The beating drums of progress are emanating from Anfield. Liverpool FC are apparently on the way up after battling to a 2-2 draw against reigning champions Manchester City. But why the positivity?
The answer seems to be a simple one, and one of the most fundamental parts of the ideology of good football, we passed and moved.
It wasn’t perfect, and there were errors, but the players were obviously trying to implement one of Brendan Rodgers’ now famous philosophies.
The match against Roberto Mancini’s men highlighted a few interesting things about Liverpool this season that we might expect to see for the duration, but it also raised some problems.
Firstly, the positives:
Something we saw during the first 4 years of Rafael Benitez tenure in charge. This was a ‘press from the front’ mentality that became globally recognised through Barcelona’s Champions League performances.
The Catalan club’s forwards pushed relentlessly forward against opposition defenders, often barricading the opposing team in their own half. Any possession regained during this pack hunt would almost inevitably lead to a chance due to the proximity of the forward players and the opposing teams goal. Winning the ball back 30 yards from the opposing goal is always going to cause chaos in the calmest of defences.
This is what Liverpool showed glimpses of at Anfield. Suarez and Borini were particularly energetic in their closing down, as was Shelvey. Gerrard, who carries the burden of age looked comfortable in marking the space in central areas, discouraging through balls. This was one of the key reasons behind Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri being starved of time throughout the game.
As alluded to in the Pressure section, the midfield battle seemed to be dominated by Liverpool. Rodgers favours a three man central midfield, essentially flooding what many feel is the most important aspect of the game.
Mancini tried to counter this by going three at the back and having Yaya Toure sit deep with De Jong with Nasri as a ‘point’, but I genuinely feel there was a bit more harmony and balance between Liverpool’s players, although both teams did look uncomfortable at times as they adjusted to a new formation and a new system respectively.
Joe Allen hit 93.5% of his passes successfully, the highest out of any player, and it looks as though the Welshman will be a cornerstone of Liverpool’s side for the next decade. Allen’s influence on games will only increase as the players around become used to his style and abilities. He is a non-headline grabbing player, but one who will act as the metronome allowing other players to go and grab the glory.
Ironically, after the loan signing of Nuri Sahin, one of the ‘odd ones out’ in Liverpool’s midfield may appear to be Gerrard. Whilst still a classy player, Gerrard no longer seems to be the focal point of the team either in midfield or in attack, with Suarez and Allen taking these roles, probably with increasing authority over the next year or two, it means the long time talisman may have to get used to rotation. Rodgers will no doubt be looking to the future, and with Lucas, Allen and Sahin being young internationals, the future looks bright in that area.
Not much needs to be said about the young starlet. Rodgers showed an immense amount of trust in Raheem Sterling and he will certainly feel vindicated.
The Jamaican born winger looked full of confidence and speed. It is a strong message to other players like Stewart Downing that their futures are on the line if youngsters are suddenly propelled above them in the pecking order.
Liverpool looked to isolate Sterling one-on-one against Kolo Toure when possible, and for 60 minutes it worked. Sterling looked willing to go on the outside of players as well as cutting in on his favoured right foot, which is something he’ll have to keep up in order to maintain an air of unpredictability.
Sterling did tire after the hour mark as some of his passing started to get erratic. But this shouldn’t concern Liverpool fans as, at 17, he is still coming to terms with the pace of professional football. I think Rodgers would have subbed Sterling had he not been forced into an early change with Lucas’ injury.
4) Sebastian Coates.
The Uruguayan centre-back is often overlooked when talk of young players is brought up, but at 21, Sebastian Coates looks like he could become a great player. Most centre-halves don’t mature until they’re in their late 20’s but sometimes Coates plays like a player with 20 years experience behind him.
He’s far from the finished article and at times can go to ground too easily, but I was incredibly impressed by his reading of the game.
My main worry about him when we signed was his lack of speed, but I felt reassured about the players’ abilities after seeing him read the game extremely well during last years Copa America and his small number of appearances at Liverpool. Although Aguero wasn’t present on Sunday, he still faced up to one of the best attacks in Europe and did himself proud next to Martin Skrtel and Martin Kelly.
The positives that we can take out of the game against Man City shouldn’t be overlooked. This comes after a season of uncertainty and disappointing performances. Although it should be remembered that even under Dalglish, Liverpool did manage to look competitive against the top opposition. A real test of our evolution as a group will come against teams outside of the Champions League, where tactics come into it more due to a reduction in atmosphere, hype and adrenaline.
Positives were not the only thing to take out of the game, however, a few concerns did present themselves that I hope are obvious to Brendan Rodgers.
Liverpool’s players expended a lot of energy against Manchester City. Pressure from the front works extremely well in games, especially against teams who are comfortable in possession, however the toll it takes over the course of a season, especially one which incorporates a Europa League run, can be damaging to a team.
In Rodgers’ first season with Swansea in the top flight, the team noticeably dropped off in the last 10 games. Rodgers’ team won only two of the last 9 games, losing 5 times.
This, I feel, would be a result of high energy performances early in the season. Another burden to consider would be the amount of extra games Liverpool FC may play compared to The Swans. With a domestic cup run and an extended European experience, Liverpool could well see themselves playing over 60 games.
One thing Rodgers does have at Anfield that he didn’t at the Liberty Stadium, would be resources and squad depth. Whilst Liverpool’s squad depth isn’t superb, it does allow the manager to make wholesale changes for midweek games, especially early on in the season against ‘weaker’ opposition.
2) Andy Carroll.
I’m a fan of the big man, I must admit. Carroll’s attributes are all physical, and he does it well, whether he’s back defending corners or attacking headers. I felt like last season we were extremely obvious in our approach. Signing Downing to supply the crosses and Carroll to head them in. Sadly that type of game is easy to read for a team who have the kind of exposure we do.
Under Rodgers’ fluid, attacking system, Andy Carroll seems like a square peg in a round hole. It’s not his fault, but I don’t see him fitting in here at all.
Rodgers prefers mobility over strength, and it looks like he’ll go with Suarez alone for the biggest games. That doesn’t bode well for the £35m striker but it’s a problem we’ll be stuck with for the season unless Newcastle cough up £20m.
I think it’s the sensible thing to to cut our losses on Carroll, as long we have enough money to sensibly reinvest. He’s a powerful number 9 with a hammer of a left foot, but he’d be wasted on our bench and we could put the recouped money to better use, even if it does mean selling him to a rival.
If we don’t manage to offload him, then I see Carroll’s role reduced to cup games and impact substitutions. A sad situation for the most expensive fish out of water in British transfer history.
3) Left back.
Despite all of the bad press regarding his defensive side, Glen Johnson is an excellent defender. Quick, powerful and technically good on the ball, Johnson has an unfair reputation for defensive vulnerabilities. However, I don’t think it would be fair to expect either him or Daniel Agger to be stand-in left backs should Jose Enrique drop out of the side.
Enrique is a good player but he’s painfully slow. With a lack of decent competition there (Jack Robinson seems a little way off yet), I worry that Enrique’s place will be guaranteed, meaning complacency is a danger for a defender who can look switched off at the best of times.
I think left back is an area Liverpool need to reinforce.
4) Fabio Borini.
He’s hard working, direct and technically sound. A Rodgers player for sure, but I think he lacks that edge that maybe Suarez has. That world class vibe that puts you above the rest. I wouldn’t fancy Borini against left backs such as Aahley Cole. For me that means in that area there is room for improvement.
Of course, I hope I’m mistaken and Borini grows into a great player, he does have time on his side. Until then I hope he gets in tune with the players around him quickly and helps the team develop into the formidable passing unit that Rodgers wants us to be.
All in all, I think the positives from the game far outweigh the negatives. However, as I mentioned earlier Liverpool have never really had trouble getting up for the big games. The real acid test will be our next tricky away encounter, or even a home clash. An away game at Sunderland and a home game against Stoke in the next month will be perfect tests to see how far we’ve come under Rodgers first few months.
By Chris Severs