It is said that you learn more in defeat than you do in success. In Liverpool’s case, they will have learned a lot from Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Stoke City. So fickle is football these days, that following three straight victories, there was heightened talk of a possible title push this season. One defeat later, and people start to question whether or not the players are good enough. At least this match should make one thing perfectly clear: Liverpool is not yet ready to be considered challengers for the Premiership, and they shouldn’t be judged as such.
This is after all, a club who were facing a very real possibility of administration less than a year ago. Add to that the team’s shocking performances under previous manager Roy Hodgson, and it was a club going in the wrong direction, fast.
That the squad Kenny Dalglish has assembled over the summer was even being talked about as possible contenders gives an indication of how far it has come. The work of Dalglish, Director of Football Damien Comolli, and of course the owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) this summer can not be understated. They identified problem positions in the team, and filled them with quality players. Many of the players signed conform with the new FIFA Fair Play Rules that are due to be enforced in the coming years. Others fit the FSG strategy, of young players with good resale value. It has also been reported that by clearing out virtually all of their “dead wood” (players of little use such as Phillip Degen, Christian Poulsen, Milan Jovanovic etc), they have lowered their wage bill by £30m. This is now a club with a long-term plan.
However, this plan is, as stated, a long-term one, and immediate success simply isn’t going to happen. Saturday was proof of that. This isn’t something that Liverpool fans will like to hear, but if that were Manchester United in that position on Saturday, you would fully expect them to grab an equalizer, and possibly go on to win the game. United have that ruthlessness that is required, and the ability to carve out a win when it looks unlikely. Liverpool, just like on the opening day of the season against Sunderland, failed to show these characteristics, and have lost valuable points because of it.
It’s no disgrace dropping points away to Stoke however. They have now lost only once at the Brittania in their last 15 games- it has become one of those venues that teams dread playing in. They have also played three games more due to their European commitments, and so is probably a touch fitter and sharper. Like I said, no disgrace, but that doesn’t excuse the performance on Saturday. Liverpool were poor. Simple as that. The fact is that once Stoke took the lead, Liverpool offered very little. Jordan Henderson had the best chance for Liverpool when put through by Jose Enrique, but he shot straight at Asmir Begovic, and then had two more shots blocked before Adam couldn’t find the net either from the rebound. The only other chance for Liverpool came then the ball broke to Suarez in the last few seconds but his instinctive swing at the ball sent it wide. They had a decent shout for a penalty turned away, but all in all, they didn’t play well enough.
It is easy to criticize Stoke, as they were happy sit on their lead and show virtually no ambition in attack. Who can blame them? They are playing a team that they are expected to lose to and have found themselves a goal up. They have every right to shut up shop in that situation. Charlie Adam had an off-day, and because of that, Liverpool’s passing game suffered. He was clearly still feeling the effects of the knock that kept him out of Scotland’s victory over Lithuania, and his ball retention was lacking. The Reds were also evidently missing the presence of an out-and-out right-back, as Martin Skrtel filled in there, offering little in the form of attacking support. Few good moves took place down the right-hand side. Other problems for Liverpool were that their passing lacked accuracy and conviction, and they didn’t get enough men in the box.
Criticism of many Liverpool players, a lot of it from there own fans, is premature. Jamie Carragher is the focus of many people’s attention, having given away the penalty, and there have been calls for him to be dropped. Carragher should not, and will not be dropped. He is still a very good defender and a defensive organizer. Without him in the side, the defence would be significantly weaker, as he is the one who calls the shots in the backline. He is also a leader. Arsenal has been the perfect example of a team without enough leaders, and Liverpool doesn’t want to make that mistake unnecessarily. Henderson has also come in for some stick. He was very good against Bolton, as were the rest of the team, and he was poor on Saturday, as were the rest of the team. To he is not good enough already is being very short-sighted. He has just turned 21 years old, has a full season of Premiership football to his name, and is an England international. Give him time, and he will develop into a top class footballer.
This is a team with several new faces. The likes of Henderson, Stewart Downing, Jose Enrique and Charlie Adam have only just started playing for the club and need more time to get accustomed to how Dalglish wants them to play. All four will play key roles for Liverpool this season, and I am sure all of them will be successes. Top four will be the priority this season, and the squad is capable of getting there. After they got top four, and only after that will a title challenge become a realistic target. All they need is patience.