By Paul Culff
Sunday’s game against QPR has to be labeled a big game! Two weeks ago, we headed into our festive fixtures within touching distance of the top 4 with a run of games that were all winnable. Taking 10-12 points did not seem so impossible against Villa (H), Fulham (H), Stoke (A) and QPR (A). Now we enter the final fixture of 2012 almost being a must win. A loss to QPR, who only have one other win all season against Fulham at Loftus Road (and we all know how awful Fulham are away from home), will certainly have the Brendan Rodgers skeptics out in force. I want to be patient with Rodgers but a loss on Sunday will certainly test that patience. Our consistency is killing any progress we make and his ability to get the players up for game after game must be questioned as we can’t seem to string a few good performances together. I would have expected the boys to be fully up for the Stoke game after the Fulham win but they were far from it.
Let’s talk about team makeup, primarily the midfield, especially as the January window approaches. I don’t think it is any secret that our front line needs reinforcements and hopefully it doesn’t stop with Daniel Sturridge as I’m unsure he has the goals needed in him. But what about the midfield and I include wingers in this conversation? 4 months ago, our midfield seemed stacked with options, even more so that we have seen some of the younger players come through. However I find the midfield to be a questionable area, especially finding the right mix. Just look at the names – Gerrard, Lucas, Sterling, Suso, Shelvey, Henderson, Cole, Assaidi, Sahin, Allen and Downing. This midfield seems to match the way our season has gone. There is promise but no consistency. They blow hot and cold week in week out. We can’t find the right mix or balance. I found the game against Stoke to be frustrating. I thought Shelvey didn’t offer too much and BR continues to persist with him. I have seen Suso show glimpses of being able to pass and move and interchange nicely with Suarez but BR doesn’t persist with him. I was sure we would see more of Sahin over the festive period but he has been rarely included (despite a broken nose and my understanding that he is still available to play) and wasn’t even on the team sheet on Boxing Day. I would love to see Sahin get a run of games. Assaidi now looks set for the African Cup of Nations despite not having played recently for us. In the small game time he has been given, he has at least shown invention, more so than Joe Cole and likewise Stewart Downing. I know Jordan Henderson has his detractors too but surely he needs more game time to prove himself.
I am just struggling to understand the vision of our midfield. BR clearly has his favorites and it worries me if he is satisfied. There are definitely players across the squad that simply warm the bench. These players seem to include Sahin, Assaidi, Coates, Henderson etc. These players surely have promise but must question how the inconsistent Shelvey, Cole and Downing get game time ahead of them. It’s also worrying when our left back (Enrique) gets some games at left midfield and is seemingly able to perform better there than some of the regulars.
Our defense and ability to track back is an issue but that is best saved for another article. My concern is finding the right combinations in midfield and do we have the right balance? During the summer, I felt that our midfield options were stacked and we didn’t need reinforcements. Now I find myself wanting creative midfield reinforcements to provide us with the quality we need. We have players to fill the midfield, but we lack the creativity and quality of a Juan Mata or Santi Cazorla. The trouble is attracting players of that caliber that seek Champions League football but there have to be options out there.
It seems that we have too many options with no solution. I have recently found myself asking, what is the solution in midfield?” I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.