containing 4 new players, 3 of them forming a midfield four. That in itself was a clue, even back then that it would take time for this new look Liverpool to gel together.

The Sunderland game saw Kenny go with a 4-4-2 formation. Andy Carroll partnered Luis Suarez up front. It seemed like the logical thing to plump for, and it seemed as though those two would be in there as a two, and then the rest of the team built around them. It just didn't turn out that way.

The second game of the season saw Andy Carroll play up front on his own, as Luis Suarez watched on from the bench at the Emirates. However it was the Uruguayan that made the difference in an impressive 2-0 victory. The other goalscorer on that day was a certain Raul Meireles, shortly after he was doing a Fernando Torres and leaving for Chelsea on deadline day.

Bolton arrived at Anfield for the third game of the season. This time it was Suarez and Kuyt in tandem, a formula which had brought about some great results from the season previous. With those two playing together, Suarez managed to find himself plenty of space in which to wreak havoc on the Bolton defence. Zat Knight and Gary Cahill aren't likely to get many harder days for the rest of the season. They often had no one to mark, Suarez pulling out onto the left channel and linking with Stewart Downing.

Things to consider about that day;

Stewart Downing - A fantastic display, following on from a really intelligent performance the week before away at Arsenal. Everytime Downing received the ball, his only idea was to go at the full back and get the ball into the box. Steinsson (ok by no means a brilliant full back) had no answer to Downing's movement, pace and directness.

Downing showed good signs vs Sunderland on the opening day, crashing against the bar with a weaving run that started not far off the half way line. As mentioned, against Arsenal he gave a lesson in how to play as a winger away from home. He carried the ball amazing distances, distributed well and gave us the shape and balance that is absolutely essential - even moreso when playing a team like Arsenal.

Then after Bolton it all seemed to gradually fade away. No one could've guessed it. It still remains a bit of a mystery as to why he lost so much form in such a short space of time. Some will say his confidence went after a few below par shifts. Others will just say that he's never been that great anyway and we're just seeing the real Stewart Downing. Maybe the fact he has no assists and no goals to his name is playing on his mind? It's certainly not been all down to him. Carroll, Suarez and co have missed their fair few. Carroll's short range effort that crashed off the bar at home to Wolves springs to mind. That was as guilt edged a chance as you're likely to see, but the big man fluffed his lines. And that's how thin the line is between an assist and... well, bugger all.

The low point in Downing's form was in Liverpool's short trip to the JJB Stadium (Piss off Dave with your fucking DW Stadium). It was by no means a brilliant performance from anyone. Charlie Adam began to show some signs of fatigue and a possible drop in form. Suarez, in the midst of a racism row, was undoubtedly supported by his teammates off the pitch, as signalled by their t-shirts of support. Unfortunately it wasn't the same situation on the pitch. Suarez cutting an isolated figure as he struggled to fashion any chances on his own (Which if we're being honest has won us a lot of points since the wee mans arrival 12 months ago).

Downing on that particular night showed very little desire or 'balls'. It's games like Wigan away, when things aren't going your way, that you need to open up the pitch and get the ball to your winger. Only, Stewart Downing didn't seem like someone who would conjure something out of nothing. His body movement usually took him back the way, which halted the teams ability to get on the front foot.

People wonder why United manage to nick so many last minute goals. Infact, 'nick' maybe the wrong choice of word here. Nicking a result is when the game looks to be dying out and one team isn't creating much, but then maybe puts together one counter attack and 'nicks' the winner. What United do brilliantly (Which we can't with the current squad we have) is push their wingers really high up the pitch, creating an almost 4-2-4 formation. Their centre midfielder's sit deep and distribute the ball quickly out to the flanks. Once they get you pinned in, it's incredibly difficult not to succumb to the pressure. United play the percentages brilliantly. Their attitude is, the more crosses we put in, the greater the chance of an own goal or a rebound falling out to the edge for someone like Rooney. That's why Hernandez thrived at Old Trafford in his very first season. The way United set up was tailor made for someone like Hernandez. The goal against Everton last season being a prime example. United, needing a goal, get the ball wide, get the early cross in, and Hernandez finds that little bit of space needed and nods in the eventual winner at Tim Howard's back post. Easy, eh? If only.

Anyway, enough of the United arse licking ;). Where were we? Oh yeah, that fucking useless twat Downing... *casually slips mask back on*.

With Downing, he isn't really the sort that can do the toe to toe with a full back stuff - at least on a regular basis. We've seen bits and bobs of it, but it's not a bit part of his game. I think that's where a signing like Hoilett might make the World of difference. He's something we don't really have at the moment. I'm sure he'll work less up and down that Downing will, I'm sure he would misplace more passes than Downing tends to, but I'm also sure he'd be a cracking addition to the squad. It would be another string to our bow, and surely that's what counts at the end of the day? The more strings you have, the sweeter the harmony. Wigan away would've been the perfect time to throw in someone like Hoilett, but time will tell whether he ends up here or elsewhere.

He's a good player, he really is. There's just something there that's halting him from being the player he was at Villa, and the player we saw only for those first three matches. The fact Comolli is on the lookout for a winger (Hoilett, Sinclair) shows that if he doesn't turn things round sooner rather than later, he might find himself out of the team. And that really will be a test of character and confidence.

The thing that's made Downing's poor form a little more bearable, comes in the shape of a man that arrived on a free transfer. Craig Bellamy. What to say about him? First things first, he's absolutely awesome, and if he could play more than one game a week I'm sure he'd be regarded as one of our 'top guys'. You play him wide left or wide right it doesn't matter. Craig Bellamy will always give his all for the cause. His tenacity and application are crucial to a club like Liverpool. On the face of it, Bellamy has always been one of those 'Big fish small pond' kinda guys. He's done it for pretty close to ten years for Wales. Added to stints at Blackburn, Celtic, and Cardiff. At Newcastle he was definitely one of their most crucial players, but Shearer was always top dog. I think that may have annoyed Craig in someway :). Or maybe it was just the now esteemed pundit's pitiful excuse for a haircut. Always been one to take pride in his barnet has our Craig. At all those clubs previously mentioned, Bellamy was the main man. All those teams were built in order to get the best out of him; particularly at Blackburn.

He then moved to Liverpool of course. After one season, he was on his way again. This prompted many to brand him a failure. It's too easy to suggest that Bellamy didn't make the cut here first time round. Benitez himself said Bellamy was as professional a player as he had ever come across. Rafa talked about how hard he worked in training and that he was a great example to all the youngsters that were at the club. Bellamy himself took much from his time at the club. He talked about how he'd never learned so much under one coach as he did with Benitez. For Bellamy, it was just an honour to pull on the red shirt and play for the club he supported as a boy. He left with not one iota of bitterness. I'm sure if you look hard enough, you'll find some big chinned knobhead wandering around Los Angeles or Birmingham that showed all of the opposite traits and left as a bit of a useless big chinned knobhead who misses sitters for a living. He's now playing for Los Angeles Galaxy. Bellamy, his 'bridges' still intact, is now getting a second bite at the cherry. Note* Please do not attempt to ask me which player I am referring to in the above paragraph.

Bellamy will undoubtedly play a key role for the rest of this season, and with the way he's currently going - well beyond that too.

One of the main things that come to mind about Liverpool this season is the new look defence. Both as a unit and individually, I'd say there's no finer defence in the country.

One of the main reasons for the defensive improvement is Liverpool's new Spanish left back Jose Enrique. Not gonna beat around the bush here; 6 million for him was a bit bloody good wasn't it? I think those of us who watched him at Newcastle knew we were getting a good player, whether anyone could have known he'd be this good I'm not so sure. We've gone through a fair amount of left backs recently, so to get one that's consistently very good is a great feeling. The word 'consistent' was the only barrier holding back our finest left back of the last 10 years - Fabio Aurelio. Not that when he played he wasn't consistently good, it's just he didn't get the chance to get together any kind of consistency (Still one of my biggest frustrations as a Liverpool fan). Enrique is at the other end of the injury spectrum, which is almost certainly one of the big reasons why Damien Comolli made it one of his priorities to sign the Spaniard last summer. As strong as he is quick, Enrique adds steel and speed to what has become one of the most impressive defensive units seen at Anfield in years. In such a short space of time, we've become accustomed to Enrique using his brute strength to jockey the opposing winger and allow the ball to run out for a Liverpool goal kick. Wingers have such a tough time of it when looking to go on the outside. Enrique was only beaten by an opposing player on 9 occasions last season whilst playing for Newcastle. There's been a few complaints about his playing further up the field. On the whole though, his sheer defensive brilliance massively outweighs his lack of subtlety in the final third. It's a problem that the man on Enrique's opposite side doesn't share.

Glen Johnson.... He can't defend. He's a liability defensively. He's a waste of 17 million. All of those opinions are wrong, and annoying, and stupid. Glen Johnson is possibly my favourite Liverpool player, and I make no bones about saying it. He is just stupidly good at football, especially for a full back. There are times when watching him that I just simply shake my head and think 'that is just absolutely insane'. He's a full back that moves across the pitch like a winger. He has pace to burn. He can go on the outside and whip in a cross just as much as you'll see him cut in onto his left foot and poke an intelligent through ball to Suarez and co. The thing that separates Johnson from his peers in the Premier League, is his ability to open up space from a standing start. Richards and Walker - two of Johnson's biggest rivals for England's right back berth have both enjoyed very good seasons for their respective teams, but better than Johnson? Not even close. Whilst Richards has had a big hand in a lot of City's goals this season, it's all been the same 'type' of goal. If you allow Richards or Walker to get into their groove and allow a pass onto them whilst they're already running, then you have big problems. But neither are likely to cause any great harm from a drop of the shoulder or a pass inside to a midfield runner. Johnson has so much more to his game than either Richards or Walker do, it becomes almost pointless comparing them.

Johnson, quietly has done something rather unusual, but very effective. He's turned what's thought to be his weaker foot into his stronger foot. He actually prefers to use his left foot when shooting a lot of the time. It's a strange one, maybe because his left foot isn't as strong, there's less temptation to belt it and risk a 'row z'er'. More of his goals at Liverpool have come from his 'weaker' left foot than his 'stronger' right foot. Hell, even his Goal Of The Season against Hull whilst playing for Pompey came from his left peg, and that was a proper screamer. The manner in which Kenny has the team playing is suiting him down to the ground as well. He's able to move in between the lines with much more freedom than he had under previous manager Owl.

It helps some players, but it effects others. Here's a thought:

When Johnson starts making his way down the right hand side, you see Suarez's eyes light up. Suarez loves to come short and link with Johnson with short, quick passes into feet. It's really great to watch, but it also has an affect on another player in the team - Andrew Carroll.

As much as it puts fire in Luis' belly and it looks good on the eye, it really doesn't go anyway to helping the big man to score goals. At Newcastle, most of his goals came from quick service in from an inside right position. It put the defenders at an immediate disadvantage. At Newcastle, Carroll had the team set up around him and he often had lots more space to work with due to the element of surprise from quick supply. At Liverpool, the crosses into the box often come two or three phases too late, in which time the opposing team have their centre backs touch tight against him. It makes it so much more difficult for Carroll to recapture his form when our play isn't really giving him the best chance possible.

There are some caveats to the above though. Carroll certainly isn't as mobile as he was at Newcastle. The game that springs to mind is Newcastle's away game at Arsenal last season. Carroll was an absolute colossus that day, occupying the whole of Arsenals back four with incredible running power and selflessness. In the end, it was Carroll's goal that gave the Geordie's a well deserved 1-0 win. That was Carroll at his very best. He was taking long balls in with an assured touch, he was laying things off with his chest and spinning off for the cross.... This was a proper centre forward we were seeing. We saw the demonic beast version of Andy Carroll doing it at first hand, when in Alan Pardew's first game in charge Newcastle, Roy Hodgson's Liverpool took a hammering at the hands of Newcastle and their big number 9. Carroll set up Nolan for Newcastle's first, and rounded off the win with a hammer of a strike from long range.

We need to discover that old Andy Carroll again. The Andy Carroll that we bought into. Ok, i think we can all accept he was never worth 35 million, but we bought a properly good centre forward with lots of potential. Sure, Carroll himself has to accept a great deal of the blame on why it hasn't worked out between 'us' thus far, but I'm sure Kenny himself will be striving to improve the set up so to get the best out of the big man.

We wanna see the demonic beast at Anfield.

Ok - I just realised we've gone from talking about our two shiny and fabulous full backs to talking about Andy Carroll up at the other end of the pitch. Something definitely worth talking about this season is our two shiny and fabulous centre backs Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger. Finally! It's been so long coming, these two getting an extended run together, and no one can argue that it's been anything other than a massive success. For whatever reason, it's taken longer than it should have. A combination of Daniel Agger's injury problems, the reluctance of two of the previous managers to  drop Jamie Carragher, despite his form fading for the past 3 seasons.

The beauty about this partnership, and probably the most important part of any successful centre back partnership is that they both trust each other implicitly. If one doesn't trust the other, cracks begin to show. To be brutally honest about it, Martin Skrtel never looked comfortable beside Jamie Carragher. When one centre back doesn't trust the other, it spreads throughout the whole team. If certain cogs within the team begin to breakdown, the whole 'thing' begins to suffer.

Now when Pepe Reina receives the ball, he has no hesitation in giving it short to one of Skrtel and Agger, knowing both are at ease with the ball at their feet - the Dane in particular. Agger can bound forward knowing that Skrtel has his back. There's no more babysitting on the 18 yard line.

I'm not really one for stats, but if I was, I'm sure I'd be mighty impressed with Martin Skrtel's stats so far this season. But, for those who do like that kinda thing. Martin Skrtel's tackling stats up until December at least, were at around the 90% mark.


                                                                               

Skrtel is undoubtedly the stand out from the other four. 90% is astonishingly high for any centre back - let alone someone who looked so devoid of confidence at the same point last season. Skrtel's most noticeable improvement has been his ability to not just lunge into tackles anytime the ball comes near his general vicinity. Maybe having the cultured and composed Agger beside him has seen him calm down and use his brain more often. For example, Nemanja Vidic in a similar number of appearances, made almost double the number of tackles compared to the Slovak.

Agger and Skrtel are both entering their peak years, and if they both stay fit then the days of worrying about our centre back situation being fragile will be over. The other point I think is important to make, they have two young bucks in Coates and Kelly who haven't disappointed when they've been called upon. The competition will spur on everyone, and it's healthy, which I think is the main thing.


One of the other positives, although some may tell you otherwise, has been Jordan Henderson. He's quietly gone about his business, and you can see the boy is gonna be a player. The word 'quietly' is the only problem where Henderson is concerned. It's patent that Henderson has the ability. We've seen enough of it, just not all that often enough. We've seen the beautiful curling finish to get us on the right track against Bolton at Anfield. We saw that perfectly weighted ball that Downing couldn't quite finish off in the away game at City (Pass of the season for my money). Why don't we see it more is the trouble.

First things first - he's still a kid. That's not to say there aren't players with less ability than him at around the same age who are delivering more. Which brings me nicely on to the primary reason for his 'inconsistency'.

Jonjo Shelvey. The complete antithesis of Jordan Henderson, in terms of believing in themselves at least. Henderson just needs to realise how good he is. Henderson probably still can't believe he's at Liverpool. Shelvey is Zidane in his own head. That's not a criticism of Jonjo either. It just illustrates the difference between the two. Jojno Shelvey will become a properly brilliant player for Liverpool Football Club, but he'll never be Zidane. But he dreams, and he struts. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. The kid has a massive pair of cojones though (Goes along nicely with the other fella that got an airing on Twitter not long back).

If Henderson can somehow find a bit of extra belief within himself, then it'll bring him on leaps and bounds. It's just brilliant that we don't have to worry about the technical side of his game. That's there in barrel loads.

From one Henderson to another, and I hope he won't mind me using this. It just struck a chord with me, and it rings true the more I read it.

Royhendo ''All I'd add to the mix is that it's close. The control is there, the defensive solidity's there, and we need players who can build a disruptive momentum, and who can put it in the net.

If you set out with the expectation that you won't make top four, it's less of a grind. I don't believe for a minute we're not making signings, and overall the balance is close to where it needs to be. Frustratingly distant, but close nevertheless.'


We'll be sound.

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