Have Liverpool gone backwards since last season?

March 13, 2012
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Liverpool have been in patchy form throughout this season. There have been games where Liverpool have looked absolutely dire (the recent Sunderland defeat and two months ago against Bolton come to mind) but there have also been matches where profligacy in front of goal have cost them, such as against Arsenal and Swansea.  However we only have to look back at the last few months of the previous season, when Liverpool were ending it in good form and it seemed a few summer signings were all the team needed to launch an assault at fourth place.

The club seems to have gone backwards in terms of the way the team set out tactically. In the home match last season against Manchester United, Liverpool set out in a very fluid 4-4-1-1, with Steven Gerrard alongside Lucas Leiva in a deeper position with less forward runs, Raul Meireles and Maxi Rodriguez on the right and left flanks respectively and Luis Suarez playing in behind Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt played his lone role excellently, dragging defenders across the pitch with his movement to the flanks, as well as Maxi and Meireles having the license to come inside and combine with Suarez and Kuyt.

Even after such promising performances at the end of the 2010/2011 season, Kenny Dalglish seemed to have changed strategy – players who suited a style of play different to the one stated above were brought in. Players like Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam.

During the course of the pre-season games (particularly the one against Valerenga) the coaching staff favoured a 4-4-2 with one pure winger(Downing) and a wide player tucking in more (Henderson). This may have worked in theory, however, as we have seen throughout this season, Downing can be a very predictable player with a tendency to pass the buck onto other players when the team is under pressure instead of taking people on himself, and his combination with Jose Enrique on the left flank have seen them both occupy the same space – often being one in front of the other playing one-twos with no chance of penetration. Henderson is wasted on the right wing and seems to struggle making decisions on what to do on the ball. Adam, who was blasphemously compared to Xabi Alonso after his performances for Blackpool, cannot control the tempo of the game and often runs straight through the middle of the pitch when a player may be open in a wide area, subsequently losing the ball, and giving away silly free kicks with his unique tackling method: running straight into another player to steal the ball.

Henderson and Downing are not very effective wide players but found themselves starting in the opening game of the season against Sunderland in place of Meireles, Maxi and Kuyt, the three players whose intelligent movement allowed the team to dominate against United the previous season.

In the 12th game of the Premier League season Liverpool seemed to have finally found their pomp. They started in a 4-2-2-2 formation with Kuyt and Maxi on the wings and Suarez and Craig Bellamy partnering each other up top. Liverpool pressed aggressively, not allowing Chelsea to build attacks from deep and the attacking quadrumvirate of Suarez, Bellamy, Maxi and Kuyt, with their intelligent movement making Chelsea’s midfield have to assist the defence more, allowing Charlie Adam the time and space to affect the game more than he usually does.

Since then, although squandering many chances has influenced Liverpool’s poor position in the league, there has been plenty of chopping and changing of formations and positions with no real philosophy in place. There have been one or two good performances here and there but this is not good enough for a team hoping to get into a Champions League spot.

Dalglish, Steve Clarke and Kevin Keen need to decide on what they want to do with this team, as there seems to be no cohesion and framework – refusing to build on the good aspects of play from last season.

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