The Problem With Liverpool FC

The Liverpool FC crest. Red and white with a Liver bird on the shield.

The Liverpool FC crest

In keeping with my new agenda to post on any topic that takes my fancy, I’m going to talk about football today. That’s English football. You know, the game you play with your feet. I just wanted to say up front that the following is a football rant.

It’s pretty much the end of the season now for my team Liverpool FC. We’ve played 37 league games and only won 14 of them. There’s one more to go at the weekend and if we win that we could finish a mighty 7th in the Premier League. Not good enough by any measure. I’m not going to hark on about the past, others do that more than enough and while I’m proud of our history it’s the future that concerns me. I’m not delusional like some other LFC fans either, we have no right to be at the top of the league these days. We’ve slipped a long way down the pecking order and while I don’t like it we have to be honest with ourselves. We’re light years away from the Manchester clubs and we’ve even been leap frogged by teams like Tottenham in recent years. So what’s our biggest problem? I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and one thing keeps coming back into my mind.

You might expect me to say “lack of goals” here. True, we’ve only scored 47 goals and that’s definitely a problem, but I can sum up our most pressing problem in one word – midfield.

Take a look at the midfield we had out for the FA cup final. We were effectively playing a 4-5-1 formation: Gerrard, Spearing, Henderson, Downing and Bellamy. If you believe this is a world class midfield then you need to your head examined, and probably your eyes too. Steven Gerrard has been a fantastic servant to the club and bailed us out many times over the years, but on Saturday he seemed to be attempting to play 4 positions at once while covering for Spearing, Henderson and Downing. Nobody can do that. Not even Gerrard in his prime could have. I don’t subscribe to the argument that he’s “past it” now. I’m probably biased as we’re only 5 days apart in age but he turns 32 at the end of the month, it’s not that old. I think his problem this season has been injury and lack of playing time. He hasn’t been able to build up any form or rhythm. Long term we’ll have to look to a younger player of course, I don’t argue with that. But he has 2 or 3 good seasons left in him. Possibly in a less mobile role slightly deeper breaking up play. Moving on, Jay Spearing seems like a really hard working lad and he’s trying, but I’m not convinced he’s up to the level we need, or whether he ever can be. Henderson looks lost since moving from Sunderland. We paid 20 million for him in the hope he’d be “the new Gerrard” but he hasn’t showed much of that so far. It’s only his first season and I know he’s young, but he needs to start improving fast. Neither Spearing nor Henderson look capable of breaking up play and controlling the midfield. The “midfield general” is an often used phrase in football folk lore and right now we don’t have one. Every successful Liverpool team had a clear boss in midfield, from Emlyn Hughes to Didi Hamman and many others. Lucas Levia was doing a reasonable job in that role and losing him to injury for most of the season hasn’t helped, but come on. It says something when the stats point out that Lucas has still made more tackles than any other Liverpool midfielder this season. He hasn’t played for months!! You need more squad depth than that. Charlie Adam isn’t going to fill this role either, he had a good season at Blackpool but he just isn’t up to it. We need a midfield anchor and that would be my priority in the summer. It’s the unglamorous but essential heart of every decent team. The reason Bobby Charlton and George Best looked so good was because they had Nobby Stiles winning the ball and giving it to them. Ok so they were obviously special players, but they needed a provider. I don’t see that in the Liverpool team today. A few years ago we had Mascherano and Alonso in the middle, we’ve definitely gone backwards in this department.

Onto the wingers then. Bellamy has done well when he’s played but he can’t be relied upon every week. He’s not fit enough. When we signed Stuart Downing from Villa last summer and Ashley Young went to Utd people said things like, “oh but Downing is the better crosser, we’ve got the better player”. Bollocks, utter bollocks! I said it at the time and I still believe it. Young is infinitely better than Downing in almost every department and Man Utd certainly got the better deal. I still believe Downing can be a useful for Liverpool next season but the key thing is he needs to believe that himself. He seems to lack confidence and I’m not sure how he’ll adapt. Our other options on the wing this year are Dirk Kuyt, a man who’s never been a winger but forced to play there by Rafa Benitez. He’s done a lot for the club and I like him. How could you not like his attitude and effort? But he’s still a striker out of position. Maxi Rodriguez is a good player and he’s been criminally underused this season. He’s coming to the end of his career now though and looks set to leave the club anyway.

It’s not all doom and gloom, I like the look of young Jonjo Shelvey. He seems to have a lot of potential as a playmaker in the middle of the park. We should give him more of a chance. Perhaps there are some other youngsters we can try. We might as well. That big expensive academy out in Kirkby has produced precisely nothing and it’s becoming a white elephant. There must be talented kids out there, so why aren’t they coming through?

Our defence is pretty solid and the record supports that. Reina is a good goalie and Luis Suarez is probably our only world class player. Andy Carroll is another one who needs confidence and people forget he’s only 22. It’s not his fault we paid far too much for him and I believe he will come good eventually. We could still use at least one more decent striking option but if Kenny Dalglish really wants to fix this team he needs to look at the gaping quality vaccum in the middle of the park. That’s where the problem lies. Napoleon said an army marches on it’s stomach, well a football team marches on it’s midfield.

Posted in Football
4 comments on “The Problem With Liverpool FC
  1. Matt Stanley 32 3/4 says:

    I think I have to agree with all of that. Rafa knew it too and created “the best midfield in the world” but subsequently dismantled it by publicly gambling on Gareth Barry at the expense of arguably our greatest loss in the last 20 years: Xabi Alonso. It sort of worked when Alonso played his best season under that shadow, and helped LFC to one of, if not the, best league campaign in that time before leaving (I still find it gut wrenching to watch Real Madrid). The gamble didn’t pay off and I’m sure the dysfunctional Hicks and Gillett administration have some blame there, but I’d say it cost Rafa his job. Maybe if Barry had come, things would have been different. Maybe not.

    Rafa also had faith that we would see what we are seeing now, Lucas Leiva developing into a world class midfielder, when almost everybody else doubted it. I give him massive credit for that. When Kenny came back and Lucas started playing forward he almost became 90% of Mascherano and 90% of Alonso all in one player. That’s the problem you touched upon: it’s all in just one player. Henderson does show some absolute sublime class occasionally, which is, I hope, indication of his potential.

    So, to the wide midfield areas. *sighs* We’ve not been able to sort this out for years. I believe we have some quality full backs and that helps, but it doesn’t mean we can have passengers further forward. Maxi is gone, but I hope Kuyt stays. I’m concerned because there is no Kuyt in the promo shots for the new kit and what that might mean; he seems to have been there consistently in previous seasons. Bellamy is in there and that is a comfort. Maybe we should, as it has been suggested, be playing Johnson higher up with Kelly, say, behind. Is that two players out of position? I don’t think Henderson is the answer there. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think we are going to attract it in the form of new players when we are finishing mid table and playing Thursday nights on Channel 5.

    To sum up: I’d play Gerrard in centre mid, right mid, left mid and just off the striker!

    • Dan says:

      Great comment Matt. You’re right about a lot of things there. I miss Alonso too. He was our best midfielder by a distance. Gerrard is trying to play all those positions you mentioned by the look of it, but I wonder if he could extend his career and help the team more by anchoring the midfield. I don’t think he has the discipline probably, he wants to move around freely. Lucas has been a revalition this year. I was one of the vocal doubters and I couldn’t see why Rafa liked him at all. He must have seen something though and I give him credit for that.

      I’d like to see Dirk Kuyt stay as well. I think he’s a very valuable player to us. Not just for his industry which everyone comments on. He can also hit a good shot and play an incisive pass at times. It’s a shame he’s not a great crosser because of the position he’s usually played in. I’ve also heard the suggestion of Johnson futher up and Kelly behind. I think it could work and there’s no harm in trying it for friendlies or pre-season. Kelly is a great young player. He could be in our team for years I reckon.

      I don’t think we have a lot of money to spend but we should be scouting these cheaper players with real potential like Newcastle. Look at the great players they’ve signed for under £10 million. Cisse, Demba Ba etc.

      Next season is another re-building process now because we haven’t gone anywhere this year. I just hope it’s not too far backwards.

      Thanks for reading,

      Dan

  2. Paul Nibbs says:

    Too right Dan! I know the club has been deliberately buying players that will be eligible when the foreign players rules finally happen but the sad fact is that when British players come to us they lose confidence and are shadows of the players they were at their previous club…. Henderson, Downing, Adam, Carroll… all seem to lack the belief in their game they had at their old club. Maybe our heritage is actually counting against us as they seem overawed by our history because young foreign players don’t seem to have the problem eg Suarez, Torres etc and more experienced British players settle better eg Bellamy, McAllister. Unfortunately if this is the case we’ve got a big problem because it takes a brilliant manager to control young players heads when they get to a club with such a fine history and I doubt Ferguson fancies a change of club at his age 😉

    • Dan says:

      Hi Paul, thanks for reading. You could be right about the weight of expectation on some young British players at LFC. I think the big fee is a real burden for Carroll but he is a good player and if he believes in himself he’ll be virtually unstoppable. He’s showing glimpses.

      I thought it was crazy when we signed McAllister but he turned out to be brilliant for us. He taught Gerrard and others a lot too. If we could find an experienced pro to come in and be a calming influence right now it would help.

      Fingers crossed.

      Dan

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