All last year’s good work is in serious danger of being undone. And at the moment there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.
Even the most optimistic of Scousers must now be getting worried. I am. We’ve gone from beating teams three, four and five nil to not being able to score goals.
Worse still is that despite spending over £35m on defensive reinforcements during the summer in the shape of Lovren, Moreno and Manquillo, the alarming defensive frailties haven’t been ironed out. In fact, they’ve got worse.
Some might say our problems began in the summer. They’d be right.
The moment Luis Suarez sank his teeth into Chiellini, the writing was on the wall. There was ultimately no chance of keeping him and the club was faced with the almost impossible job of replacing him. I say almost because there are players in the world who, for the right money, would have been able to come in and take his place.
Top, proven strikers who are in their prime.
Of course Liverpool needed to boost their squad and adding some depth would, in time benefit the club. But to add the depth without also adding the quality was a big mistake.
To add to the frustration, this is the second time the club has received a huge transfer fee for a striker and squandered it. (Torres and Suarez.)
I fear the owners are wary of spending a massive amount on a striker after the Andy Carroll situation. But it’s not just about them spending money. It’s about spending the money wisely – on players who have experience at the highest level.
Just look at the forwards Liverpool attempted to buy over the summer. After receiving £75m for Suarez, Liverpool signed Rickie Lambert for £4m. And whilst he was bought as a squad player, it was hardly a statement of intent.
The transfer committee also targeted Alexis Sanchez for £32m. Yeah he’s a class player and, based on his performances for Arsenal so far, he would have been a success. But the fact that they couldn’t get the deal done speaks volumes.
It seems there is no one in charge at Liverpool who is capable of getting big transfers right. When a club has the advantage of knowing that another club want their star player, they should use this to get whatever is best for them. Liverpool should have demanded Sanchez in part exchange or refused to do the deal. That would have forced Barca’s hand and they would have undoubtedly piled the pressure on Sanchez. What’s more, Liverpool should have insisted on first refusal for both Suarez and Messi if either player left in the future. And whilst neither deal is realistic, there’s no harm worth having the option to buy them.
Following the flawed attempt to buy Sanchez, there was a bid of £8.5m for Loic Remy. He would have been a decent addition but that’s hardly a like for like investment – buying a player who is £66.5m cheaper.
The club was then supposedly interested in Falcao and I admit, at the time I wanted us to get him. But after seeing his performances/time spent on the sidelines thus far, I’m glad the board didn’t waste such a vast amount on a loan signing, with no way of recouping any of the money. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
And then there’s Balotelli. One minute he’s class, the next minute he’s Aspas. I’ve said many times, on his day he’s brilliant. The trouble is, his day doesn’t come often enough for a top club to base their team around him. With his skill, physique and charisma, Mario does draw the attention of opposing defenders. And when he has players with pace and goals playing alongside him, they’ll reap the rewards. (Think back to our game against Tottenham.) I have no doubt that, had Liverpool been able to field a front two of Sturridge and Balotelli, with Sterling behind at the tip of the diamond, the team would have picked up more points. But Sturridge’s injury problems are the reason that solely adding Balotelli wasn’t the way to go. I don’t mind the fact that the owners sanctioned the acquisition of Balotelli. In fact, at the time I was excited and thought it was a gamble that could pay off. For me, it still could if he has the chance to play a run of games with Sturridge and Sterling. But he isn’t a replacement for Suarez. Not even close. We needed someone else in addition to him, someone who was ready to come in and hit the ground running, someone who has proven they are consistently world class.
However, the problems go way beyond Mario. For those who have made him the scapegoat for Liverpool’s poor form, that has merely allowed other players to avoid the spotlight. (Until Sunday.)
Out of the players bought this summer: Balotelli, Lovren, Lallana, Lambert, Markovic, Moreno, Manquillo, Can and Origi, were any of them both at their peak with top European experience? You could argue Balotelli has played at the top level, Lovren and Lallana are at their peak and Lambert is experienced. But the three men signed from Southampton haven’t proven themselves on the world stage and Balotelli, at 24, hasn’t yet reached his prime. Meanwhile, Markovic, Moreno, Manquillo, Can and Origi (on loan) are all young players with potential. So you can see why the team is lacking the leadership and drive, as spoken about by Carragher.
So we are struggling going forward. Defensively, we are a disaster.
Flanagan and Sakho have been injured and Enrique isn’t first choice. With Moreno and Manquillo, they’re still young and settling in a new country so it would be unfair to point the finger at them. But the others are letting the side down. Badly.
For me, Johnson has gone. It was criminal of him to not make a challenge in the build up to Crystal Palace’s second goal. Watch it back if you can bear to. Sadly, Johnson knows his contract is running out and there’s little chance of him being offered a new one. So what has he got to play for? He looks disinterested and has done for a while now.
Skrtel’s can be solid on his day but his strength isn’t as a footballing centre back and he always has a mistake in him. Time and again he will get caught napping or give away fouls in dangerous areas. This isn’t a reactionary comment, he has repeatedly made mistakes.
Lovren has been a massive fail at £20m. Frankly speaking he looks out of his depth with some of the worst pieces of defending I have seen. His positional sense has gone out of the window – he’s all over the place. He isn’t commanding in the air as we expected him to be. And he seems incapable of staying on his feet at vital moments. (The Palace and Madrid games are just two examples of this.)
In goal, I think Mignolet is a write off and we don’t have an understudy who we can play instead. Our second choice keeper is a nice lad but he should be renamed Bad Jones. We should never have let Reina go. Rodgers should have swallowed his pride and offered the Spaniard a lifeline. His experience and leadership are exactly what we have needed this season. And as a goalkeeper with amazing ability on the ball, he would have suited the playing style that Rodgers has tried to implement. There’s no way he would have kicked the ball out for a throw in from a free kick as Mignolet did last weekend. It’s not just that one mistake. Mignolet’s distribution is awful. Watch his kicks that go long – they rarely find a Liverpool player. And he isn’t comfortable with the ball at his feet either, so playing it short is difficult when the opposition press.
The fact is, Rodgers isn’t a defensively minded manager and he has steadfastly refused to employ a defensive coach. Carragher or Hansen would be perfect for this role if they were available to do it three days a week.
The other pitfall that arises from Rodgers being weak defensively comes in the transfer market. The players that have been signed for Liverpool in these positions over the last few seasons don’t make sense. I’m not including full backs here; generally speaking they are more comfortable on the ball. But Mignolet hadn’t demonstrated technical ability prior to joining the club and he has failed to develop it since signing.
Sakho and Lovren both seem to be ‘stoppers’ similar to Skrtel. Traditionally speaking, a stopper at centre back is complimented by someone who is more comfortable bringing the ball out. Think Carragher and Hyypia. Or as much as we’d hate to admit it, Terry and Ferdinand. Liverpool seem to have retained one stopper, added two more and sold the one player who complimented them – Daniel Agger. I was a big fan of Agger but being realistic it was hard to base a defence around a player who had so many injuries. However, you would think between the scouts, the manager and all the other people on the transfer committee who appear to be clueless, someone would spot the need to replace the Dane with a player who has similar attributes.
I know this seems like an incredibly negative piece. And to be honest it is exactly that. Because the reality is, teams who qualify for the Champions League next season get double the money due to BT Sport’s television deal. So if ever there was time that it was imperative we don’t miss out it’s this season.
With that at stake, if things don’t improve very soon the club might have to do what was unthinkable a few months back and let Rodgers go. I know a lot of supporters will say he deserves time after doing so well last season but how much of that was down to Suarez? And whilst most of us would like to see Rodgers come through this tricky time, the owners showed when they sacked Dalglish that they have little room for sentiment.
Put simply, Benitez would love to return and Jurgen Klopp is dropping hints about working in England. Two top managers are currently available but for how long? OK, Klopp might not be a possibility until the summer, when he’ll do doubt have numerous suitors. But in the case of Benitez it might be easier to persuade him to move mid season due to the fact that he loves Liverpool and his family still live on Merseryside.
If in the next few games we have been eliminated from the Champions League and fallen further behind the top four can we afford to let the season dwindle out? The extra money on offer for participating in Europe’s premier competition stops Liverpool from falling further behind other clubs financially. It allows us to attract top class players next season. And it means we are able to buy them without falling foul of UEFA’s so-called Financial Fair Play rules. So wherever we go from here, it really is double or bust.