What a difference a week makes. Since battering Everton in the Merseyside derby, it’s been a few days of disappointment for Liverpool supporters. First of all, seeing our attempts fail to strengthen the squad at all in the January transfer window, and then dropping two points away to West Brom in a weekend that presented a fantastic opportunity to gain ground on those ahead of us, and put distance between those behind us.
Let’s not dismiss the impact that the former of those setbacks could have on the rest of our season. Yevhen Konoplyanka is a very good footballer who would have improved our squad, but simply the buzz of an exciting new signing can sometimes revitalise the players you do have and give them that extra belief and motivation to push on in the second half of the season.
Look at Arsenal, who currently top the league table, signing Swedish international Kim Kallstrom on loan. At 31, he’s hardly a long term solution, and since his Lyon days he has declined as a footballer significantly. To add to that, he got himself injured immediately after joining the Gunners.
But as Arsene Wenger has said, if he can pop up with one match winning goal, they can see him as a successful signing. But Kallstrom’s own contribution aside, the psychology within the entire Arsenal camp is that they now have a bigger and better squad than they did in the first half of the season, and therefore the remaining months can be even more successful.
This isn’t to say that Liverpool should have just gone and recklessly made bids for any old players, and Brendan Rodgers has stated that in the instance of squad depth, he prefers to look within the club for young talent. But missing out on two key targets over the transfer window could see morale, of both players and fans, take a hit.
Perhaps that is a suggestion that could have been dismissed had we managed to see off West Brom and put in a convincing performance. But instead we saw a laboured display and a disappointing result. And with our next game coming against an Arsenal side who swept us aside at the Emirates, you could forgive anyone who was becoming slightly apprehensive about Liverpool’s aspirations for the remainder of the season.
However, our home form has been near enough impeccable and Anfield has become the fortress that the manager claimed he wanted it to be the minute he walked in the door. And after beating our local rivals so convincingly, in what was said to be the biggest Merseyside derby in years, I don’t think there’s a team in the world that could spark fear in us in our own back yard.
We may not have new signings to reinvigorate the squad, but what we do have is a long list of players to return from injury, all of whom will have a valuable part to play. Much has been made of our defensive issues this season, but in Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho and Jose Enrique we’ve got an entire back line out injured that arguably would be up there with the best defence in the league.
Lucas Leiva may still yet be out for a while, meaning that Joe Allen’s return to fitness gives us an important extra option in midfield. Whether Steven Gerrard remains as a defensive midfielder and the Welshman is given an opportunity further forward is yet to be seen, but Brendan Rodgers will be happy to have that decision to make.
But most importantly, I think the biggest reason to stay optimistic is the character we have within the squad. We’ve hit several blips this season, whether it be goals conceded, decisions going against us, or injuries hitting us hard. Other years we would have let our heads drop and our form do likewise. But each time we’ve bounced back, and just picked up where we left off previously, confident that it was nothing more than a minor setback. This mentality within the squad, which the manager has to take massive credit for, is what I think sets us apart from the other teams we are competing with.
For too long the quality wasn’t there within our squad for us to have faith in what we were aiming for. Brendan Rodgers has swiftly built up a squad of players who not only are fantastic footballers, top professionals and a strong unit, but also who know full well what they are capable of, and will fight tooth and nail to achieve it.