LIVERPOOL FC: The Fall Before The Rise?
Well, almost 48hrs has passed from the debacle of our defeat to Aston Villa at home. Now, it is not the defeat that hurts, as a team can recover form from a defeat and go on well. Man Utd showed that last season dropping positions and then perking up. I can put into perspective what the result on Monday possibly meant to most, if not all, LFC fans, in three points:
1) Losing to Aston Villa. Aston Villa were beaten, at home, in their opening game by Wigan, who were starting with Robert Martinez. They then went away to Austria to lose to Rapid Vienna, just by the single goal. They then face up to coming to Anfield, after we had beaten Stoke 4-0, and even that match was after we started so lethargically at White Hart Lane. The prospects of an away win, or even Villa scoring, were slim. We were to capitalise on Villa's current woes and our recent found form. We were not suppose to lose on Monday.
2) Losing at Anfield. I think the last time we had lost at home was to Man Utd in December 2007, to a single Carlos Tevez touch. Almost two years ago. Anfield is a fortress, so why did we simply down tools and allowed it to be invaded?
3) Losing 1-3. Following on from point 2 above, we were not suppose to lose. We were not to lose by a margin of having conceded three and scoring one. We allowed ourselves to be 0-2 down by half time, and I care not for whether a corner should have been allowed or not. Once the referee gives it, we positioned ourselves and we defend the goal. The last time we lost 1-3 at home to Villa was back in September 2001. Eight years ago.
So those who had written us off for the title just couldn't hold themselves from the laughter. Funny how so many make predictions so early into the season. If that would be the case, then Man Utd's positioning of 19th two seasons ago meant they would be relegated. But we all know they didn't, doing the exact opposite by winning the title. So how, three games in, we're meant to be out of the title race is bewildering, unless people wish to make out something from our squad. When you compare the teams of the top 4 favourites, people think they have a justifiable cause to do so:
Liverpool 1st XI: Reina; G Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua; Mascherano, Leiva; Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun/Babel/Reira; Torres
Man Utd: Foster; Rafael, Evans, Vidic (back from injury), Evra; Valencia, Fletcher, Anderson, Park; Rooney, Berbatov
Chelsea: Cech; Boswinga, Carvalho, Terry, Cole; Essien, Lampard, Mikel, Malouda; Anelka, Drogba
Arsenal: Almunia; Eboue, Vermaelen, Gallas, Gibbs; Fabregas, Denilson, Diaby; Arshavin, RVP, Eduardo
That is how those teams are right now. They can, most certainly, change, with some absentees returning and vying for a place, maybe even slotting in straight away in a few cases. But Liverpool shouldn't be declining at the moment, not with the push we had from last season, with the only difference being Xabi Alonso's omission. Did he really make such a difference or are we missing a player who we have not yet learned to cope without and can only do so with a few matches under our belt? Was Monday's defeat another bad day at the office, to be blamed on the players, or one that is the manager's fault?
For me, there are few excuses to make one feel consolable. After Monday, I had to think, think what went wrong, what can be done to put things right. No doubt anyone reading this will let me know their views, but one person I really hope to be interested with a POV is Rafael Benitez. Tall order, and from some of the comments I have read from certain forums, it is a good thing he doesn't read them....Or does he? I hope he does pass by EFT, and picks up on these points from me:
1) At the earliest opportunity, link Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger in defence. Jamie Carragher is 'Carra', and that alone is 'nuff said' in LFC. But I think he be more of a benefit to us now providing support coming off the bench than starting on the field. Agger is a pacy, strong, tall centre-back who provides a good header for dead-ball moments and a left-foot strike. Skrtel is our 'henchman', a die-hard, putting himself on the line with his blocks and tackles. They are our up-n-coming centre-backs. The onus is on getting and keeping Agger fit. The onus is also on getting and keeping all our players fit!
2) Drop Lucas Leiva. Impressive as the U-20's Brazil captain, not as the central midfielder for LFC. Not anything in the slightest in the mold Alonso brought, and RB, you know why you brought over Xabi. You brought over Mohammed Sissoko to be the new 'Patrick Vieira' and he was anything but. You made a central midfield well out of Alonso and Javier Mascherano, another you know well why you brought him over for. You made it so Steven Gerrard could aid Fernando Torres upfront, accompanied by Dirk Kuyt and another. Changes, Mr Benitez, changes. And it's changes needed now to spearhead our season, starting with Leiva. You may not want to hurt but instead develop the youngster, but we dont have time for that right now.
3) Move Gerrard into central midfield in front of Mascherano. The Argentinian appeared to want a move from Anfield but for negotiations failing. To lose both Alonso and Mascherano would be akin to cutting into your veins. I don't mind bleeding Red, but it is bleeding that has to be worth it. So we managed to hold onto Mascherano, and we've acquired Alberto Aquilani. 'Injury-prone', 'Sicknote', I've read him being called (unsurprisingly) but we can rehabilitate him to provide us that strength and vision from central again. In the interim, Gerrard should be moved to central midfield, with Leiva dropped.
4) With Gerrard central, that can bring out the defensive and attacking flair of Mascherano on the counter, with Gerrard taking over on the attack to feed the flanks and/or upfront. Saying that, we want our wingers. We have a choice out of Ryan Babel, Albert Riera, Yossi Benayoun, and Nabil El Zhar. Anyone who has seen El Zhar perform should know the Moroccan is an eager winger with pace and skill. Is he ready for a regular EPL run? I don't think so but he is coming along. That said, Benayoun was dropped against Spurs after performing so well last season. That was to give Babel a chance he has been itching for. The Dutchman didn't come up to scratch.
5) Both Babel and Leiva, for me, have this season to thoroughly impress. I still think Babel can give us a lot more, Leiva not so right now. Now Riera is available, it is he on the left and Benayoun on the right who should start, every game. That then relieves Kuyt, finally, to go up front as the second striker to Torres. Kuyt can feed the flanks, hold the ball up from central, and bring in the wingers, and when you talk about Riera and Benayoun, they are both inquistive and determined players who take on full-backs. And they both provide crosses and assists.
6) Brush up on our defending from dead-ball situations. This is where, for some reason, we are most vulnerable. Some blame it on this 'zonal-marking' strategy. It's a point worth noting. Mark a space, fine. If a player moves out of that zone when the ball is played, that adds confusion and we're exposed. Go back to player marking, ensure someone is designated to being the ball winner to head away danger, instead of the ball coming over and people are looking for anyone to head the ball. That is what we use to have in Stephane Henchoz and Sami Hyypia, made them formidable defenders.
7) An obvious point but one that needs making. I've heard some voices and opinions say the difference between Benitez and Alex Ferguson is Ferguson pushes his team to win, no matter the cost, no matter the match, pre-season, league, cup matches, Europe, it doesn't matter. Benitez was said to prefer a draw at some stage in a match if Liverpool aren't making the waves they should be. So we should install into the players that we will not settle for anything but a win in every match. If they can get close enough to make a chance, they should execute it. Too often we have not punished chances, too often. Against Villa on Monday, we were similar to Man Utd in Rome - starting well for the first 20mins and then waning, which allowed the two goals before half time.
I believe that if LFC were to implement my points, we will become stronger and go more formidable for the title. It is no way whatsoever over for us in the title race. Our focus now in every game has to be as stated in point 6 above. Besides, we could be having a lull in our play to improve much later on.
In the season of 2001-2002, when Villa last won 1-3 at Anfield before Monday, Arsenal won the league and FA Cup; LFC ended 2nd; Man Utd ended third, trophyless and failing to win the title to make a historic four consecutive title wins. Does all of that sound appropriate for this season? Well, Chelsea ended up 6th in 2001-02, so we perhaps cannot read too much into the above! However, by my reckoning, on balance of how we've finished under Benitez since his arrival, we could finish 2nd this season, 3rd next season.....to win the title in 2011-12. How is that?
2004-05 - 5th;
2005-06 - 3rd;
2006-07 - 3rd;
Well, some can get a nice chuckle out of that, especially LFC fans, but you never know. It's been a slammer so far, and Bolton away will provide a firm test for us to gain a win and get back on the track, but even after that we must press on, no more false dawns. Champions League football and cup competitions will soon turn the corner and we have to put our defeats to the back and concentrate on each match.