By Harrison Phillips
Well here we are again, getting thrown back through the loop and negativity from some, albeit a small minority of supporters is setting in. Let me give you some cause for optimism. Let’s start with the grand scheme of things, and with the big dog himself, Brendan.
Actually before getting into the good stuff let me take a paragraph to defend the manager, skip forward if you must. Discounting this current season, Rodger’s tenure at Liverpool has been an unmitigated success, and each season he has been confronted with, and thus far risen brilliantly to the challenge of, a number of obstacles he had never before faced as a manager, at least on that scale.
This season has brought with it the biggest challenge yet. Or rather a number of challenges, some foreseen and some not so. The most talked about is the departure of Luis Suarez, but by far the most important and crippling is adapting to playing in Europe; and this is really a challenge on two fronts:
First is this notion that Liverpool have ‘done a Spurs’, we haven’t and here’s why. The media says that Liverpool should have bought themselves one or two quality players with that money in order to try and replace Suarez. Forgetting that our title challenge was in part derailed by not having enough players to get through last season properly, with a week to recover from games, and less total games in the season. So Liverpool were always going to spend a lot on youth (the Liverpool way) and reinforcing our squad. These players are quality, just look at the Real Madrid game. What they need is time. Time to adapt to the league, time to improve as players, time to build confidence and time to build an understanding of our team’s style of play, hence the slow ball movement this season. As a coach, I can tell you it is not like playing FIFA manager. You might as well compare football to COD, and any opinion based on such is completely invalid.
Secondly, playing in Europe shortens our available coaching time. Last season we had 5 days average between matches to coach the players. That means we had time to focus on playing our game effectively and quickly, with all the players in understanding with each other, whilst also focusing on how the opposition played and working on things such as set pieces. Wondering why we aren’t scoring nearly as much from set pieces this season? Lack of coaching and training time to really hone the repetition is the key factor. Contrast this with our current season where at least 3 days of the week are taken thanks to European fixtures- one light training session the day before, match day and at least one recovery day afterwards. You want answers as to why we aren’t improving quickly? Why we seem to make the same mistakes for several games in a row? Look to the lack of coaching time. Brendan has even bemoaned this himself in a few interviews. Liverpool want to play in every competition yes, but you have to accept that after bringing in so many players, having key members of the team leave and become injured whilst having much less training ground education time, it will take longer for Brendan to shape the team than he or we would like.
The last major error is one the club should take some stick for, and that is not signing an appropriate Centre Forward. Let me explain myself, Balotelli is a player with a lot of skill but a poor knowledge of playing a lone centre forward role, and does not seem to possess the physicality to close the ball like our other players, though I do commend his focus and effort. Worse than this, and through no fault of his own, he was clearly a panic buy. Loic Remy was lined up but for whatever reason didn’t come, we were linked with top players but nothing materialised, and the club needs to accept they messed up here.
Lastly I would just like to say please realise where we are as a club- that is, moving very much in the right direction, but not yet one of Europe’s, or the league’s, very best. Last season was a perfect storm, next time we’ll have to earn our title challenge the long way round. And most importantly of all, don’t think of our club in terms of this season. This season is very important but the big picture matters more. A young, settled squad of Europe’s most promising talent, under an enthusiastic and dynamic manager, with significant financial muscle so as not to completely choke the life out of our squad (ala Hicks and Gillet), that’s where we’ll be in a year’s time, under a couple of conditions. We fill in the gaps left after this last transfer window, which was good but did not finish the job (another striker(Origi?), another centre back, another goalkeeper), and we stick by our manager regardless of results this season and keep all or close to all of our key players. If we do this we WILL challenge for the title again next season, regardless of (though ideally with, obviously) a top 4 finish…mark my words. Patience, Trust in Brendan and YNWA friends.
*One last note on playing 4-3-3 every game instead of 4-4-2. I agree that it would probably be best to switch for now into the diamond because Balotelli seems to perform better. But Brendan’s thinking is most likely that he needs to teach Balotelli how to play there, rather than accepting the inadequacy. Think about it, long term, were he to stay, Balotelli would likely have to play a lone centre forward role with competence at some point. It’s the give a man a fish vs teach a man to fish thing. But I agree he should change it, though I’d refer you to the Madrid game if anyone says the manager is scared to change things.