Sunday Oct 27Posted by: Tom Noon Comments Off
The season started off so well for Daniel Agger. The retirement of previous vice-captain Jamie Carragher left a vacancy, which Rodgers entrusted the ‘loyal’ and ‘brilliant’ Dane to occupy. He impressed on the pitch as well, keeping three clean sheets in the first three games of the season along with Kolo Toure. Against Manchester United, his flicked header provided the assist for Sturridge’s fourth minute goal, which turned out to be the winner. However, the talk after the match was about Martin Skrtel, the man who had been left in the cold following a poor display against Oldham. The Slovak had been widely expected to leave, and Rodgers was already on the verge of signing Sakho and Ilori as replacements. Yet Skrtel’s man of the match performance against United left Rodgers with a real defensive dilemma. While in his first season, it at times felt there was little depth in the centre back position, he ended the window having four centre backs in his squad who arguably deserved to start in that position.
An injury to Agger meant Sakho and Skrtel started the game against Swansea, where Liverpool conceded their first two goals of the season. Sakho’s debut was reasonably unimpressive; he was at fault for the first goal, and arguably was out of position for the second. He did however make 15 successful clearances, hold a 95% passing record and dominate aerially, something the defence,who were torn apart by the likes of Benteke and Lukaku, lacked last season. All four centre backs started the game at Anfield against Southampton, pushing Sakho out to left back and Toure to right back. Agger suffered a difficult match, giving away the ball to Lallana to force Mignolet into action, and being outmuscled too easily by Dejan Lovren, who scored the winner for the Saints. Since Rodgers made the change to 3-5-2, Agger has made just one appearance in four Premier League games, a 20 minute cameo against Crystal Palace. With clubs like Barcelona potentially still interested in Agger, it remains to be seen whether Agger will fight his way back into the team, or whether he could be on his way out of Liverpool in the near future.
One of the main problems for Agger is that Sakho plays in his preferred position as left centre-back. Neither have ever really played at right centre-back, and with players like Skrtel and Toure who are comfortable in that position, it seems unlikely that they would risk one of the two playing in an unfamiliar role. The change to 3-5-2 could have seen a way back for Agger, but Skrtel and Toure have continued to impress, while it is unlikely the £15 million signing will be dropped unless he suffers a remarkable dip in form. With no cup games until January, Rodgers doesn’t have as much time to experiment with different pairings, so as long as he is getting results with one combination, it will be difficult for Agger to get back in the first team.
It’s not impossible however, it takes just one suspension or injury to the central defence, and Agger will be the certain choice to replace that player. Skrtel was granted a reprieve when he came in for Toure in the United game, and he hasn’t missed a game since, while Henderson and Downing manged to become first team regulars last season when it seemed inevitable both were on their way out (although the latter has now left). We are also heading towards the busiest part of the season, and rotation will be needed to keep players fresh. Some good performances when Agger gets his chance could force Rodgers to re-introduce him to the first team. Liverpool have yet to keep a clean sheet in any of Sakho’s games for the club, yet Agger has kept three clean sheets in his four starts this season. If this statistic continues, Agger may be introduced to see whether that brings any improvement.
For now, Agger must continue to impress in training, and grab every chance that comes his way. A player as good as Agger will never be out of the first team for too long, and he must continued to remember the lyrics of the song sang by the home supporters at every Anfield game. If Agger does decide to leave, then I personally wish him good luck, as he has been a loyal player who would give anything for the team since arriving from Brondby in 2006. As long as Liverpool have needed them, he’s always been there, despite interest from clubs who offered him the chance to play in the Champions League such as Barcelona and Manchester City. Agger is a fighter however, he’s fought his way back into the first team before and he can do it again. I’d be surprised if Agger left so soon after gaining the vice-captaincy, especially in a season where Liverpool look like they have an outside chance of reaching the top four by the end of the season.
Liverpool are currently 3rd in the Premier League with yesterday’s 4-1 win at home to West Bromwich Albion.
This win might just be Liverpool’s best performance of the season so far. Liverpool were well organised at the back, strong in midfield, and of course it helps to have strikers like Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. The performance and result could not have come at a better time, with Liverpool’s trip to the league leaders Arsenal next week. It was important, therefore, that Liverpool put in a good and professional performance yesterday.
However, West Brom have become a bogey team for Liverpool. Up to yesterday’s win, West Brom had won four of the last six league games against Liverpool, including inflicting the ‘Double’ on Liverpool last season. Before yesterday, Suarez hadn’t scored against the Baggies since he came to England in January 2011 (five games), but put pay to that with a stunning hat trick, while Sturridge’s late chip put the cherry on top of the cake.
Sturridge is now looking like inspired business by Brendan Rodgers. Sturridge joined for £12.5 million in January 2013 from Chelsea, and is repaying that fee now with his goalscoring – he is the quickest player to notch 20 goals for Liverpool (26 games, last week). And some people thought it was a gamble, eh Fergie? Liverpool’s best business of the last transfer window in the summer was keeping Suarez despite the Uruguayan wanting to leave. Rodgers and FSG were resilient throughout and refused to buckle. Both Rodgers and FSG deserve huge credit for keeping Suarez away from the vultures that circled – namely Real Madrid and Arsenal.
Many would argue that the strike partnership of Suarez & Sturridge at the moment, and they’d not be too far wrong. Sturridge’s fantastic chip over the keeper gave the 24-year old his 8th league goal of the season and Suarez now has six league goals since he returned from suspension. Both are strong candidates in the race for the Golden Boot and if Liverpool are to launch a top four challenge and an FA Cup challenge, that will be very important for Liverpool. I think both are both very realistic aims for Liverpool this season.
However, it wasn’t just about the strikers yesterday. Lucas Leiva in the centre of midfield deserves a mention too. He was Liverpool’s only change from the side that drew 2-2 at Newcastle United last week, and put in a fantastic performance. Lucas snatched the ball all over the pitch, thereby restricting West Brom’s attacking opportunities, and was also tidy with the ball. Other players steal the headlines for Liverpool but Lucas also plays a vital role for Liverpool, holding the midfield, thereby making it more solid.
Lucas’ presence in midfield allowed Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson to have an influence in more advanced positions. Henderson put in another impressive performance in the week when his running style came in for criticism from Alex Ferguson in his book. Henderson almost scored before half time when his shot went just wide, and Gerrard did well too, particularly with the assist for Suarez’s hat trick goal. Ferguson also took a swipe at Gerrard, saying he “wasn’t a top, top player” (despite once trying to bring Gerrard to Manchester United). I particularly liked Rodgers’ response in his post match press conference, where he said Gerrard was a top, top, top, top, top player.
With Gerrard, Henderson and Lucas performing well at the minute, there is a conundrum for Rodgers next week to solve with Philippe Coutinho on the brink of returing after a shoulder injury. The strike partnership that Sturridge and Suarez have is firing on all cylinders and it is exciting to think about the strike partnership up front with Coutinho supplying them, but although I’ll be glad to see Coutinho back, I do think it would be unfair on the midfield trio of Lucas, Henderson and Gerrard for one of them to make way next week.
This is another positive about Liverpool now – starting places must be earned. Coutinho will have to earn back his place, like what Daniel Agger is having to do now. Agger was appointed vice captain in pre-season to replace the retiring legend Jamie Carragher, but the form of Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho and in particular Martin Skrtel has restricted Agger’s Starting XI opportunities. Skrtel put another good performance in, and his goal line clearance off Nicolas Anelka on the stroke of half time was vital with the score at 2-0. If he didn’t intervene then, the scoreline would probably not have been so convincing in Liverpool’s favour. So Skrtel had a massive influence on the result as well.
The fact that Agger is now on the subs’ bench now shows that there is good strength in depth at Liverpool now in many areas of the pitch, even without the bottomless pit of financial reserves that Chelsea & Manchester City have. Many of the teams challenging at the top of the division have strength in depth in their squad and there’s a good strength in depth at Liverpool, which makes a very welcome change to last season when Suarez was Liverpool’s only fit first team striker in the opening months as they struggled in that period of last season.
Liverpool’s trip to Arsenal will undoubtedly be very tough. Arsenal are the league leaders at the moment, and might have pulled off the signing of the summer in Mesut Ozil. The German adds to the ample quality Arsenal have throughout the pitch, and they are certainly surpassing many people’s expectations.
It was therefore vital that Liverpool beat a very good West Bromwich Albion to gain some confidence ahead of that vital trip to The Emirates. They put in their best performance, and their first 90 minute performance this season. Liverpool have taken their foot off the gas far too frequently in the second halves, and on occasions it has cost them. Luckily, there was none of that. It was a very good performance ahead of a very stern test and there are aspects of Liverpool that will make Arsenal a bit nervous ahead of next week’s massive game. All of which should make for a cracking game next Saturday.
Saturday Oct 26Posted by: Zak Forster Comments Off
The focus of the Premier League right now is “the SAS”. A partnership between two fantastic football players. Luis Suárez: the aggressor, the tormentor, the joker in the pack. Daniel Sturridge: the graceful, the powerful, the machine. Two strikers who shouldn’t compliment each other, dovetailing like they’ve played together all their lives. There aren’t many better in Europe right now and Liverpool are on the verge of being considered a decent side again, somebody must have something to say about this? The Reds tackle Arsène Wenger’s table topping Arsenal next week and they couldn’t be heading to the Emirates in higher spirits after thrashing West Brom 4-1 with a beautiful show of how to run your own goal of the month competition which heralded their return to second position in the Premier League table.
Liverpool could not have started in faster fashion, blitzing West Brom in a devastating first 20 minute spell that showed off many of the qualities that Liverpool possessed when they were regulars in the Champions League – start fast, grab a couple of goals and set the crowd and the tempo alight. Liverpool were near enough out of sight when Luis Suárez slid on his knees towards the Anfield Road End in the 17th minute – following the second goal of a glorious hat trick. Suárez’s first, as described by West Brom manager Steve Clarke, “came from nothing”. He was right. The Uruguayan’s first goal was all about individual brilliance as the striker latched onto Kolo Touré’s pass and strode nonchalantly past Claudio Yacob before nutmegging Jonas Olsson and slotting low to Myhill’s right hand side. Suárez seems to do these things as easily as reporters write about them – we push keys and watch as words form on our screens. It’d be a good bet that Suárez finds the actual thing just as easy to execute.
If Suárez’s first was individually brilliant then his second was a wonder goal contained within a very good Liverpool move. Lucas, Sturridge, Cissokho and Suárez all combined before the striker headed home past Myhill to make it two goals with just over a quarter of an hour played. Many will read about this game and many will question how good a headed goal can actually be. Watch the goal and see for yourself. Suárez underhit his pass out to the left flank and Cissokho could only slide and hope the cross found a target, Liverpool’s front man found himself on the edge of the box with a split second to decide how to keep the move alive. He improvised and headed home from fully eighteen yards to leave almost everyone inside Anfield completely dumbfounded but elated at the same time. The ball whistled towards the top corner in the same way that an outside of the foot shot would with the ball curving inwards from outside the upright. It was truly a unique moment of improvisation and Liverpool deservedly lead 2-0.
The diminutive striker then completed his hat trick with just over 50 minutes played. A gorgeous Steven Gerrard free kick was launched into the West Brom box from the left hand side – the ball landing just where Suárez needed it to land. The striker sent a looping header into the far corner before Myhill could even react – former Evertonian Victor Anichebe looked forlorn as he abandoned his defensive duties and left Suárez completely unmarked. There was time for Daniel Sturridge to crash a curling effort against the bar before West Brom won a controversial penalty after the Baggies’ adventurous right back, Billy Jones, sprinted at the Liverpool defence only to be met cleanly by a Lucas Leiva tackle. The referee waved play on but the assistant had other ideas, much to the dismay of the Anfield faithful as James Morrison duly blasted the ball home.
West Brom had just started to build up some momentum when Daniel Sturridge finally put his name into the hat for the goal of the month award, as he deliciously chipped Myhill from the edge of the box after receiving the ball midway inside West Brom’s half and shrugging off the efforts of Mulumbu. The angle at which the ball dropped into Myhill’s net was perfect and it emphasised that this Liverpool team were playing their best football of the season. Suárez, clearly miffed at having his earlier goal beaten for quality, attempted an audacious overhead kick which crashed against the cross bar after a smart one handed save from the tired looking Myhill.
The game entered stoppage time with a serenading and powerful “You’ll Never Walk Alone” ringing around the ground as the feel good factor seemed to blow back into Anfield like a breath of crisp mountain air. This was a performance far beyond those that Liverpool had produced so far this season, the Reds dominated from start to finish and pressed West Brom’s players into countless mistakes. Although Suárez and Sturridge will dominate the headlines, there should percentages of praise dished out to some of Liverpool’s other players. Jordan Henderson ran himself into the ground with a typically hard working display that was typified as the midfielder was seen to still be pressing during stoppage time as he forced West Brom towards their own corner flag. Lucas Leiva also delivered his best display of the season following the birth of his second child last weekend. Steven Gerrard continued to show just why we all regard him as a “top, top player”. Liverpool’s three man defence also looked much more stable than it did during last weekend’s trip to Newcastle with Martin Škrtel seeming reborn after a turbulent 2012/2013 season.
However, it is Suárez who should take most of the accolades and he was deservedly named Man of the Match after the game. All in all a good performance by the Reds and a solid haul of three points. West Brom shouldn’t be too hard on themselves – not many teams could have lived with Liverpool on this occasion.
On Twitter: @UponTheSpionKop