The 3-2 win over QPR papered over the cracks of what was another poor performance. Yes we have our reasons for not being quite at our best, but team cohesion and injuries are something you have to plan for well in advance, and we knew these would be issues we’d have to deal with.
We made some big changes in the summer, but not big enough that it should be taking this long to adapt, and having this much of an effect on our performance in the meantime. We haven’t significantly changed the way we play, and we brought in players who were supposed to slot right into our way of working. In the first few games, you could accept the odd moment of misunderstanding or miscommunication. But by now, it shouldn’t be a problem. Look at the way Southampton had similar, if not even more, changes to their team, yet have knuckled down and become even better. We can’t keep claiming that we’re in transition or still gelling, as it’s becoming a bit of a cop out.
We’ve also been unlucky with injuries. But we had an entire summer and a very substantial transfer budget to address the issue of our squad depth. Daniel Sturridge is an injury-prone player, so we knew we’d have to account for his absence at some point in the season. We signed Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert, neither of whom have scored a league goal for us this season. We seem very hesitant to give Lambert a run of games, which confuses me. I can’t say I was all for signing the England international in the summer, but Brendan Rodgers clearly was. But now the opportunity is coming up to use him, and we’ve decided he isn’t even good enough to displace a very out of form Balotelli. He just appears to be a signing to make up the numbers, when perhaps we would have been better off spending more on an established player, who we would trust 100% to use if needed. Considering the gamble that signing Balotelli was, one that is not paying off at the moment, we really needed to reinforce our strike force a bit more than we did.
We also started the season with Steven Gerrard seemingly set as our defensive midfielder/deep-lying playmaker, but now we’re back to trying him further forward because he hasn’t been offering enough protection to our defence. That leaves us short a defensive midfielder though, with either Lucas Leiva, who hasn’t been his best for well over a year, or the inexperienced Emre Can the only real candidates. Again, this is an issue we should have foreseen in the summer and dealt with when we had the chance.
Defensively we have simply been a shambles this season. Every ball into the box seems to cause chaos, and opponents are probably just as confident of scoring against us from a corner as from a penalty. The ‘lack of leadership’ line has become a bit of a cliché, and it’s more the lack of quality that worries me at the moment. The defenders shouldn’t need someone shouting at them telling them to go and clear a standard high ball. Or stick to their man on a set piece instead of ball watching.
What’s really worrying is that mentally we are beginning to doubt ourselves, and you can see this nervousness and lack of belief in our play. Making mistakes is one thing, but they happen to everyone. What I don’t like to see is players buckling under pressure, and showing a negative attitude when things don’t go their way.
For all our failings, nothing is yet a disaster. Considering our performance levels, things could be a lot worse for us. But we can’t keep using the same excuses, and should just accept the fact that we need to get better, and quick. We have Real Madrid up next, and at the rate we are making mistakes, you could forgive the neutrals for thinking we’re going to get battered. So we need to look at it as an opportunity to put on a proper performance, and get back to the level we were at last season. When we were convincingly beating Arsenal, Everton, Man U, Tottenham, Man City etc at Anfield last year, we were desperate for these big Champions League games to come along to test ourselves against Europe’s best. Now the moment has come, and we can’t throw it away and cave in just because we’ve got a couple of injuries and the squad haven’t gelled yet. Come on Liverpool, time to man up.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)