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.

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