Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Four reasons why Liverpool have started the season slowly

After scaling the dizzying heights of the upper echelons of the Premier League table at the end of an enthralling and exciting 2013/2014 season that went down to the wire, Liverpool have crashed back down to earth at the start of the 2014/2015 season with a nasty bump.

The Reds’ sixteen match unbeaten streak during the second half of last season already appears to be fading into the distant folklore of Liverpool legend, as the Reds struggle to replicate that form without their world-beating superstar striker Luis Suarez. After going the entire month of September without winning in the League and with three League defeats suffered already, alarm bells have understandably started ringing at Anfield.

Here are five reasons why Liverpool have started the season slowly:

1. Persistently poor defending

Unbelievably and unacceptably, Liverpool’s defence remains in dire form despite boss Brendan Rodgers spending a considerable sum of money in what, at least so far, appears to be a vain attempt to remedy the mistakes at the back that plagued Liverpool last season.

In the middle, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho are both error prone and, although Dejan Lovren has the potential to be a promising future leader, his performances have failed to justify his £20 million price tag so far. An abdominal injury suffered on international duty with Croatia recently won’t do him any favours, either.

This is a crucial season for Johnson
Meanwhile, defensive solidity is also conspicuous by its absence on both flanks. Moreno is a left back in the John Arne Riise mould, which is encouraging to see, but he needs to work on the defensive side of his game, as evidenced by his error in the box which led to Manchester City’s opener on his Liverpool debut. Loanee Javier Manquillo has provided adequate cover for Glen Johnson while the England international has been injured, but the Spaniard hasn’t done enough to make the right back spot his own, while Johnson has a lot of work to do during the final year of his current contract to earn a renewal.

One of the most important issues facing Liverpool’s defence is how they deal with set pieces. At the moment, they look terrified every time a ball is swung into the box, and opponents know that they can reap substantial rewards from corners and free kicks. A leader, preferably Lovren, needs to step forward and take charge from set pieces, while greater defensive rigour in general is a must if the Reds’ are to turnaround their season and get their campaign back on the right track.

2. A misfiring attack

There’s just no denying it; Mario Balotelli is a poor man’s Luis Suarez. That’s why Liverpool only had to offer £16 million to entice AC Milan to sell him, while Suarez fetched an astronomical £75 million despite the scandalous bite gate 3.0 at the World Cup in Brazil. The two strikers are simply not in the same league.

One goal in eight appearances from Balotelli is not good enough, especially not in the absence of the unfortunately injured Daniel Sturridge. As a result, too much responsibility has been put on young Raheem Sterling, whose performances have been affected by the pressure of trying to single-handedly breathe life into Liverpool’s ailing attack.

It’s no wonder that he reasonably requested to be rested for England’s European qualifier in Estonia, although our old friend Roy sticking his foot in his mouth once again and revealing Raheem’s request to a media baying for blood after another mediocre England performance won’t do Sterling’s form any good whatsoever.

Hodgson seems to have an anti-Liverpool agenda
Lambert’s bit-part role has not afforded him the opportunity to impress, while the likes of Lallana and Henderson have contributed to the Reds’ attack from midfield, as exemplified against West Brom in the final match before the international break, but they haven’t been able to compensate for Balotelli’s indifferent start to his Anfield career.

Unlike their defensive issues, Liverpool’s problems in attack are likely to be transitory; yes, it is unlikely to be as dynamic and prolific as when Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling were working in tandem to produce perfect poetry in motion, but the return of Sturridge will make a big difference, Sterling is one of the most promising youngsters in the country, if not the world, and Balotelli has bags of untapped potential that will hopefully be released by a general upturn in the team’s fortunes.

3. New signings struggling to settle

Balotelli isn’t the only new signing struggling to find his feet on Merseyside unfortunately. None of the Reds’ eight summer signings have immediately hit top form. Can and Lallana have been hit by injuries, Lambert has been starved of opportunities to impress while Markovic , Moreno, Manquillo, Lovren and Balotelli are experiencing the inevitable transition phase which tends to happen when players join new clubs, as they get used to working with new coaches and teammates.

Lallana has been the best performing new signing
The circumstances Liverpool find themselves in make shortening that transition phase where players are adapting to each other’s games an imperative. The Reds need results, and they need them quick. However, a difficult period of transition in which performances and results sometimes disappoint was entirely predictable following a significant upheaval of playing personnel at the club.

4. Injuries

Throw a mounting injury list on top of a dysfunctional defence, misfiring attack and a host of new arrivals struggling to settle and you have a recipe for a perfect storm. Of course, injuries are part and parcel of competitive football, but it does seem as if Liverpool have suffered a stroke of misfortune on the injuries front during this campaign.

Lallana got injured during pre-season, hampering his ability to settle in at his new club. Johnson has only just recovered from a thigh injury sustained in the second game of the season. Worst of all, three players picked up injuries during the international break in September. Injuries to Allen and Can reduced Rodgers’ options in midfield, with the former’s ability to quietly keep play ticking along particularly missed.

However, most importantly, Daniel Sturridge suffered a thigh strain, with our old friend Roy once again to blame. Subsequently, he has missed seven matches and, significantly, Balotelli has been immediately burdened with the task of leading the line by himself, further increasing the already significant scrutiny of the Italian’s displays.

Sturridge's thigh injury has significantly impacted Liverpool's attack
The current international break hasn’t been much better, with Lovren pulling out of the Croatia squad with an abdominal injury and Serbian Lazar Markovic also suffering an injury scare. It may be seen as excuse making by some, but it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that injuries have cost Liverpool dearly so far in this campaign.


Thankfully, despite Liverpool’s depressingly slow start to the season, there remain reasons for optimism. Daniel Sturridge is training again and on the verge of a comeback, which will go a long way to sorting out the Reds’ attacking problems. Moreover, Rodgers is excellent at developing and improving players, and once he has had time to work on the new arrivals the Merseysiders’ form should pick up.

Injuries remain frustrating and could persist throughout the campaign, but there is little that can be done about that unfortunately. The most important issue that needs addressing is the weakness and vulnerability of Liverpool’s defence. That is arguably Brendan Rodgers’ most important long term project which may well come to define his spell in charge at Anfield.

If he fails to rectify the Reds’ deficiencies in defence, conceding too many goals will continue to undermine his team’s ambitions and prevent them achieving their targets, just as conceding 50 goals unquestionably cost them the title last season.

However, if the Northern Irish boss can plug the gaping gaps at the back and construct a solid defensive foundation on which to further develop his team’s exciting and enterprising attack, there’s no telling how much success Liverpool could enjoy under Rodgers’ stewardship.


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