In a previous article I had warned not to get complacent after the well deserved win against Blackburn at Anfield and even suggested the game at Bolton would result in a boring draw or worse still another defeat. Thats the price paid whilst weathering the seesaw scenario brought about by regime change and which is only natural and part-and-parcel of a re-structuring process.
Well, how close to being spot on I was. Signs of improvement at containing a willing Bolton side but poor touches and finishing saw us create minimal danger going forward. In particular, Stevie was out of sorts with a particular shot way off target in the first half and which a few months ago would have been blasted goalwards leaving the goalie rooted to the spot. Miereles was the usual hard working character but still not decisive with his last touch. Patience is a virtue and right now Liverpool won’t have none of this and are resorting to precipitous passing and finishing. This is a result of huge expectations put on a club which has been through turmoil from top to bottom in the last few months.
The turning point in the match against Bolton was when Joe Cole was forced to leave the field after sustaining what seemed to be a hamstring pull. On came Ngog and now Liverpool had a player much more in tune with his Liverpool team mates. Joe Cole has been uncharacteristic so far (put back, one must say, by the three match ban earlier on in the season) and has failed to provide a satisfactory link-up with Torres bar one or two occasions. I’m sure that given more games, this aspect will be rectified.
Ngog has been the unsung hero so far this season. He is Liverpool’s top scorer in all competitions and is starting to improve his overall game, in particular ball control. It is then no mystery why Liverpool showed a step improvement with Ngog on the pitch. I have always been a fan of the 4-5-1 or 4-3-2-1 mode of play as it beefs up the midfield considerably well and provides for a reasonable attacking force. The focal point of such a formation is the area occupied by the two providers just behind Torres, namely Cole and Kuyt/Maxi as of late. If these two fail to provide the necessary link up, the three behind them – Gerrard – Lucas – Miereles – (the latter two are also keen to attack play) are left exposed and having to intercept attacking surges by the opponent. Cole and Maxi failed to reproduce the same intent shown against Blackburn and many times Liverpool’s attacking attempts were easily foiled.
Reverting to a conventional 4-4-2 system caught Bolton by surprise. Torres again took center stage during Liverpool’s goal setup, first by luring three Bolton players and then feeding the ball towards Maxi with a classy back heel. The Argentine’s finish was superb and was fully deserved after failing to grab a goal against Blackburn the previous week inspite of his excellent performance. The issue is now what setup to adopt for the game against Chelsea. Given the home advantage, the usual 4-3-2-1 formation looks like the ideal candidate, although Hodgson needs to sort out who to play instead of Cole now that news from medical quarters suggests the ex-Chelsea man will be out for two weeks. Given Cole’s below par form I was never convinced he would have given Chelsea a hard time. Ancelloti will know too well how to counter Cole’s influence so the injury, although never a good thing, will come as a blessing.
The safest bet in terms of formation is to use the same 4-4-2 system which paid dividends against Bolton towards the end of the game. Focus will again be on Torres as the Spaniard is now showing signs of a revival and Chelsea will want to ensure he’s well looked after but this may leave Ngog with more room to operate. Maxi will retain his place most notably because he is up for it at the moment and a classical four in midfield alleviates the pressure off the full backs when going forward. So although a 4-5-1 is ideal it’s not feasible given the injury concerns.
The Chelsea game is an ever more important encounter now that we’ve won two on the trot. Defeat at Anfield can send us spiraling out of control again heading towards the hectic Christmas period. So defeat must be avoided. A draw would be a good result against a high-flying team. In the mean-time focus will be on the events on Thursday evening when Liverpool host Napoli in a much anticipated encounter. The Italians have had a good start to the season and will want to build on the win at Brescia after a few draws and defeat at AC Milan. The atmosphere at Anfield will surely be electrifying and the crowd will play a part in helping the Reds overcome another Italian hurdle. What’s certain is that the home advantage must be made to count on Thursday but more importantly against the Blues on Sunday.
See you next time.