Martin Skrtel and Luis Suarez got the goals for Liverpool—and what brilliant goals they were—but Brendan Rodgers’ side were culpable for the two goals they conceded to Manchester City in a pulsating 2-2 draw at Anfield on Sunday.
This was far removed from last Saturday’s calamitous showing at West Brom, with Liverpool exhibiting some impressive build-up play throughout the encounter with the Premier League champions.
But the old problem resurfaced again—that of Liverpool being the better team but failing to get all three points.
And now: the positives and negatives from Sunday’s matchup from Liverpool’s point of view:
Just the One Point to Show for It…
Once again, as so often was the case under Kenny Dalglish last season, Liverpool spent most of the 90 minutes as the better team.
But once again, we didn’t come away with the three points to show for their performance.
This time it wasn’t for a lack of Liverpool goals, but rather two uncharacteristic gaffes at the back.
Either way, Brendan Rodgers will have to work on setting a balance between an efficient attack and an efficient defence.
Otherwise, for a sloppy defensive error to once again take away almost all the good work Liverpool did in the midfield and up front would be a massive shame.
And it would contribute to them falling further behind in the league table.
…But the Passing Play and Closing Down Were Very Encouraging
But no way was this draw as hard to take as the opening-weekend defeat at West Brom, because the silver linings were that obvious.
If Rodgers and his squad wanted to prove that last Saturday was just a “one-off,” they put in a collective display that went lengths in doing just that.
Minus the Hawthorns collapse, Liverpool have seemed to take to Rodgers’ system very quickly.
Overall, the crisp passing play and tenacious closing down exhibited all over the pitch should bode very well for the future, even if they have only yielded the one point in two games.
Even when Carlos Tevez pounced on Martin Skrtel’s back-pass to equalize for City, Liverpool never looked settled for a point.
It’s this desire—if not the profligacy—that Rodgers and we hope will bode well for the future.
Defensive Lapses Cost Liverpool Two Points…
Back to the defence, because it deserves a portion of the limelight in the post-match wake.
There has been a vicious cycle at work at Anfield for the best part of a year now.
The lack of goals is being compounded by some glaring defensive lapses that are costing Liverpool points simply because of a relative lack of concentration from the back.
Given the eye-gorging scoreline at West Brom, this was exacerbated and seared in recent memory by the tireless running and pressing of Shane Long, but this goes back to last-gasp goals like that conceded to Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez last season.
Rodgers declared after the City game that Skrtel had the right idea in passing back to Pepe Reina for the Tevez goal, and that punting it forward would have been the simple option.
Except that the right idea was not accompanied by the requisite awareness, and that the simple option could have brought him two more points.
…But We Now Have a Real Third-Choice Central Defender
Martin Skrtel enjoyed an otherwise productive day against City, not least because of his frankly brilliant header to open the scoring.
But enough of him for now—some credit should be paid to his central defensive partner for the day, Sebastian Coates.
For all of his lack of match fitness, and for all of Daniel Agger’s classy defensive play, Coates showed on Sunday why he should absolutely have climbed over Jamie Carragher in the pecking order of center-backs.
To be sure, Coates did show moments of hesitation, including one in the first half that allowed Mario Balotelli to nip in and steal the ball, forcing Martin Kelly to concede a free kick.
But Coates put in enough well-timed tackles and good linkups with Kelly, Skrtel and Reina to show that all the hype surrounding his arrival at Anfield might not be unjustified after all.
No Goals from Open Play Yet…
The other side to the 2-2 draw, the other side to the two goals scored by Liverpool, is that we still haven’t notched from open play yet.
Perhaps this had to do with Fabio Borini’s narrow miss after Raheem Sterling’s brilliant cross from the left wing.
Or maybe to do with Luis Suarez’s still-profligate finishing in open play.
Or maybe, still, to do with Suarez’s poor decision making from the flanks, often leading to mishit crosses or mistimed passes.
The fact remains that, with Andy Carroll seemingly out of favor under Rodgers, Liverpool’s strikers just aren’t clinical enough at this stage.
…But Finally Some Set-Piece Threats
There’s a new-found set-piece prowess, though, that finally brings some variety to Liverpool’s goals.
Against Manchester City, Steven Gerrard delivered a picture-perfect corner that was met with a picture-perfect bullet header from Skrtel to open the scoring.
And, just minutes after conceding to Yaya Toure, Luis Suarez delivered a picture-perfect free kick that Joe Hart couldn’t do anything about.
This on the back of an inventive piece of set-piece play that Liverpool showed in a preseason friendly against Bayer Leverkusen, which was supposed to set Suarez up for a goal, but ended up leading to the rarity that is a goal from Lucas.
All without the £10 million left foot of Charlie Adam.
Lucas Got Injured…
Speaking of Lucas, Rodgers will be hoping that his injury troubles don’t resurface.
Having worked so hard back to full fitness—and indeed making it back to first-team football a couple of months before he was scheduled to fully recover from an anterior cruciate ligament injury—Lucas pulled a muscle just minutes into Sunday’s game.
The loss of Lucas back in November last year and its impact on the rest of Liverpool’s 2011-2012 season has been retold countless times.
While this muscle pull might not and should not be on the same scale as his injury last season, Lucas has become such an integral part of the Liverpool midfield that his loss would be felt all the same.
…But Joe Allen and Jonjo Shelvey Fit Right In
Of course, all this might sound a tad melodramatic, especially given the way Joe Allen performed having been moved into Lucas’ sitting role and Jonjo Shelvey’s encouraging shift in center midfield as Lucas’ substitute.
To say they equipped themselves well would be an understatement.
Allen, with his pinpoint passing, classy distribution, decision making and closing down, showed all of Anfield why Rodgers went all out for his signature this summer. He looks to be Liverpool’s best passer of the ball since Xabi Alonso.
Shelvey shelved his enthusiastic attacking instincts and the rawer side of his physical game to fit in perfectly with short, crisp passes, as well as good positional awareness.
With new loan signing Nuri Sahin looking on from the stands, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson will have every reason to fear for their first-team places this season.
Early Nerves from a Young, Young Liverpool Side…
For all of Liverpool’s excellent display against the reigning champions, we started off nervously, and the stray passes in the midfield showed their nerves.
It might have been a sign of the players still taking to Rodgers’ ideas, but it probably had more to do with the fact that Liverpool played their youngest starting XI since 2003.
The average age of the Liverpool players that took to the Anfield pitch on Sunday was 24 years and 364 days.
This could have backfired spectacularly against an experienced, world-class City team.
But in the end, it almost brought Rodgers three points, and indeed heralded the beginning of a new Liverpool era.
…But for Once, Some Young Talents to Really Get Excited About
A new Liverpool era that will be spearheaded by the likes of Allen, Coates, Shelvey and Borini.
And Raheem Sterling. (You were wondering when his name would be mentioned, weren’t you?)
For all those who weren’t aware of Sterling’s burgeoning reputation, this was a warm welcome to this exciting young talent.
Chosen rightly (or should that be leftly?) in place of the continually hapless Stewart Downing, Sterling stayed on for the full 90 minutes on his first league start for Liverpool; a sign of his stamina and energy, yes, but also a sign of his maturity.
And it was a maturity that saw some exquisite first touches, good linkup plays with Glen Johnson down the left and, perhaps most importantly, a continual drive to stay on his man and close down on the opposition.
He won’t be starting for Liverpool every week, but he will be one to watch this season and for years to come.
All in all, a good performance from Rodgers’ charges, but still plenty of work to do to turn performances into points.
The glass has suddenly become half full.