It’s the first game of the season and we’ve just lost 3-0 against West Brom away from home. Oh wait! It isn’t 2012-13 anymore, is it? Sadly, it isn’t 2008-09 either, when we deservedly won 1-0 away at Sunderland, went on to beat Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford and went on to mount a title challenge that most of us remember only all too vividly. It IS 2013 though, and we’ve just won our first game of the season, for the first time since that breathtaking season, against Stoke City at home. Now, I am not suggesting for one minute that we will replicate those heady days and challenge for the title, but after four seasons of ‘starting from scratch’, we finally seem to be getting a sense of ‘we know where this team is going’.
The win against Stoke was nerve-wrecking, to say the very least. Robert Huth’s shot left the crossbar shuddering for a good while. Daniel Agger’s inexplicably pointless handball, when he was getting to the ball anyway, sent sighs of ‘here we go again’ through every Liverpool fan across the world. But then, there was also dazzling movement up front. There was a ferocious bottom corner strike by Daniel Sturridge. There was Coutinho, bewildering defenders across the pitch. There was Iago Aspas, trying to prove he can be more than just a squad player even if Liverpool keep Suarez and add another attacking midfielder to the mix. There was Jordan Henderson, adding a bit of end product to his tremendous running and tireless work rate. There was Kolo Toure, ably replacing the irreplacable Jamie Carragher. There was Simon Mignolet recovering from a shaky start to end as the hero of the match as he made a fantastic double save to deny Jonathan Walters from the penalty spot and then Kenwyne Jones’ follow up. And perhaps most importantly, there was a spirit, a hunger, a will to win in the squad perhaps not as visible in recent seasons.
But if there was an aspect of Liverpool’s play that was especially breathtaking, it was their fluidity and sharpness in attack. We look much sharper at this stage of the season than at other times in recent memory and our passing has an incisiveness that is refreshing to see. Indeed, if look at how each player influenced the game, we see that Lucas was a rock in the middle, breaking up play and finding short, simple passes to Gerrard to build the game up. Gerrard was the fulcrum of the entire side as he dictated play, finding passes to Coutinho, Johnson and Aspas to advance up the pitch. Gerrard also had the highest number of attempted and completed final third passes. And then of course there was Coutinho, gliding past players effortlessly, finding Sturridge time and time again and making us a very potent attacking threat. If we look at the player influence heat map, this is borne out.
And here is how Coutinho and Aspas fared with their passing in the final third.
The fluidity and sharpness in attack, as demonstrated by Coutinho roaming all over the pitch, bode well and make us a very difficult team to defend against. Gerrard’s incredible passing range and vision makes him an ideal candidate to dictate play from the middle of the park. And Toure’s addition adds to the defence the steel they lacked last season. However, I still worry about cover for Lucas. Lucas is a top quality defensive midfielder, harassing opponents, breaking up play and feeding Gerrard or Coutinho to create the damage. Joe Allen, in my opinion isn’t cover for him. Joe Allen is an altogether different kind of player who really can not do what Lucas does. We need cover for Lucas as I have been saying for weeks and weeks now. I also get the feeling that Rodgers trusts neither Martin Skrtel not Sebastian Coates, which makes adding a central defender to the ranks a priority too, bearing in mind Agger’s injury record. I, for one, would be happy with our attack if we keep Suarez and not sign another attack minded player. I believe we have enough options there if we count Raheem Sterling and Jordan Ibe as players in and around the first team squad as well.
Victory against Stoke may or may not have shown us much. But it certainly showed us that the squad seems to be more determined to do better than ever. This may partly be down to the type of characters Rodgers has brought into the squad this summer, but it definitely does bode well for the future. I, for one, am quietly optimistic about this season.
PS: Stats courtesy of the fantastic Stats Zone app.