The Tipping Point

Posted by BazC on August 20, 2007, 01:02:09 AM

I've been banging on about it for the best part of a year; last season we saw an influx of attacking talent come into the team and, as Rafa had hinted, we were in for a more expansive style of attacking football. The season before was one of the most successful in terms of league points gained; 82. In bygone times it would have been enough to have won the title. In this day? Not so. Still; the defence was miserly and the previous season's European Cup spectacle was followed up by another at the Millennium Stadium. The stage was set, it seemed, for the Reds to go to the next level; attacking prowess...

In came Kuyt; the goal scoring, hard working Dutchman who had been linked with Liverpool for a couple of seasons... Rafa had finally gotten his man. Jermaine Pennant, the former Arsenal winger who had an eye for a cross- although it would seem he was second choice to a certain Daniel Alves. A fast winger aptly named Gonzalez was also finally to come into the team in which he'd previously been refused a work permit- a loan deal and an impressive stint at Real Sociedad (in which he helped them escape relegation) followed... to complete the line up in came Craig Bellamy. Impressing at times with Blackburn the previous season, he came into the side with a reputation for being a moaning ass on the pitch and a bit of a loon off it. Still- he seemed to be a handy player. Fitting then, that he ended his season at Liverpool by reaching the European Cup final... but having twatted Riise with a golf club on the way. Nice.

It would seem we'd be doing well with pace up front and down the wings, goals from our strikers, and skill and flair in attack. Coupled with Rafa telling us about how he expected to leak goals because of the more expansive attacking style, it might have been that Liverpool supporters may finally see a genuine title bid from the Reds under Rafa. So, what went wrong?

The current 'big' players; Gerrard, Alonso, Carragher, Reina, Hyypia, Finnan, Riise... started slowly. The new attacking players took time to get going and settle into the team. And all the while we're playing games like Bolton away, Everton away, Arsenal away, Chelsea away and Man U away. The new expansive attacking style wasn't really getting us the goals we wanted, but we were sure as hell letting them in at the back. Another bad start to the league, with many factors contributing.

It would seem Rafa lost hope in that idea as the new attacking players just didn't seem to be working out (funnily enough, I'm got deja vu watching Nani and Tevez playing for Man U in the last week). The solidly organised defensive style was back and the idea of controlling the game before pushing for goals seemed to be going alright. Except for the bad misses when we dominated, and the mind numbingly boring ties where we couldn't break down a 2nd/3rd rate team, the season could have been salvaged. We were on our way to Athens after another successful season in Europe. In the final we dominated the Milan side with that style of controlling the game and hoping to make chances for the goals. I have to say it worked, we completely controlled the midfield of Milan and so, we controlled the game. Conceding 2 goals and not taking enough of our chances was hard to stomach. Really hard.

During that season we got taken over. Excited? Well it was a drama what with one of the richest families in the world looking to buy then in the last hour pulling out before the club was finally sold to two Americans. It would seem an interesting summer was in store:

"FF's sake, when will we buy someone"
"Time for G&H to put their money where their mouths are"
"OMGGMMG Henry was at Melwood!!!!!!!111"
"Eto'o, Tevez, Villa or Torres please"
"That Parry... what a CLOWN off on his holiday at this time"

And so far it has been an interesting summer. I don't mean the lack of sunshine either, the damn rain and floodi ... oh yeah, sorry. Well, new deals for our top players are sorted. Alonso, Gerrard, Carra, Reina, Finnan, Sissoko all done and dusted. Phase 1 complete ... on to Phase 2.

Fernando Torres. Babel. Benayoun. Leto. Lucas. Voronin. Kewell back (sort of).

And this is when we get to it. Finally replacing the players who weren't good enough last season with ones who will do the job this season. Even this year's preseason was different, unbeaten, scoring a few goals in stupid climates, compared to last year's which maybe wasn't taken advantage of as much (5-0 defeat to Mainz!).

League started last week, an away game. Two reasons why this game could looked at conservatively from Rafa. First game of the season. Away. But, we saw a fairly attacking side, Torres (fresh from his first goal against the mighty Shanghai Shenua) started, but with Gerrard and Alonso in central midfield. There was no Sissoko or Mascherano in the starting line up and with Pennant on the right, it would seem Rafa was going for it. And we created chances ... Gerrard looked very good in attack, and Xabi kept things running in the background.

Gerrard and Alonso. They're like chalk and cheese, yet they compliment each other like fish and chips. Erm... yer. In the first season it may have seemed that they could really play together. But for me, this season, they've started very well. When they're on the pitch together they know where the other is, and there's a complete trust between them. "How sweet" you may say. Well it is, especially when you watch their passing and interplay. It showed against Villa, both combined very well. Xabi picks the ball up. through ball to Gerrard, through ball to Torres/Kuyt and it results in a chance. Beautiful.

There is a catch though ... whilst Alonso has immensely improved his defensive side and protects the back Four well, he sometimes gets overrun as he's not the fastest and most mobile of players. Still, for me, that partnership is the best in games where we take the game to the opposition ... in other words; home games and those against the lower league teams away. In games where we may use more conservative tactics, the likes of Sissoko rampaging around the pitch (but probably doing little more) or Mascherano sweeping in front of the back four may be the better option.

So, what's all this 'Tipping Point' guff then?

Well, today I saw something that slightly surprised me.  I think I said it was scary/exciting. It was an attacking side with Gerrard and Alonso in central midfield against a direct title rival. Last time we got through this game with Gerrard and Mascherano, a slightly more solid option. It was brilliant football to watch and should have been a triumph. Slick passing, and a slick goal from our slick new striker. Alonso and Gerrard combine beautifully to set Torres on his way. A change of pace, ghosting past a defender and the Kop roars. And it should have been more.

That period before their 'goal' we were playing some swift one touch passing and it was truly a sight to behold. Torres was at the centre of it mostly - making the runs, holding the ball up with the silkiest of touches, turning on a penny and playing those cute one touch passes...

It would seem Rafa finally has that attacker he can trust to play a more expansive attacking style and not get stung by it. We let them in the game a bit, and they had a few chances; but the only one on target was the penalty. This season, I reckon we'll see Rafa really open up that side of our game. And the longer Torres is here the more we'll open up - because the more he plays the more he settles into the team. He links so well with others and makes those runs for the likes of Gerrard to pick out.

We've also seen Pennant settle in and he did well today; playing some good balls and linking well with Finnan and Torres. More of that is what Rafa wants one touch football, get it in the danger areas and finish off the chances. We have Kuyt who has also settled- he seems to run and run, and whilst he may not have the grace of the Torres' of this world, he has the heart and determination, and it'll get him far in my eyes. I still haven't talked about Benayoun yet- who's waiting in the wings. He replaces Garcia (who we'll miss), but whilst he may not have Garcia's unpredicatability, he keeps the ball and is capable of wonderful skill and vision on the ball to pick out other attackers. He'll be a good signing for us. Babel... a youngster who'll get a few chances this season- maybe better than Gonzalez, but I would be surprised if he gets many more chances than he did. He does seem to be better on the ball than Gonzalez, and has as ferocious a shot.

So, newer, better attacking players this season should see us playing that more expansive attacking style Rafa was on about last season. I think Rafa has more confidence in playing that way this season, he certainly seems chirpier than he was at the end of last season. This season though, along with those better players, we've got an easier opening fixture list to gain momentum and confidence and it would also seem that the spine of the team has started well as they've been well rested. Very well in fact. Gerrard, Alonso, Carra, Reina and Agger have started well with the captain the pick of the bunch. The easier opening fixture list along with those other factors hopefully means we can start pushing on and gaining momentum and confidence for that title bid.

It's that confidence throughout this team- from Rafa being confident that his attacking players can give rise to a more attacking game, to the players themselves being confident that they can truly challenge at the top that is the tipping point. It's a point I don't think we've crossed, more confidence, more passion and more determination is needed if we're to go for that big prize. And this season may just see that...

© BazC 2007

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