Liverpool have enjoyed the start of a season that has got fans dreaming once again. The problem with this is that when/if it starts to unravel, the disappointment amongst these same fans will be even greater. In some respects the heightened expectation may become another enemy to them. Before Sunday’s abject 3-1 defeat at Hull, the Reds were sitting pretty just 4 points behind the pacesetters Arsenal, having only been beaten by the Gunners themselves and high flying Southampton. My fear was that some narrow wins were merely papering over the cracks and that at some point, Liverpool’s lack of squad depth was going to bite back at them.
The announcement before the match by Brendan Rodgers that Daniel Sturridge may miss 6-8 weeks injured, sent many Reds on Twitter into meltdown. Amongst the group of Champions League place contenders, news like this undoubtably hits Liverpool the hardest. Man United have coped ok without RVP. Rooney has stepped up and they can always rely on goals from elsewhere. Arsenal have barely noticed the absence of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lucas Podolski, as Mesut Ozil has been sensational, adding to the incredible goal scoring form of both Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. City have countless goal scoring options and despite feeling the absence of Vincent Kompany away from home in particular, they have suitable defensive cover to manage most games.
What was most concerning about the loss to Hull was despite dominating possession, Liverpool created next to nothing. There were no threatening runs from the wide men or fullbacks and crosses were non existent. None of the midfield players found a telling pass or managed to get into the box at any point. All 4 of their most recent goals have come from set pieces with little threat from open play and apart from the SAS, you can’t see where they are likely to get a regular source of goals. As Liverpool struggle away from home as an attacking unit, their problems heap pressure on the defence and despite some heroics from Simon Mignolet, they look nowhere near capable of keeping a clean sheet. Kolo Toure seems to be one of those players who is capable of a major defensive lapse, Mamadou Sakho hasn’t settled in and is now confined to the bench, whilst the injury to Jose Enrique is causing further selection problems as the untested Jon Flanagan has been thrown in at the deep end(to his credit). Skrtel and Agger, whilst both great players, seem to struggle aerially and from set pieces(neither match up to Sami Hyypia in that respect).
The biggest problem is that Rodgers can do little to change this, particularly with the loss of Sturridge. There is no league Cup to give the fringe players a competitive game in a relatively safe environment and no European games to do similar. With an extremely testing set of December fixtures ahead(Spurs, City and Chelsea away), Liverpool are likely to suffer injuries/suspensions, further putting pressure on the fringe players who are struggling to make an impact. Iago Aspas has found it hard to adjust to the English game, picking up a lengthy injury layoff in the process. He and fellow Spaniard Luis Alberto have yet to find the net for their new club. Jordan Henderson offers commitment and energy, but lacks craft and a killer instinct. Victor Moses doesn’t seem to show the same hunger as Romelu Lukaku does at Everton and looks as though he feels he has nothing to prove, despite demanding more game time in the press this week!!! Raheem Sterling lacks the confidence and experience of regular game time, looking afraid of his own shadow at times when he gets a game. As for £15m Joe Allen, I’m still suffering flashbacks from his horrific miss at Everton last week. They are all young lads and will improve with time, but if Liverpool really want Champions League football, then time isn’t on their side. Liverpool need these guys to deliver and quick.
If Liverpool can win their home fixtures this month and at least get one win from their three tricky away matches, then they can go into January still in the hunt for a top four spot. At that stage the transfer window becomes crucial, but it will be difficult to attract real quality to the club at that time. Rodgers managed it last season with Coutinho and Sturridge, but can lightning strike twice? I’m certain Rodgers knows his squad lacks the type of depth that means he can change his side effectively and make game changing substitutions. He doesn’t have this at the current time and I fear it is going to hurt Liverpool badly over the Christmas period and that now is the defining point of their season.
I predicted 5th/6th for Liverpool at the start of the season and I’m not ready to upgrade that placing yet. I’m hoping that by the end of January, I will have more reasons to do so…….