Last night’s League Cup tie offered some encouragement to Liverpool supporters. The first half in particular, we dominated and looked solid. Nowhere near our best, but a vast improvement on some of what we’ve seen recently. And after conceding a disappointing goal, with mentality, confidence, and form all taking a hit from our poor start to the season, we at least showed the will to get back into it. In a competition where it may have been easy to throw in the towel and accept a lighter fixture list.
We will hopefully take a lot of positivity from the two late goals it took to win us the game, as the match did prove that if we don’t seize the initiative when we’re on top, we will get punished. We enjoyed a large amount of possession, but too often we weren’t capitalising on brief lapses of concentration, or breaks in the organisation of Swansea. We need to find that urgency, and hunger to score goals, instead of worrying too much that we’ll give the ball away if we try something a bit different.
Javi Manquillo had a pretty decent game at right back, but on a couple of occasions he had the ball on the wing, and moved forward with it for a few feet, but then stopped needlessly to pass sideways or backwards. With his pace and athleticism, we need to see him really bombing forward until some form of challenge comes in from an opponent at least. Sometimes just that show of flair and turn of pace when a player charges forwards is enough to put the opposition on the back foot and force them into making a mistake.
Kolo Toure was another unlikely culprit of this. Once or twice he had acres of space in front of him, but instead of advancing forward into it himself, he passed to a midfielder who then had to use the space to retreat into under pressure from a Swansea player. Because of this, we ended up facing our own goal, when it could have been a good opportunity to attack.
It was too common a theme throughout the game. Swansea may have sat deep and made it difficult, but our attackers kept receiving the ball and almost immediately turning their backs to goal under even the slightest bit of pressure. Doing this not only slows down our attack, but also allows the other team to reorganise, as well as mentally giving them a boost as they feel in control.
A cause of this problem was our lack of runners in behind. To his credit, Manquillo did try his best to be an outlet down the right side, even if it would be nice to see him show such enthusiasm when on the ball. Otherwise though, our entire attack of Rickie Lambert, Fabio Borini, Philippe Coutinho, Lazar Markovic, and often Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson too, were all playing in and around the same area; the small block of space just outside the opponent’s penalty box. Each player wanted to get on the ball, so often we lacked anyone making the gamble with a bit of movement in behind the defenders for the player in possession to pick out. Even if nothing comes of it, just the threat of a player trying to get in on goal can be worth the sacrifice if it gives the defenders something extra to think of it. We have a talented bunch of players, and each probably feels they’re wasted if they’re spending a lot of the game running offside, then being unavailable for a pass until they get back onside if they weren’t found. But yesterday we ended up with too many attacks going to waste with shots from far out, or players having to stop and pass sideways, because there wasn’t an option ahead of them.
Coutinho was visibly frustrated by this, as he was getting on the ball a lot and showed some fantastic touches and turns, but then didn’t have a lot to aim at when he wriggled free. With Swansea sitting back it did mean a pass through them would have to be inch perfect, but he is capable of such precision. It’s just a lot of the time he didn’t even have a target. Teams defending deep is something we should be used to by now, and even if you can’t penetrate through the middle for a direct chance at goal, getting someone clear in a wide area can lead to a dangerous cut back or cross, or a defender going in recklessly and committing a foul.
Individually, Lambert had a quiet game and didn’t quite assert himself as much as I would have liked. Markovic was very poor; he just doesn’t look up to speed at all at the moment. Toure and Lucas I thought were both impressive considering how little they have played this season. Borini did himself no harm at all with a lively outing, and Mario Balotelli and Dejan Lovren will hopefully both take a much-needed confidence boost from their goals.
If anything, it was good to watch us dominate a game and not look a complete calamity at the back. We may need to scrape a few more wins with solid but unspectacular performances before we can talk about really getting back to our best, but a few positive signs were there.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)