Liverpool has endured many disappointing seasons in recent years, without reaching the top four of the Premier League in four years. Yet, with Brendan Rodgers’ arrival and some astute signings, Liverpool’s future looks bright. There are still imperfections in the side, imperfections I will be identifying, discussing and offering solutions to.
Last term results and performances ranged from the wonderful: a fluid outfit, creating and finishing chances with ease, to the woeful: a calamitous display of poor finishing and clumsy defending resulting in a disenchanted performance nobody anticipated.
The season is summarised by consecutive games in December last year, as Liverpool lost 3-1 at home to relegation candidates Aston Villa, before emphatically dispatching of Fulham, only for momentum to swing the other way with a disappointing loss away to Stoke City.
Clearly Liverpool needs to find some consistency, a view supported by the fact that Liverpool only once achieved more than two wins on the bounce last season: uninspiring, to say the least. Interestingly, Liverpool used 30 players in the league, consequently a clear first team failed to emerge. For example, Liverpool usually employed two centre-backs in their typical formation, yet three of the centre-backs in their squad were within 10 starts of each other. There was a lack of uniformity about Liverpool’s first team, suggesting Rogers’ rotation policy only triggered inconsistent performances.
Granted, squad depth can eradicate complacency as every player has a positional rival within the squad, so they cannot take their foot off the pedal for a lack of competition. However, stability is also important, take champions Manchester United: they used 25 players in the league campaign, as a result a first team settled, stimulating a chemistry and fluidity unattainable without a degree of permanence.
When consistency is an issue, it is often sourced at an inability to motivate the team to perform in the smaller games, against lesser divisional counterparts, as appears to be the case with Liverpool. To combat this, Rodgers should exploit the young talent in the Reds’ ranks, namely Jordan Ibe, Raheem Sterling, Martin Kelly and Samed Yesil, while retaining an element of continuity by using a familiar defensive and midfield partnership. The theory being that young players are hungry and determined to impress the manager and make an impression in the domestic league; therefore they will strive to be successful, whereas first team players may be less inspired to perform on a cold Tuesday night at Selhurst Park.
Refine the raw talent
In addition, Liverpool must endeavour to refine the raw talents at their club, one such talent being the coltish Philippe Coutinho. There is no doubting the 21-year-old’s gift, he is fantastic asset for Rogers, as teammate and fellow Brazilian Lucas remarked, “He is a proper Brazilian.” Yet, the energetic playmaker must refine the technical aspects of his game, especially as he is the primary source of creativity for ‘Pool. Too often he misplaces or over weights his incisive passes, meaning attacking movement, usually stimulated by Coutinho, ceases. If he can eradicate this technical unpredictability, he will grow into one of the most effective playmakers on the planet.
Moreover, Daniel Sturridge must rid his game of the prominent imperfections, mostly his selfish nature. This side of his personality is, allegedly, the reason behind his lack of appearances since Andre Villas Boas’ departure from Stamford Bridge. Although his career has started brightly at Anfield, there is an unwavering undertone of selfishness, as frequently his preference is to shoot or take on a defender rather than pass. Sturridge must eradicate this characteristic from his style in order to comply with Brendan Rodgers’ ideologies.
Additionally, hot prospect Raheem Sterling must mature off the pitch as well as on it. Since his explosive introduction to the Premier League, Sterling has featured closer to the front page than the back, with his personal life rife with rumours and various court appearances for assault. Contrary to popular belief, not all publicity is good publicity, and Sterling must improve and progress in all aspects of his life, not only because he must tackle his erratic performances, but to relieve Liverpool of more negative news features (Suarez provides more than enough of those!)
Liverpool must improve the situation at the back; they conceded 43 goals last season, more than any other team in the top seven of the league, excluding Everton.
The previously watertight defensive duo of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel has declined into leaky, porous partnership. Agger, who began his career immaculately at Anfield, appears to have become less astute over the years, rarely exercising the composure and positional sense the Premier League has become accustomed to. Plus, Slovak Martin Skrtel has a technical ineptness meaning he cannot comfortably adhere to Rogers’ feted tactical preferences, including a preference to begin attacks from defence, via rolling or passing the ball from goal kicks.
Who can help solve the defensive issues? Well, ideally, a skilful, ball playing centre back to suit the style implemented by Rogers, yet without the reckless marauding nature some ball playing defenders possess, such as David Luiz and Jan Vertonghen (albeit to a lesser extent than the former).
Rumours suggest Liverpool is interested in securing the services of Frenchman Mamadou Sakho, potentially a fantastic signing for a cheap price: he is being overlooked at PSG because his apparent incompatibility with Thiago Silva. Similarly, the media have alluded to the prospect of The Reds signing Belgian Toby Alderweireld, an equally accomplished defender.
Personally, I believe shrewd acquisitions to fulfil the role at the heart of ‘Pool’s defence include Porto stalwart Elaquim Mangala, Cameroonian Nicolas N’Koulou and stopper Kyriakos Papadopoulos.
Take their chances
Time and again Liverpool dominated games only to fall victim to more clinical teams, earning smash and grab victories, last season against West Brom personifies the entire season: Liverpool had 58 % possession, five times as many shots as The Baggies, with 432 completed passes to The Albion’s 284.
This inability to complete victories is either attributable to a lack of chances, or a lack of finishers: the latter seems more likely, a suggestion compounded by Gerrard’s position as the 4th highest chance creator in the Prem last season.
Luis Suarez’s chance conversion over the previous two seasons has been a dreadful 11%. Compare that to top scorer Robin van Persie’s (18%) and it is evident Suarez’s finishing is inadequate, particularly as he often played as a solitary striker, with the majority of chances falling to him. The Uruguayan had the lowest chance conversion rate in the top 10 goal scorers last term, despite attempting the most shots. Consider this: if Suarez’s chance conversion rate was equal to RVP’s, he would have notched 35 goals, rather than the 23 he achieved, a significantly high number, arguably enough to propel The Red’s into a more respectable League position, even, dare I say it, Champions League territory.
The key to a prolific chance taker is not a bank breaking fee for a diminutive Spaniard, or rangy Dane, no, the answer is already at Liverpool’s disposal: Daniel Sturridge. Despite his aforementioned selfish traits, he is a clinical forward who’s blossoming relationship with new boy Iago Aspas, a bustling creature and similarly effective goal scorer, may provide a new edge to the strike force in Merseyside. While Aspas scored a dozen goals for seemingly doomed Celta Vigo to maintain their La Liga status, Sturridge became the first Liverpool player in Premier League history to reach 10 goals in his fist 13 league games. If Rogers can harness Sturridge’s pace and technique, qualities AVB identified at Chelsea, and utilize him in a fluid front three alongside Aspas and Coutinho, Liverpool will be a force to be reckoned with up front.
Rodgers is making steady progress at Anfield, though he must veer away from the unorthodox psychological techniques, as exhibited in a recent TV series documenting Liverpool, and focus on implementing a fluid, creative style. I strongly believe Liverpool will have an excellent season, but the appropriate steps must be taken, otherwise it may be another season of obscurity and inconsistency.