Round Table: Liverpool 2 Sunderland 2

Posted by redmark on February 8, 2016, 11:35:44 AM

It doesn't really fit with the mood of the moment, but I thought we played quite well. Not 2013/14-well, or 4-1 at the Etihad-well, but decently well. For about 80 minutes.

If there's a recurring theme for Liverpool sides under new management over the last twenty odd years, it's in waiting for 'something' to 'click'; in struggling to put away hard working, deep sitting defensive sides at Anfield. It's in struggling to get the attack going (often until the next inspired attacking signing), the old manager's midfield looking laboured and sluggish adapting to new ideas, while being susceptible to individual errors at the back; failing to put games to bed and getting nervous or tight in the last ten minutes.

Nothing new to see, here.

Eighty two percent possession in the first half, 71% overall. Sixteen efforts on goal (an indication, often evident during the game, that we were trying to carve good chances, not simply shooting on sight; mostly). It should come as no surprise that a side without a real number nine often worked the ball into good areas for a ball across the six yard box or pullback to the penalty spot, only to discover there was frequently no one there. On other occasions, there were signs of positive adaptation to our circumstances; a through ball eluding not one but two central midfielders making runs; Firmino pulling to the back post and putting in a proper centre forward's headed goal; Lallana following up Firmino's run and resisting the temptation to control the ball five times before slotting it home.

Patience and persistence in the absence of perfection; the final ball was mostly lacking, but it was the sort of display we've seen many times over the years, often just weeks before things click into place. A fraction slicker, crisper, quicker and sharper and that becomes a fluent attacking performance. Easier said than done, of course. But we've been here before, we've seen post-match threads full of "I wouldn't care if the lot of 'em got binned off in the summer". And then it clicks.

This remains a side lacking Coutinho and Sturridge - any striker, infact. Does the return of those suddenly make us title contenders? No. Even a bionic 30-goal a season Sturridge perhaps doesn't quite do that.

There's a lack of standout, star quality across the side. A dominant, quick, classy centre back. A keeper with a grasp of geometry. A fit, confident, system-approved striker. Some pace, drive and creativity. Mostly, perhaps, a midfielder with Gerrard/Alonso passing ability, Mascherano's bite and Gerrard's attacking drive.

But when I see post-match threads full of 'bin the lot' comments, I can't agree. There have been few squads over the years (perhaps none, at this stage of a manager's tenure) which actually had so little deadwood. There are no Poulsen and Koncheskys, no Biscan and Traores. That's not to say that a squad full of players like Lovren, Allen, Milner and Lallana is in a great place, either. But the talk of an 'imbalanced' squad I think misses the mark; it's all too 'balanced'. Plenty of decent, 6/7 out of 10 players. No Suarez, no Torres, no Carragher, no Alonso, no Mascherano, no Gerrard, no peak Lucas. No Sterling, if we're allowed to say that right now.

But there is balance in this squad. The majority is of a good age (if there's a concern here, it's that another crop of youngsters seems to have withered between academy and first team squad, with a bunch of 21/22 year olds already looking forward to careers in the Championship or Segunda). In sharp contrast to most of the post-match thread, I don't think a single player who started on Saturday desperately needs to be frogmarched out of the club; most will be good squad players at least, while several still have the ability to be part of a rather good side. We have few players approaching the end of their careers who desperately need replacing (though we still need to replace a handful that have done so, or moved on, in recent years).

What we need, is some real quality. Not necessarily £50m quality; just the right player. A new spine, perhaps.

Anyway, as far as late-winter will-we-make-the-Europa-League-spots games under new management go, it wasn't half bad at times. We were patient and probing, if blunt and lacking a bit of guile from midfield. We persevered and scored twice - better than in either of the two out of eight home league games under Klopp we've actually won so far. And then Sunderland got into the game a bit - I think, in response to the obvious and entirely worthy change in atmosphere as a result of the walkout. We withstood their mighty onslaught for all of two minutes before giving away a silly free kick, lining up the wall as if protecting the wrong side of the post and then retreating into full-on we're-going-to-fuck-this-up-aren't-we mode. But we've done that before, many times, in this sort of spell in the last quarter of a century.

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