The race for the Premier League’s coveted fourth position is very tight at the minute, with four teams vying for the final Champions League spot.
Liverpool are one of those teams, and with the top end of the Premier League being as tight as it is, the Reds could ill-afford to drop points in their home game against Aston Villa. Liverpool had to come back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at home to Villa, in a very disappointing performance, particularly in the first half. However, at this stage, I must credit Aston Villa. They took advantage of a poor team set up by Liverpool, played to their strengths, and did well in the first half; they’ve beaten Arsenal at the Emirates this season and could have got a point against the league leaders last Monday. Aston Villa are a good counter-attacking side, with some good players and a good away form. They certainly gave Liverpool a game at Anfield.
With better finishing from the away side they could have been 3-0 up before they opened the scoring through Andreas Weimann on 25 minutes, and I’m not lying. Villa extended that lead through Christian Benteke eleven minutes later. Aston Villa won this fixture last season and could well have done again had Daniel Sturridge brought Liverpool back into it with a goal on the stroke of half time. Steven Gerrard equalised soon after half time with a penalty won by Luis Suarez to reward Liverpool’s bright start in the second half, but that was as good as it got.
The manner in which Suarez won the penalty has been up for debate (some say it was, others say it wasn’t), but this is an attempt to distract from Liverpool’s pressing issues at the minute.
As soon as I saw the team Brendan Rodgers had selected, I was worried. It was a very attacking side but left Liverpool exposed on the break. It played right into the hands of Aston Villa, a side that likes to play on the counter attack. And they ripped Liverpool apart on the break, and that’s how Villa’s first goal transpired.
It was also naive of Rodgers to consider Gerrard as a defensive midfielder. Unfortunately, he’s not the first player that has been played out of position under Rodgers: the back four that played in that horror show at home to Southampton springs to mind, as does Victor Moses being played at No.10 in the early weeks while they played that 3-5-2 formation with wing-backs (and while Philippe Coutinho was injured).
Something else that needs to improve urgently is their defensive record. Liverpool have the joint-worst defensive record in the top 10 with 28 goals conceded – nine more than Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton.
Defensively, Liverpool aren’t good enough to get into the Champions League. It’s a good thing that Liverpool have the Premier League’s top scorer in their ranks, because this really has papered over the cracks that exist in Liverpool’s side. It needs to improve, because at the current rate, Liverpool might fall short.
It’s also down to individual errors at the back too. Simon Mignolet made another error for Villa’s second goal scored by Benteke. Mignolet came out for a cross and didn’t get there. Mignolet has made a promising start to his Liverpool career, but it has started to tail off recently.
Speaking of players tailing off, Glen Johnson looks so out of form it is concerning. Luckily, in academy graduates Martin Kelly and Jon Flanagan (when he returns) there is decent back up. In the centre of defence, Martin Skrtel was probably the pick of the bunch. Kolo Toure had a poor game, but I wouldn’t say get rid as he provides experience for Liverpool’s young squad. Aly Cissokho – the less said about the on-loan Valencia defender the better. Liverpool desperately need Jose Enrique/Flanagan back before the derby, or buy a new left-back.
The two in central midfield was obviously an experiment by Rodgers that didn’t work out. Gerrard scored the penalty, but struggled a lot, giving the ball away quite frequently, although he’s being played out of position. When Lucas came on at half time, it was long overdue. He instantaneously improved the team when he came on. Unfortunately he hobbled off 20 minutes into the second half, and hopefully it’s not too serious. Lucas has had flak, but he’s Liverpool’s best holding midfielder which makes him a vital part of Liverpool’s team.
Irrespective of the severity of the injury, Liverpool must go out and buy a midfielder in the final 12 days of the transfer window. The fact that they didn’t in the summer was criminal, and now they must buy a central midfielder.
Joe Allen came on for Lucas, and he’s a good technical player, but not strong enough to play the defensive midfield role that Liverpool are crying out for. Jordan Henderson did well to get the assist for Sturridge’s goal and is doing well, as is Raheem Sterling who since coming back into the side has looked the player that broke into the first team in the early part of last season.
Sturridge was brought in for Lucas, and did well for his goal, but against Villa, the “SaS” partnership didn’t really click. Suarez did win the penalty that got Liverpool their equaliser, but the Villa defence managed to shackle the in-form Uruguayan, even if some of the methods of doing it were questionable. Coutinho didn’t have a great game either, and was hauled off after 45 minutes.
This result is a massive reality check for everyone at Liverpool. The squad needs major improvement if Liverpool are to return to the Champions League in May. John W Henry attended Saturday’s match at Anfield. Hopefully he’ll have seen that Liverpool need to spend money to improve. What’s needed urgently is a central midfielder, irrespective of how long Lucas could be out for.
Rodgers was saying in the week that Liverpool could aim for the title – well he was left with egg on his face with this result. This title talk must stop because it wasn’t the aim this season; the top three look like they’ve blown everyone else out of the water. Returning to the top four this season and winning a trophy had to be the aim at the start of the season, and now even this may not happen this season.
Rodgers made mistakes in the Villa game, and there is no disputing that. However, Liverpool did show character to come back from 2-0 down to gain a point, and Liverpool will need a lot more of that in the closing months of the season as they chase a Champions League spot.