RAWK Round Table: Liverpool 4-3 Swansea City

Posted by E2K on February 23, 2014, 07:57:07 PM

And the Reds go marching in...

My Round Table contribution this week is a history lesson that cautions against being too harsh on this splendid team for conceding three goals at home to a Swansea side that came to play and did it to some effect. As we all know only too well, it will be 24 years in May since Liverpool last picked up the League Championship. It goes without saying that itís a long bloody time and after two and a half decades of waiting, itís perhaps understandable if the merest sniff of a genuine chance to win number nineteen will make us all a little bit unreasonable from time to time. You see, itís easy to forget, sitting just a hairís breadth away from two teams assembled for huge money and one with some 17 yearsí worth of stability behind it, that being in a title race at all at the arse-end of February 2014 places us well ahead of schedule and in a position that we would have scarcely believed as we kicked off the season against Stoke back in August. Similarly, itís easy to forget that scoring more goals than any other team in the Premier League (including those two aforementioned financial juggernauts) just two years removed from a season where it often seemed like we couldnít have bought a goal even if weíd had the inclination to send Ian Ayre off to tie-up a deal for one (13 blanks out of 38 games and more than two scored just 7 times for a final total of just 47 in 38, five of which were own-goals) is a pretty spectacular improvement. Hell, with 11 games still to go, this team has already plundered 23 goals more than its 2011/12 predecessor, at a rate that no Liverpool team has matched since the Premier League began in 1992. Inside two years under a new manager with new ideas and spending at a rate far below that of his main rivals, thatís one hell of a turnaround.

The truth is that conceding three goals at home to Swansea and looking decidedly shaky at the back while doing so is bad, but we can expect bad days at the office from a team this early in its evolution. When Brendan Rodgers called it ďa foalĒ in response to (pardon my language) a silly fucking question from a reporter after the Arsenal game (I think), he wasnít just being coy, he was making a valid point. Inside two years, heís had to remove a number of players (Carroll, Downing, Adam in particular) who simply didnít have the ability to play in his system, balance the books by shipping out some other heavy earners (Cole, Reina, for example), bring in replacements while clearly on a budget and, perhaps most importantly of all given the lack of a big transfer kitty, coach some of the players he inherited to be better than they were before. Jordan Henderson, in particular, has developed brilliantly under his management, but Martin Skrtel (as unpopular as it may be to say anything positive about him after today) has also undoubtedly improved with the ball at his feet from the player who so expertly put Carlos Tevez through at the Kop end during Rodgersí first home League game in charge in August 2012. The manager has also made do when heís had to, using different systems and approaches depending on which players have been available and the opposition in front of them, often out of necessity and while relying on inexperienced players (Sterling, Flanagan, Teixeira, Suso, Ibe) to do it.

With an extra player or two at his disposal (e.g. one of the five high-profile attacking targets the club have apparently pursued this season, Mkhitaryan, Costa, Willian, Salah, Konoplyanka), Liverpool may have been even closer to the top of the table by this point but, nonetheless, largely through a mixture of excellent coaching and improvisation from the management and some phenomenal performances from the players, we now find ourselves 6 points clear in the Champions League places (effectively 7 with the goal difference), pursuing an unlikely title challenge and top scorers with 11 games left. So whatís important to remember after a day like today is that this team is ahead of schedule, not on it, and the performances will not always be perfect. The thing is, if we look back over the past 24 years, when have Liverpool ever been perfect? This team is imperfect just like all the others which have tried and failed to bring the League Championship back to Anfield in that time, the only difference is that instead of being defensively strong and failing to score enough goals when it really matters, this team is scoring a sufficient number of goals at the business-end of the season that it doesnít matter how many it concedes, and that marks it out as a different animal altogether. Yes, that may very well catch up to us in some games, in fact I fully expect it to, but I say again, a team in its infancy will never be perfect unless itís had millions upon millions lavished on it, and if Rodgers has effectively put all his eggs in the offensive basket, then itís an approach thatís proving itself possibly, just maybe, crazy enough to work. Six points clear in the Champions League places and four points off the top tells its own story on that score.

Hereís the bottom line: over 24 years, weíve had plenty of disappointing days and nights, moments where the dreams and songs we had to sing werenít enough as another Liverpool team fell flat just when it seemed like all things were possible. And in virtually every instance, it was our attack that let us down. Brentie wrote a superb piece the other day, part of which was remembering that virtually every Liverpool team since the one that won the clubís last League Championship in 1990 has sought to succeed through defensive solidity rather than attacking prowess and that we are currently being spoiled with what Brendan Rodgersí team is offering up. I agree, and I would even go so far as to say that this approach, as much as games like today have us tearing our hair out, is what has afforded us the opportunity to dream again. Clearly, ultimately, this team will have to improve defensively if itís to achieve the goals that we all hope it can achieve, but this is all part of its evolution. Other Liverpool teams never evolved beyond this point, but this one's got a real fucking chance.

In 1995/96, Roy Evansí team followed up the famous 4-3 win against Newcastle (the first one), which had supposedly gotten them back into the title race, by losing 0-1 at Coventry; a year later, the perennially relegation-threatened Sky Blues came to Anfield and beat the table-topping Liverpool 1-2, a dagger to the heart; a season later, after a 1-0 home win against Newcastle left us handily placed just six points off the top in January, Blackburn (0-0) and struggling Southampton (2-3) came to Anfield and shattered our illusions once again in successive games; in 1999/00, this time under Gerard Houllier, Liverpool finished two points behind Leeds in the race for a first ever Champions League spot. The reason? Five blanks out of five to end the season, including a 0-1 defeat to relegation-threatened Bradford City on the last day. When Liverpool failed to make the Champions League in 2003, it was because of 1-2 defeats to Manchester City (h) and Chelsea (a) in our last two games. Four points there and we were in, but we only scored twice. In Rafaís first season in charge, 2004/05, when qualification for the Champions League was only secured by winning the bloody thing, 13 blanks were drawn out of 38 league games, and the team scored more than twice just 7 times. In 2008/09, the last time Liverpool managed a genuine title challenge, it was again a lack of goals at crucial times which cost us (e.g. two 0-0 draws with Stoke, a 0-2 defeat at Middlesbrough, 1-1 draws with Everton and Wigan). And then, as already mentioned, Kennyís last season in charge, which saw results such as 0-1 at home to Fulham and West Brom. Just impotence. Pure and utter impotence.

What weíre seeing this season is the opposite. Today, Swansea almost left Anfield with a 3-3 draw. They didnít. They might well consider this to be one of the best performances theyíve put in at Anfield (or anywhere) since their return to the top level in 2011, and they might think themselves unlucky as a consequence. Again, pardon my language, I couldnít give two fucks. It almost makes me weep with joy that a team can come to Anfield and show that kind of fight, determination, tactical nous and ability, yet come away with nothing. After 20 minutes in which they had undoubtedly been the better team, we were 2-0 up. After 90 minutes in which the referee had paved the way for at least one of their goals (the free for their second was a fucking abomination, the fact that our subsequent defensive efforts were similarly bad shouldnít let Mr. Jones off the hook, and I look forward to seeing him give penalties for what Skrtel did for the third every week - I won't hold my breath) and they had run themselves ragged, they left Anfield with nothing. That shows what this Liverpool team is now - itís one big, bad son-of-a-bitch that really doesnít care how you want to play, itíll beat you anyway. Oh yes, itís flawed, big time, and thatís the reason (every bit as much as the four-point gap and the deeper squads of Chelsea and Manchester City) why it likely wonít win the title this season, but I for one, as someone who has suffered through enough of impotent performances and results against the likes of Swansea over the past 24 years, am enjoying watching them putting in season-best performances against us and, nonetheless, leaving with nothing. Fulham showed fight Ė they lost. Swansea showed fight Ė they lost. And while the defensive disarray (and Iím especially worried about the relationship or lack thereof between Mignolet and his centre-backs, together with our Ďkeeperís almost pathological fear of coming off his line) will undoubtedly rear its head again and result in dropped points, itís a work in progress. Remember that.

And remember this - days like today would have ended in a 3-3 draw or 1-3/2-3 defeat in the past. Today, following our bludgeoning of Swansea into eventual defeat, our nearest rivals for fourth, Spurs, failed to break down Norwich in a way that should seem mightily familiar to all of us. Weíve had enough days like that over the past 24 years. This wasnít one of them. And the Reds go marching inÖ

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