They may be bottom of the league, but we need to take what we can get at the moment, and our 3-1 win over Leicester was a much-needed confidence booster that built on the weekend’s win over Stoke. We didn’t exactly sweep them aside, and it was far from easy, but we were solid. And that’s more than we can say for a lot of games recently. Our tactical structure was clear, players were keeping the shape, and we were positive in attack.
There were a few too many individual mistakes, but just to see the team play as a unit and actually looked somewhat organised was a breath of fresh air for us. We’ve taken things back to basics, no doubt, but every three points on offer are vital right now, and if we need to temporarily take a step back from our philosophies to claim them, then we absolutely should. Because at least then we’ve got a platform to build on, and late on in the game at 3-1, we showed some nice, quick, intricate football down the right hand side that we never would have seen at 1-0 down in the first half. That showed that we are still capable of it, we just need to get that morale up.
Things started badly, with Simon Mignolet once again dropping a clanger with a poor kick out of defence that Esteban Cambiasso seized upon and should have finished into the open net. But our whole principal of ball playing defenders/goalkeeper has played against us this season. The term is ‘playing out of defence’, but we seem to do the opposite and gradually make our way back to defence, before someone panics and kicks it long. Last season our idea was to draw the opposition out and make more space for a quick attack, but too often this year our plan A has just been to pass the ball backwards to whoever will have it. Mignolet is not comfortable enough with the ball at his feet for this to work though, and this has a visible effect on the defenders in front of him.
Martin Skrtel and Glen Johnson were also guilty of some very poor defending in the first half. Just the basics of closing down, positioning, being dominant in the air/tackle etc were all made a meal out of. Luckily, Lucas Leiva in front of them had a fine game, and reinforced our need for an out-and-out defensive midfielder in our side. Steven Gerrard, the only other real alternative for that position, also showed that his abilities are more useful to us elsewhere, as he played more or less as the number 10. He operated deep enough to be that extra man in midfield and link the play, but had the freedom to get forward and attack the box, as he did so well for his goal.
Raheem Sterling had a great game; constantly looking for the ball and then wanting to run at players and make something happen. At times when we are struggling, it’s brilliant to have a player like him in our side, who we can give the ball and know he can get us out of tricky situations with a burst of pace or bit of skill. He was an outlet all game, and mentality wise he was one of the ones to lead by example by never shying away. The only downside was the lack of protection he got from the referee, who watched Sterling get hacked down multiple times but gave nothing.
Rickie Lambert’s enthusiasm has given us something different up front, and though he’s still not exactly a Suarez or Sturridge, his grit and determination is giving us something extra even when he has an off day. He could do with playing a tiny bit deeper, as playing on the shoulder he gets caught offside a lot, and he doesn’t have the pace to run on to balls in behind anyway. He would work better as a provider, winning flicks-ons or playing the ball in behind for our pacey wide men to run onto. If the opposition defence is deep, he has the intelligence to sneak into spaces behind, but yesterday he was getting caught offside near the halfway line, and it cost us possession a few too many times.
There was a definite, if still somewhat dim, spark back in our game, and that was good to see. At the very least, we now have something to build on. A game where we’ve played well, and can look to develop the positives and cut out the negatives from it. Because while we weren’t as shaky as previous games, there were still some needless mistakes made that could have cost us. Skrtel still has a habit of misjudging situations and getting caught out. Johnson can be far too casual in possession and needs to be more alert off the ball. Mignolet needs to play to his strengths and stop over-complicating things. Alberto Moreno needs to stop crosses quicker, and seriously needs to improve on his right foot.
The main target for us now is a top four finish rather than a title challenge. But if we can get wins against Sunderland and Basel in the next seven days, we may have just done enough to limit the damage of our dreadful start. We’d still be in both the Champions League and the League Cup too, and to be in that situation with the crisis over, and be a team on the up, suddenly things wouldn’t look too bad. With both games being at Anfield you’ve got to fancy our chances, and this time next week we may finally see the golden sky at the end of the storm.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)