At the moment I am still waiting for the return of the feeling of joy I became so accustomed to last season! Liverpool have been no where near the high standards they set last year, yet I still have hope that we will be able to turn it around.
The injuries to Daniel Sturridge and the sale of Luis Suarez have had a huge impact on Liverpool this year. Brendan Rodgers has lost the two men that provided 52 League goals between them, however he has also lost the partnership that worked so hard for the team, acting as the first line of defense. The same work ethic was shown throughout the rest of the team, allowing the reds to play such an intense and fast tempo game that enabled them to kill of some games within the first twenty minutes, such as the 5-1 victory against Arsenal. They look a completely different side this year, which is unacceptable. Of course the loss of Suarez’s world class ability has had a huge impact, but the lack of worth ethic should not change. The players have proven their high fitness levels and their athleticism, therefore have no excuse for the lack of effort being put in. Last season, we played with confidence and high pressure, playing in the attacking manner that Rodger’s is known for however, this year, we have appeared to slow down. We are extremely hesitant in getting the ball forward, allowing defenders time to retreat and win the ball back. We have young players who have proven their high energy levels and desire to win such as Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho etc. therefore we should continue to play the attacking passes that brought us so much success, knowing we have the fitness and work ethic, deep down, to fight and win it back if our attacking attempts prove to be unsuccessful at times. As professional footballers they should not lose the hunger and fight from last year, no matter how tough it was to concede defeat to Man City at the final hurdle.
Most fans point the finger straight to Mario Balotelli, which is unfair in my eyes. The man has undoubted ability and all the traits to be a top player and it is very rare that a player hits the ground running at a new club, therefore he doesn’t deserve some of the criticism he is getting of late. When he arrived, his work ethic was put into question, however, from what I have watched so far, he is working harder than he has at any of his previous clubs. He chases the ball down as much as any other striker in the league, however fans are comparing him to Suarez- a man whose work ethic was impossible for any other striker in the league, at the time, to match. My problem with Mario at the moment is that he fails to show the creativity that Liverpool fans were used to last year; he offers a different approach and has been guilty so far of missing the opportunity to create a chance, that would have been spotted last year, for others. Balotelli plays in a very different style and is clearly finding it difficult at the moment to adapt to Liverpool’s wish to play fast paced, flowing, attacking football, however I believe he will improve over time. He is trying to adapt, however the players around him must also adapt to the way he plays and must not allow the blame to be put on him for not appearing to fit in with the style of the team. Having said this, I can’t help but be frustrated by the his lack of activity within the opposition box; he must present himself as a target for his team mates by getting into the box, even if he doesn’t end up receiving the ball, by being present within he 18 yard area there is always the chance an opportunity will fall to him.
While many fans point the finger towards Balotelli, I am disappointed to have seen the naivety Brendan Rodgers has shown so far this year in terms of his tactics and ideology. With Sturridge out, the spotlight is very much on Balotelli, however, even having witnessed his struggle so far, Brendan continues to insist on starting with him as a lone striker when he clearly will clearly perform better with a striker partner. In my opinion, Rodgers must take the risk and start with either Borini upfront with Mario, or push Sterling further forward to enable us to play at a higher tempo and with more pressure on the opposition defense. In addition, as much as it pains me to talk negatively of my idol, Steven Gerrard has so contributed very little to the team, except his free kick in the Derby. It is understandable given his age, but I feel this stage of ‘transition’ must consist of gradually finding a way to play without a man that has offered so much to the team. Teams are now easily finding a way to play against us as they are now stopping Gerrard from opening up defenses and dictating the game in the way he has done for so long. I have read of how many Liverpool fans believe Jordan Henderson can be his long term replacement but I am afraid to say I disagree. I am admirable of Henderson’s hunger, work rate and ability to read the game, however I do not see him in the same league as the Gerrard we saw ten years ago. He possesses great leadership qualities making him a suitable candidate to take over as captain, however, at this moment in time, I fail to see him as a goal scoring and attacking midfielder that will be able to control the game in the way Gerrard could, or even the way Xabi Alonso did. I am, therefore, critical of the way in which Rodger’s has, so far, shown no signs of looking to replace Gerrard with a world class midfielder. A Toni Kroos would certainly be a nice Christmas present!
Even though we have shown little promise so far, it has to be said I was very proud after our 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Our supposed ‘weakened team’ showed a lot of composure and tactical discipline, while also managing to restrain Cristiano Ronaldo. The defensive midfield partnership of Emre Can and Lucas stood out as a positive with the pair putting in determined, tenacious and composed displays, passing the ball at times with the confidence that I have been looking for us to do all season. Emre Can showed signs that he could become a top midfield player in years to come, presenting strength, technical ability and power that could one day make him a player similar to that of Yaya Toure or Sami Khedira. Having been in the shadows for a long time, Lucas also put in an impressive display, reminding Liverpool fans of defensive qualities and tactical awareness that earned him fans player of the year in the 2011/2012 campaign. Kolo Toure also rolled back the years with a commanding display at center back, showing Dejan Lovren how it is done by appearing in control of Ronaldo for most of the evening. The strong performances of these less recognized players supports my theory in how Rodger’s must begin to take more risks and to enforce to the more high profile players, that are underperforming, that their places in the starting line up are far from guaranteed anymore.
It is very early on in the season so far so Liverpool fans have no need to go into panic mode yet, and certainly have no reason to push for the sacking of a manager who is only just having to deal with his first managerial problem. I can only hope Liverpool don’t replicate the way Tottenham performed in their first season after losing Gareth Bale. Liverpool must move on now and forget about Luis Suarez, no matter how big a player he was for us. After all, no player is bigger than Liverpool football club. The title may not be realistic this year, but earning a Champions League place again and rediscovering our form from last year is vital if the club wish to mark this as a serious period of progression.