In the wake of one of Liverpool’s worst ever defeats this season to Anzhi Makhachkala, where the scores ended at 1-0, here are 7 key talking points to be reviewed and analysed from the game.
1. Brendan Rodgers’ Experiments
With the Chelsea game awaiting the team during the weekend, one can understand why Rodgers decided to rest majority of the first team players. Of the players that started against Newcastle prior to this game, only Andre Wisdom and Brad Jones travelled to Russia to remain in the starting line-up, with Suso also making it in the list of substitutes.
That means, a whole load of ‘cup-starters’ travelled as well. The likes of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey, Sebastien Coates and Jamie Carragher all started, giving them the game time they all desperately need and want.
Rodgers also deployed a 5-3-2 formation (or some would dictate it as a 3-5-2), playing Coates, Carragher and Wisdom at the back, while Jon Flanagan and Stewart Downing played as wing-backs on the right and left wing respectively.
It’s great to see that we have a squad that can fit a standard 4-3-3, as well as a 3-5-2 to accommodate who we are up against. It’s definitely something we can use mid-game if we need a quick change of tactics. Although the execution of the new formation was quite poor, the idea was there.
2. Mentality in Early Stages
One thing that I’m personally, highly disappointed about is the way we played in the first 20-30 minutes. The back three and the midfield were playing so passively. There wasn’t a really intent of bringing the ball up, instead only parallel and back passes were the majority of the ball movement. This passive-minded play was deservingly jeered by the home fans, and it’s obvious why. Anti-football is just generally frowned upon as it discourages exciting football that everyone loves to watch.
The only time you’ll see this negative passing plays are when teams are leading by a slim margin and want to keep hold of the ball. In short, we were playing the ball around at the back as though we have already won the game.
Back passing and parallel passes across the back are generally risky in nature. An underpowered pass may lead to an interception and so can bad first touches when receiving the pass. An opposition that works hard to pressure these kinds of play will almost certainly win the ball back with ease.
Was this Brendan’s tactic all along? To just play at the back for long periods of time and just retain possession in hopes of a draw? Only he will know.
3. The Back Three
On paper, we have one of the toughest back three we can field. Wisdom is a strong defender, Coates is good in the air and Carragher is experienced.
In relation to point number 2, the parallel and back passes were very, very risky indeed. All three of the centre-halves have relatively low abilities on the ball and any mishaps may have been costly. For example, when Andre Wisdom lost the ball on the right side, Anzhi almost capitalised on that chance, only for the shot by Eto’o to be saved after a great cross to the middle.
They were quite solid at the back throughout despite the risky passes. Quite unlucky on Coates’ side though, when Lacina Traore managed to somehow flick the ball over Coates before chipping the ball over Brad Jones for the goal. Apart from that, there was literally no marking on Traore again when a cross came in from their left wing, only for Jones to save a point blank header from him.
There were times when the defence couldn’t keep up with defenders in terms of pace. They were caught way behind on the break in the second half, as well as struggled to chase down Traore when he scored the first goal.
Overall, it was quite a solid performance, although there are many areas for the centre-halves that needs to be improved on. A 3-5-2 can certainly work, but the quality of the back three needs to be way better for the execution of it to produce results.
4. The Youth Players
Of the first XI fielded out, 9 of them were Englishmen, and out of those 9 Englishmen, 5 of them were 21 years old and below. Andre Wisdom has been the recent inclusion into the squad and performed decently so far, Jonjo Shelvey has already made himself a regular substitute in the league, Adam Morgan was started up front after his impressing displays for the Under-21 side, Jon Flanagan returned to the squad after being out due to injury, and finally Conor Coady makes his full debut in last night’s match. Sebastien Coates was also another youngster starting, but we are all already familiar with him.
Conor Coady had an alright first game for Liverpool despite playing his passes very safe, mainly to the back three rather than forward. Jon Flanagan had a good game playing as a wing back, often getting forward in many instances, although his defensive game was slightly off.
Adam Morgan had a decent outing despite having to have a badly off Joe Cole playing behind him. He also managed to play a lovely through ball to Henderson on goal, but Henderson wanted to return the favour rather than test the goalkeeper.
In the second half, Morgan was replaced by Dani Pacheco while Suso was brought in for Coady.
Dani Pacheco was a bit of an opposite from the person he came in for though. He made good runs and attempts to get the ball, but never really materialise anything from the possession. After his contribution to the Under-21 side, one would expect him to do the same thing in the first team, but was his performance was disappointing to say the least.
Suso on the other hand, was an absolute master class, and that’s an understatement. He brought so much flair and creativity to the pitch since his substitution. He made brilliant runs and went by defenders so easily. His shot on goal from outside the box was easily the best we’ve seen from the team as a whole for the whole game. Would he be the Man of the Match for Liverpool last night? Absolutely no doubt about it.
5. The Future of Joe Cole and Stewart Downing
Two of the most hated players in Liverpool for now have been given a chance to impress by getting a starting spot against Anzhi. Did they impress? Well to be honest, Joe Cole did not, but Downing was decent.
Downing had an aggressively decent game in my honest opinion. Playing as a wing back, he did quite alright going forward and tracking back. Did pretty well in covering the left back spot when needed, and he still has the legs to run at defenders. Although he did often under or overpower his crosses, at least he was the one attempting to create chances while the rest of the team were relatively laid back. He just needs to work on his crosses and his set pieces and he’ll be an asset to the team.
Joe Cole looked very tired, unfit and was a totally different player from his time at Chelsea. The only good play he had was when he latched onto a loose ball after Gabulov saved a ferocious shot by Suso, but ultimately failed to score into a semi-open net. The flick off his head from a Downing set piece was half-decent. He made little to no chances for the team, didn’t make good runs, didn’t take on defenders, almost nothing the whole game. He was deservingly subbed off later on in the second half for Assaidi, which ended his rather unimpressive outing for the night. My prediction would be that as soon as a decent offer comes in, Cole will be off.
6. Goalkeeper Dilemma?
Ever since Pepe Reina got injured after the previous international break, Brad Jones was given a surprise as well as the responsibility to be the man between the sticks. Overall, he has been fairly reliable, while seeing a few shots hit the back of his net, he did pull off quite a few brilliant saves so far.
It wasn’t any different yesterday. The only mistake was probably coming off the line way too early when Lacina Traore chipped it over Jones for the winning goal, but many arguments arise. In a one on one situation, any goalkeeper would come off their goal line to defend it. It was a brilliant move by Traore to get into the one on one situation, and it was brilliant control and skill to flick it over Brad Jones.
Throughout the game, Brad Jones saved a great attempt on goal by Samuel Eto’o in the first half when he was free to shoot after a cross from the left. Next, he also saved a point blank header from Lacina Traore, the goalscoreer himself when he manage to head the ball from a cross unmarked. The reflexes and the composure to catch the ball immediately after saving it was an incredible way to stake his claim as a first choice keeper. If it wasn’t for Jones, we would have probably suffered a worse defeat.
People say that Pepe Reina needs competition, and I believe that Brad Jones is doing alright as a second-choice. While I’d like to see a younger goalkeeper brought in when January comes along, I do believe that Brad Jones will provide sufficient cover for Pepe Reina if needed.
7. Henderson and Shelvey
Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson, two players that people should expect to step up in the midfield of Liverpool, had a mixed outing in last night’s game.
Jonjo played very nice passes that opened up play and brought the team forward. Henderson on the other hand played it very safe throughout the first half. There wasn’t really much that came out of midfield, but at the very least, both Shelvey and Henderson barely put in a wrong foot in the first half.
Jordan also made a brilliant defence-splitting run in the first 45 minutes, and was accompanied by a killer through ball from Morgan to get on goal. Ultimately, he decided to cut the ball back and what was once a goal-scoring chance turned out to be nothing. It was clear he should’ve taken a shot, but it’s fair to say that under that amount of pressure, missing it would bring criticisms just as bad as passing it. However, I give props to him for actually getting forward and running into spaces behind the defenders in a Gerrard-like style, something that you don’t see midfielders do on a daily-basis.
In the second half, both players were relatively quiet, playing their own game, moving the ball around and was just keeping their positions intact. Shelvey did lose the ball a few times due to sloppy play, but fortunately it didn’t cost the team. Henderson was getting forward a little and playing passes left and right, but again, nothing came out of that.
Overall, taking into account performances from both halves, the two midfielders played alright. Nothing spectacular, but it wasn’t bad. I’d personally expect more out of them, and I can only hope for them to grow and develop to the future of our midfield.
The game we played was very passive at first and there was so little intention of actually getting the forward and bringing the game to Anzhi. The passes up front will mean nothing if you don’t create any chances out of it. That’s what Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool need to work on – changing the possession numbers into goal numbers.
For a squad with second stringers and youngsters, playing far far away from home, a 1-0 defeat was alright, although much of the credits go to Brad Jones for his performance.
The young midfield trio of Henderson, Shelvey and Coady still have a long way to go to become top players. In time, I’m confident they will some day considering their age of 22, 20 and 19 respectively. And the same goes for Adam Morgan, Coates, Andre Wisdom and Jon Flanagan. There is plenty of room to grow and plenty of time for development. Suso is a brilliant player already, just needs to keep his feet on the ground and he’ll go on to be a Liverpool star.
All in all, we just have to look forward to the next game against Chelsea, and take the development of the team one game at a time. Have patience and one day we’ll (hopefully) rise to be an elite team again. Keep the faith, and You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Oh, and Suso is an absolute master class. Have I said that already?