In a game where Liverpool fans’ hearts were weighed down with disappointment, we must focus on the fact that over two legs Liverpool as a team did very little wrong. Fans can take solace from a number of comparisons: manager mentality, player conduct and pure footballing desire. The bottom line is that at this point in our team’s progress not much else could have been done differently in two team approaches separated by fine margins. In a way, this game can be seen as a positive factor; confirming the only real need is for a new striker. Nothing new. Here we will scrutinise the details that worked for and against the team.
Lucas’ Hocus Pocus
What impressed me the most yesterday was how much area Lucas covered- he was popping up all over the pitch. Of special note yet again, Lucas has been magnificent in his pressing, winning the ball and general defensive duties. Persistent and determined, his performance against Chelsea showed his best side.
It was great to see Gerrard and Henderson quickening the pace of the attacks, playing quicker forward balls to Markovic and Sterling. Gerrard’s interceptions and pressing was intense and Henderson provided cover at the back. However, Henderson was wasteful in front of an open goal in the dying minutes when a goal would have pushed the game onto penalties. Of a growing concern is his reluctance to take shots. Last night he got into some excellent positions but chose to pass the ball when he should have taken a shot. In the absence of strikers Henderson needs to up his risk taking.
Coutinho Causes Problems
Liverpool’s number 10 always found space and a criticism of the team was that they needed to get him the ball more often. With his pace and quick thinking he gave the opposition a lot to worry about every time he took them on. Coutinho produced a brilliant save from Courtois in the first half but his lack of finishing consistently meant that this did not surprise too many fans. Coutinho has everything apart from the finishing touch and perhaps releases the ball a little late. Nevertheless, as we know, patience is what is needed here from the man himself and the fans.
Sterling has the weight of SAS’s dominance in front of goal on his back. He has taken to the role with no fear but it is a mammoth task to ask of a winger who scored 9 goals last season. He was the provider and the trouble maker, not the lone striker. Counter attacks left Sterling isolated. His pace was his gift and curse against Chelsea as he was left with no options in support. Crosses into the box did not work as Sterling simply does not have the stature for this kind of play among most defences, let alone Chelsea’s back four. In the 61st minute Sterling had a big opportunity to go through on goal but decided to wait for support which ultimately fizzled out- he needs to pick up the mentality of a striker and be greedy in this position whilst this is the expectation on his shoulders.
Deservedly a contender for man of the match Simon Mignolet was superb against Chelsea. Undaunted and completely focussed, his instinctive reactions denied Diego Costa twice in the second half. A commendable performance that can only spread confidence.
Loss of composure
At times Liverpool did lose focus. Johnson was too casual a few times with the prowling Willian on his back and created problems out of nothing. Sakho had some poor clearances, giving the ball away whilst trying to dribble his way out of danger. It is a shame he is now a doubt for the next game as consistency in the team has been a strength. Balotelli tried to play with wit and brought some clever ideas to the attack but unfortunately none of these paid off. We did see him try to press more but there were times where both he and Sterling were chasing the same ball which ultimately took them both out of the game as soon as a Chelsea defender intercepted. These mistakes are basic and shouldn’t happen.
What we have learned is nothing new and this is the biggest achievement. Liverpool were dominant, confident and assured and must continue in this vein. Playing without a striker and losing 2-1 over two legs is an achievement in itself and shouldn’t be overlooked. They stopped Chelsea scoring at home for a full 90 minutes before extra time where one moment took away their hard work. As a team we are seeing togetherness and intensity, purpose and assurance. Liverpool seem to have weathered the storm of inconsistency and now the only way is up as the return of Sturridge is imminent and some important fixtures lie ahead.