August 11, 2011
August 2010 – Almost a year ago to this date, David N’gog scored a brilliant goal from an acute angle to get a 10 man Liverpool the lead against Arsenal at Anfield only for Pepe Reina to commit a howler in the last minutes to gift Arsenal a late goal. This was the kind of performance that became symbolic during the reign of Roy Hodgson at Anfield with just the two halves chronologically reversed for Liverpool. More often than not Liverpool conceded in the first half at Anfield and then scrapped their way back to share the honors. Away from Anfield, none cared to even mention anything worthwhile in their discussions.
September 2010 – our beloved club is in the relegation zone of the table.
October 2010, the Kop saw a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel conceived by two idiot Texans at Anfield. This hope was John W. Henry and his FSG group.
November 2010 – takeover completed after courtroom battle and a great performance to put away Aston Villa and West Ham 3-0 at Anfield. Finally!
December 2010 – loss to Wolves at Anfield. Christmas wish of every Kop –SACK HODGSON, GET DALGLISH!
2nd January, 2011 – Cole scores a late winner against Bolton at Reebok. Kops – ‘’Oh, WTF?? This could keep Hodgson at Anfield.’’
Then three straight defeats with the last one at Blackburn making LFC look like a championship side. That’s it, nail drawn in the coffin. We are doomed to finish around mid-table.
Wait a minute, who is that guy in the LFC Gaffer’s chair at Old Trafford in the FA cup game? Oh, he is our very own Kenneth D. Dalglish. Game is lost yet the away fans are out screaming the home fans. LFC finally has good owners, great loyal club servant as coach, the best striker in the world and our very own Kop for diehard support. Happy Thanksgiving John W. Henry. Life begins to come a full circle. We win more away games in a month than the entire number of wins in the season thus far.
A month later, some spoilt kid is not happy at Anfield, he is sold and then the money invested to buy a no. 9 and no. 10 for the club. A genuine no. 9 and no. 10. These gifts cost an enormous price but then ‘Dad’ Henry made a lot of money banishing the spoilt kid. But somehow, everyone is happy a week later when Liverpool demolish Chelsea and another month later make Manchester United look like a championship side.
We are on a roll – seem close to 4th place sometimes, then drop points to get far away, toy around with a multi-million dollar Manchester City team at Anfield and eventually miss out on Europe. Somehow, Christmas seemed to last forever from 9th January, 2011.
During this holiday period of Christmas, people talk Moneyball, statistics and other non-footballing parameters to be associated with LFC transfers over the summer. For once, they are correct and we bring in players with the ability of Adam, Henderson, Downing and Doni into the team. (as I write this, Enrique deal is almost done barring medical). With the optimism carried over from the good feel factor, everyone is excited and tipping Liverpool to finish top four. However, I remain skeptical about it as I was last year when the media was saying Joe Cole was a transfer coup for us and the best buy of that summer.
Firstly, everyone is projecting the Liverpool team to be stronger with the new signings. In my humble opinion, only Downing makes us stronger. He is the only new signing who will be automatically placed on the starting XI as there is no contest for his position. However, he fills up a huge gap on our left side which was never filled once Riise left. (I know he was a left back, but his runs covered the entire length and were good enough to monitor the entire touchline).
The biggest puzzle remains with the buying of Adam. Where does he play? Or does he play only for his set-pieces? It is a tough one to answer. Many are already jumping up with the idea of a center midfield position for him but let’s take a quick look into all this one at a time.
1. Adam plays attacking midfielder. This would mean Meireles, Aquilani (he could be gone) or Gerrard either play deep in their own half, thus containing their own natural game in a 4 – 4 – 2 or play ahead of him with a lone striker in Carroll in a 4 – 1 – 4 – 1. The latter would not be effective by pushing Suarez to the wings and Gerrard or Meireles as a defensive midfielder in the former one is not effective either.
2. Starting Adam alongside Lucas as defensive midfielder could work as they would complement each other’s style of play. Lucas is a steady wall and good at making tackles whereas Adam is excellent at spraying the ball around the park. It could be similar to Alonso Mascherano partnership. However, the system of play would have to change to a 3 – 4 – 3 system or a 4 – 2 – 3 – 1. This is a wingback system and Dalglish used it effectively last season. We have some excellent full backs for the right side of the field and for the left side now we could have Enrique, Downing and the best of them all when fit – Aurelio.
Regarding Henderson, I don’t see him starting unless injuries hit the team. He will most likely be an understudy to Gerrard and our very own workhorse Kuyt. The guy has the ability but it depends on his willingness to learn to be able to establish himself in the playing XI. Dalglish would prefer a person willing to work his socks off on the pitch over anyone else.
Everyone has asked the abundance of midfielders in the team but with the injury woes of Gerrard beginning to start, Aquilani and Meireles being soft for the EPL, one can understand now why such an overbuying of midfielders was done by Kenneth Dalglish.
Another answer to this question could be how well Liverpool played last season without Steven Gerrard in the XI. Meireles could play his natural games with those advancing runs and others played at their pace thus removing the slowed pace of Gerrard on which the game would run when he played. Though he is the epitome of modern day Liverpool, I expect him to play restricted games this season as KD Dalglish is a higher authority at Anfield than Steven Gerrard. This could also be attributed to his injury concerns after his groin surgery.
However, the biggest difference from last year’s post January run and the new season is the expectation to achieve something. Here statistics fail, transfer coups are proved ridiculous and points are dropped in the last minutes to eliminate you from everything. Without pressure to achieve last season Liverpool team proved they are still one of the toughest teams to beat in the world. However, their ability to do so under pressure remains an unanswered question.
Their ranking and influence has plummeted in Europe in the last 2 seasons with the departure of Riise (2008), Alonso (2009) and Mascherano (2010). Riise was the one player we never managed to replace adequately. Major error in my opinion. A good defence gets you one point from a game however, a potent attack with a weak defence does not assure you of this. Alonso’s departure in 2009, everyone knows and everyone has analysed his loss to the team in detail. Mascherano was adequately replaced by our very own Lucas.
The core of the team has remained same from 2009 – 2011 with two factors coming into play – 1. The aging pair of Gerrard and Carragher and 2. Loss of Torres. (however, Suarez could fill his boots and do even better).
I have never had any doubts about the team, it is their ability to perform under pressure which remains a key factor for them. Dropping points against teams like Stoke, Birmingham and Bolton does not help your cause even if you beat the top four regularly. Champions finish their opponents ruthlessly. If Dalglish can help the team overcome this mental block, I see no other hindrance to us finishing second (yes 2nd) in the league.
However, so far this has been an analysis only for my team. Let’s take a look at others fighting for the top 4.
1. Manchester United
They are tipped to win the league. However, they have a huge hole to fill in the center of their midfield. Without the stature of Paul Scholes in that position, teams will have a little more freedom and chance to express themselves. They will have more linking between the forwards and the midfield, which given the pressure David de Gea must be feeling from filling in Van der Sar’s role, could spell doom for Manchester United. However, if Sneijder comes to United, it is doom for everyone else. (core of the team is same except for the midfield. 2nd in the league if LFC finish 1st or 1st and LFC second)
A new young coach, same old spending power but the new problem of an aging squad. Villas-Boas seems to be like the newly wed Indian bride being given all the attention in the English media. However, unlike his mentor, he does not like hogging the limelight and is not outspoken. This seems to be his biggest strength. Not promising but delivering results will be his attitude. It remains to be seen who he turns towards for all the goals – the old warhorse or the £50m donkey. As Chelsea look to build a new squad, implications are for the latter but does he have a midfield who can put the ball over the opposition final four as Torres likes to use his pace (which is diminishing) to beat defenders and hardly wins a one on one with them unless the one he is facing is Vidic. With Drogba, this does not seem to be a problem as his physical strength takes him past those defenders. (Governing factors – fighting mentality, leadership of Terry and how quickly Villas-Boas finds the perfect system. Finish 3rd)
3. Manchester City
They really are the noisy neighbours. They had a nice run last season, finished 3rd and will play in the Champions League this season. However, there is a question – are they a team of footballers or a team of millionaires? Never have I watched a team criticize each other extensively in public or for that matter, in such a short managerial stint of one-and-a-half year, Mancini has annoyed more players than anyone. Mancini and Balotelli seem to be fighting to become the more annoying and hated persons in the squad. With the added task and matches of UCL, their billion dollar squad will be pushed to the limit and with the strength of the squad it is not expected of them to wither like Tottenham last season. However, how the Milners and Johnsons cope with the pressure of UCL remains to be seen. Another episode would be which player wants to retire from football at Christmas in the period of December? Without their talismanic captain, their team could be more individualistic than before. Aguero could be a good replacement but EPL tests even the hardest of performers. (Good individual footballers but weak as a unit. Finishing 5th)
The problem of wailing Wenger. Is it really a problem?? Every summer, Arsenal is tipped to finish out of the top four, every subsequent May they finish in top four. Have the pundits ever been wrong more constantly on any other subject in the game? The world is thinking Arsenal without Fabregas and Nasri are crap. However, Wenger will buy some wonder-kid for petty change from somewhere in the world. Have people already forgotten the Henrys, the Vieiras and the Petits he churned out year after year? It is the style of football Arsenal play which makes it easy for a natural footballer to slot into the team and be an integral part of it. Let’s take a look at their first XI. RVP is as lethal as anyone in the world when fit. He has an apt replacement in Chamakh and Gervinho can play no. 10. Then on the right wing there is Theo Walcott. Just recently in 2008, Arshavin was wreaking havoc on the left touchline for Russia which prompted Wenger to buy the Russian. So he can play there. For the defensive midfielders, the world was crazy 2 months ago for a player called Jack Wilshere. Then in the defense Vermaelen is fit and raring to go after one complete season of injury. Sagna can patrol the right touchline. This leaves the need for another CB which could be Cahill or Dann (both are Premier League proven and can be extremely good at set pieces). Left back and a creative midfielder are two areas of concern. However, I have watched Rosicky since 2006 and he is also extremely talented to play in that role or at the left wing. Now, we all agree, this XI is not for winning the league and Wenger also knows the same but he talks bullishly in the media because he is paid to do so. However, he also knows he can easily finish in the top 4 without investing millions, so why do it?? That’s why they never make a hue and cry in the transfer market and still finish in the top 4. However, I hope his keeper is good this season. (Strength is the wailing Wenger. Will finish 4th)
5. Tottenham Hotspur
I won’t waste my time on them. They had their one night stand with the UCL and exposed their assets to the vultures of the footballing world to prey on them . They are like Google+ compared to Facebook, a lot of exciting players but will never overtake the big guns on a constant basis. Might make them worry once in a while but they will never hurt them in the long run. (finishing 6th)