To those who thought Liverpool’s relatively clinical performance against Newcastle in the last game of 2011 would be a sign of Liverpool finally approaching the end of a long, dark, profligate tunnel: yup, another false dawn.
I’m beginning to lose count of the number of false dawns we Liverpool fans have experienced this season. Sure, the future doesn’t seem to be as bleak as it was under Roy Small-Club Hodgson, but as the old adage goes: the higher the expectations, the bigger the disappointments.
I bet Kenny Dalglish was one of those who thought a bright end to 2011 would mean a bright start to 2012. His post-match interview certainly showed as much, as he had the following wise words to offer: “I’m not so sure the scoreline reflects the way the game went. I’m not saying we deserved to win, but I think the lesson we’ve learned from tonight is that if we’re not clinical we’re going to suffer.”
So it took half a season to learn this all-important lesson.
Perhaps my cynicism stems from the fact that I go by the mantra that is “the end justifies the means.” In this competitive, cutthroat football world that so many call “a results business,” I like to see wins and points. And that means I’m a fan of Rafa Benitez’s underdog European scalps, and I’m a fan of Jose Mourinho’s win-first, everything-else-second policy. I even reluctantly admire the swagger that Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United teams have had over the years. I don’t like the attitude, but I like the wins.
The talk has long been about Liverpool not having the luck we’re due. About in-form goalkeepers playing the games of their lives against us. About an astonishing number of times we’ve hit the woodwork.
But luck plays a part perhaps in a game or two. Perhaps maybe over the course of a month or two. When you’re talking about a luckless half season, there’s something underlying that is the issue at hand.
First, it’s the poor additions to the first-team squad. I touched on my thoughts on the price-quality relationship of our summer buys in my last post. I would like to resume for a moment. It is high time I made my pronouncements clear: Stewart Downing is rubbish. He doesn’t take on his man, he doesn’t have pace, he can’t cross, he can’t shoot, and he cost a fortune. Jordan Henderson may prove to be a decent player in time, but his anonymous displays in the center of midfield do not suggest a workmanlike performance in his favored role; they embody a young man short of confidence. Charlie Adam is clumsy, rash and if his set pieces are worth 10m alone, then Steven Gerrard’s crosses alone are worth a world-record fee.
Second, it’s the lack of creativity. We already saw what a Liverpool team is capable of without a predatory Fernando Torres. Now we’re seeing a Liverpool without that and a creative Luis Suarez. Followers of this blog, scant as they may be, might be well-versed in my thoughts on the frustrating, profligate and unproductive Suarez. But at least he has the courage to try his tricks, to run the channels, to make things happen. Without him in the side, Liverpool looked dead yesterday. Sideways pass to sideways pass, backwards pass to backwards pass, long diagonal ball to long diagonal ball. I dread that prospect.
Third, it’s the over-reliance on the old guard. Dirk Kuyt is no longer the clutch goalscorer he used to be. Craig Bellamy’s knees do not allow him to play two consecutive games in just a matter of days (although, given our next game is an FA Cup tie against Oldham, I struggle to see why Kenny couldn’t have started Bellamy and given him a solid hour). Steven Gerrard is still working his way back to full fitness. Maxi Rodriguez can’t be expected to score on every single appearance. And Fernando Torres is not a Liverpool player anymore, as much as some of us wish he was. So it’s up to the new generation to deliver. Please see above for my verdict on said generation.
This is easily my most critical post since I started this blog. At the 20-game mark, we’re over the halfway line, and while many people suggest that we should be satisfied with the progress made in a year, I would respectfully suggest that last year was the worst in recent memory. If you’re celebrating progress made from the bottom of the pit, then you might as well celebrate staving off relegation.
For the first half of the season, Liverpool have been wasteful. A goal conversion ratio like City’s, like United’s, like Spurs’, would see us in the Top Three for sure. We have the second-most potent attack in the league in terms of chances created, but one of the lowest goals-scored tallies. In this half year, the lesson I learned is that the final hurdle is the toughest one to overcome.
Did I need an insipid, sluggish and uninspired performance at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium to learn this lesson? No. It just made it painfully obvious that things need to be done, and quick.
But let’s just say I really only learned this lesson last night – then perhaps I’ll fall back on our recently favorite habit of drawing comparisons to last year.
Last year, we started the new year poorly. This led to Hodgson’s and Torres’ departures. After Kenny came in, results started improving. Dramatically, some say.
If we want to see a good year ahead of us, a good transfer window is absolutely imperative. Only then will the end of the tunnel prove more than a mere mirage.