A Look Back on 2011

So, where to begin?

It’s been an eventful year, has 2011.

First, a brief summary of my take on Liverpool’s 2011.

We began the year by ditching Roy Hodgson, whose charisma could rival an ostrich’s, and whose ability to handle pressure at the highest level reminds one of Paul Konchesky. In his place, of course, came Kenny Dalglish, dubbed so affectionately “King” by many Kopites (but has yet to fully justify this tag in my EPL eyes). Then Luis Suarez came in, followed quickly by Andy Carroll, while Liverpoolfc.tv tried their best to hide Fernando Torres’ departure under the covers.

They failed. As hyped up as the new Keegan-Toshack partnership was, Torres’ transfer request and last-minute deal was the story I put all my attention on. And it was a story that made my February one of lethargy, jadedness and general miserableness. Scratch that – I still haven’t gotten over it.

Moving on (for now). There was the great home win against Manchester United, in which Dirk Kuyt set the unofficial world record for shortest yardage for a hattrick. And of course, I personally witnessed his last-gasp penalty equalizer at the Emirates, and Maxi Rodriguez’s hattrick against Birmingham at Anfield a week after. Even Joe Cole got a goal. That’s definitely one for the history books.

Of course, we would finish the season with a well-deserved defeat to Tottenham, which meant no European football this season. Blessing in disguise? Considering that we could be beating both United and City en route to the Europa League final in 2012, I’d think not.

Then came the summer. We brought in the overrated, overpriced Stewart Downing. We brought in the overrated, overpriced Jordan Henderson. We brought in the overrated, just-about-right-priced Charlie Adam. We brought in the underrated, good-priced Jose Enrique. We brought in the underrated, free Craig Bellamy. If you think about it, effectiveness and cost have followed an inversely proportional relationship for our summer signings. That’s Moneyball for you.

Oh, and we let go of Alberto Aquilani because our attacking midfield position was so permanently occupied by an injured Steven Gerrard that Aquilani would’ve had a lot of trouble fitting into our strongest eleven. We also had Raul Meireles on the books for that very position, but of course we let him go too, without finding a replacement.

No matter – we started the season with a bang. Well, a bang first half. Then the boys set us well on our magnificent unbeaten and unwinning home run with a second-half capitulation against Sunderland. Our attack kept setting up chances, but we couldn’t take advantage. But it was only the first game of the season, and surely after a few games the goals would start coming after the team had more time to gel on the pitch.

Except that didn’t happen.

This, for me, has been the story of Liverpool’s 2011. If I were to sum 2011 up in one doubly-hyphenated word, it’d be this:

Coulda-woulda-shoulda.

Imagine what could’ve been if Torres stayed, at least for the remainder of the 2010-2011 season. Imagine what could’ve been if he struck up a partnership with Suarez. And – just imagine – Suarez, Torres and Gerrard. What could’ve been.

Imagine what would’ve been if we finished off even a third of the chances we create. Imagine what would’ve been if we turned the dominance, possession and goalscoring opportunities into goals and points. Imagine, if it weren’t for such wasteful finishing and infuriating ineffectiveness, the points we’d have on board by now. What should’ve been.

Kenny’s has been a mixed start. The football we’ve started to play has been sumptuous at times, absolutely breathtaking at others. As he himself has said on numerous occasions, the only result we’ve actually deserved to gain nothing from was that dreadful performance at White Hart Lane. All the others – we should’ve taken home all three points.

The finishing has been profligate, to put it nicely. The lack of a real cutting edge has shown through in Gerrard’s absence, and I still have yet to be fully convinced by Suarez, who, for all his trickery and unpredictability, lacks the deadliness and finishing prowess of a truly world-class striker. Add his controversial personality in, and we’re in for a rough ride with this fella. For me, my true affections still lie with Torres, and it hurts to see him in his current state at Chelsea. Schadenfreude doesn’t even come into the picture.

So, 2011 was always going to be a year of transition. And to be fair, in hindsight, the transition happened at a much quicker pace than I thought. It happened so quickly that I’m frustrated because we don’t have the goals, the points and the league position to show for our performances this first half of 2011-2012.

They say we should compare this with our relegation form last year. They say we should be very proud of having come so far from such a wretched period in our club.

But I won’t have any of it. This is Liverpool Football Club. This is the team that made waves in the Champions League just a few seasons ago. This is the team that came second, that would’ve finished as champions in most other seasons, just two calendar years ago. To be glad that we’re in our current position just because we were serious relegation candidates a year ago is to be complacent, and I won’t have any of it.

But I suppose the silver lining from this is that the finishing is generally the only thing I’m disappointed about. Sure, Downing’s been a flop, I don’t take too nicely to Suarez, and I couldn’t understand for the life of me why Kenny refused to play Maxi, but the performances have generally been of a high standard. It’s just frustrating that all the pieces are in place, but that we’re just missing that final, final touch to turn dominance into points. I certainly hope we’re making moves to rectify that.

Because if we are, we’ll be in for a hell of a 2012.

And here’s to exactly that: a hell of a 2012.

QPR 12/10/2011: A Fine Line

If you’ve been a regular follower of this blog, you might have noticed that I didn’t write any post-match reactions to the draw against Swansea and the defeat at Fulham.

In my last post, I wrote that Liverpool’s real tests lie in December. We failed our first at Craven Cottage, and we passed this one at Anfield against QPR. Barely.

It’s getting increasingly hard to find anything new to write about after we play. It’s the same old story every single time: dominating play, getting over 20 shots, finishing with the solitary goal. It just happened that this time we lived up to our joint-best defensive record in the league and shut QPR out.

Make no mistake: this was another truly dominant performance. The stats said it all: 25 shots, 8 on target, 17 corners, 62% possession. For all of QPR’s “resurgence” after Suarez’s goal, they never looked too threatening, and Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger continued to justify their selection ahead of the waning Jamie Carragher.

Liverpool’s attacking dominance, so much of a staple it’s become, was no surprise. Luis Suarez finally broke his 2-month goal drought. If it weren’t for QPR goalkeeper Radek Cerny’s outstanding performance, Maxi Rodriguez would have helped himself to a couple of goals. And that is why I have constantly clamored for his inclusion in the starting eleven. His positional awareness is second to none, and it’s no coincidence that opposing defences have had a way harder time against us when he’s been on the pitch.

Two shout-outs to Charlie Adam and Glen Johnson. The former has really grown in stature since coming to Anfield, and his driving display at the center of the midfield alongside a much more comfortable Jordan Henderson ensured that Lucas wouldn’t be missed this afternoon. As for Glen Johnson: I haven’t seen much of Tottenham’s Kyle Walker, so I haven’t been able to see for myself whether the hype surrounding him is justified, but Johnson is currently in the form of his life. A huge attacking outlet on the right wing, he’s also worked on his defensive game – his timing in the air is much more assured, and his positional sense has improved.

But, my word, are we crying out for a clinical out-and-out finisher. Craig Bellamy used to play as the furthest forward on the pitch, but he’s been used to great effect on the wings by Kenny Dalglish. Andy Carroll used to be Newcastle’s predator in the box, but he’s been off-form, short of confidence, and most of all, lacking in playing time.

This is no longer the Liverpool of the last few seasons. With Raul Meireles gone and Steven Gerrard injured, Maxi Rodriguez is the only midfielder who has the instinct to arrive in the box chance after chance, which explains the number of threatening positions he’s able to take up. But with Adam taking on the midfield driver role and both himself and Henderson content to stay outside the box, there’s a clear lack of makeshift second strikers (false tens, if you will) in and around the box.

We can’t keep relying on Luis Suarez. A phenomenal talent he is, a phenomenal finisher he is not. He’s mostly been compared to Fernando Torres (which is usually followed by claims that Liverpool don’t miss Torres anymore because we have Suarez…my response to that is a topic for another day), but I’d suggest the comparisons be with Gerrard. A creator-in-chief more than capable of chipping in with a few goals, he’s not the type of player to feast on chances. Indeed, he currently possesses the highest shots tally in the league – but his meager tally of 5 should speak volumes.

So our first priority in January must be to get a finisher who can kill teams off. Because that’s what we’re missing.

For the time being, 3 points will do just fine, but sooner or later we’re going to have to turn our shots on target into far more goals, because not only does goal difference matter much more these days, but we’re set up so far away from the Jose Mourinho school of pragmatism that we can’t be looking for one-goal victories week in, week out.

It’s a fine line between 3 points and 1, and 1 and 0. Time to not just talk about dominating, but to start showing it in the most important statistic of all: the final scoreline.