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.