Tag Archives: steven gerrard

Time for Liverpool to Rethink How to Manage Steven Gerrard’s Later Years

Two of the defining components of England’s bygone Golden Generation experienced contrasting fortunes in the Premier League last weekend: While Frank Lampard scored a dramatic late equalizer after coming off the bench against old club Chelsea, Steven Gerrard was given the runaround by former Liverpool flop Stewart Downing against West Ham United.

After what has transpired over the last few months—Lampard being released from his contract at Stamford Bridge after 13 glorious seasons and becoming Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer, and Gerrard being nominated for the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award after his pivotal role in Liverpool’s outstanding season—the contrast couldn’t have been bigger.

While England’s dismal display at the Brazil World Cup ultimately led to two of their greatest-ever midfielders announcing their international retirement later in the summer, it seems that two modern legends of the Premier League era have since embarked on drastically different career paths.

With Frank Lampard adopting a role as a key squad player at Manchester City and making an instant impact in the penalty box on Sunday, and Gerrard finding himself targeted week after week as the deepest-lying playmaker in the Liverpool midfield, perhaps it’s time for the Reds to rethink how they are and should be managing the final years of Steven Gerrard’s career.

 

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

 

 

Steven Gerrard, the Impact Sub?

We’ve seen this with Ryan Giggs in the previous few years and, increasingly over the past few seasons, with Frank Lampard at Chelsea and now at Manchester City: As players enter the final years of their careers, their game time needs to be managed so they can stay at peak fitness and still remain productive when they do take to the field.

This is especially true for players relying on explosive pace and power to conjure up split-second moments of game-changing magic. While Gerrard has never been the pacy wing wizard Giggs used to be in his prime, the Liverpool skipper made his name with his lung-bursting runs from midfield, barnstorming drives into the penalty area and blockbuster shots from long range.

There’s nothing wrong with Brendan Rodgers pushing Gerrard deeper in the midfield to take up his current deep-lying playmaker position per se; the problem is that at 34 years of age, Gerrard is still completing 90-minute games week in, week out.

And with the Champions League now back in Liverpool’s schedule, that is simply unsustainable.

After a tough win at home against unfancied Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad in the Champions League, Gerrard’s 90 minutes at Upton Park was unsavory at best, depressing at worst. Compared to leaving his midfield area glaringly vacant for opponents to storm into time and again, getting overrun by Stewart Downing is already a less concerning headline.

Rodgers’ toughest mandate during his time as Liverpool manager arguably isn’t to have gotten the Reds back into the European big time; it was to phase Gerrard out in the right way and to manage the latter stages of his career.

Recent injuries to Joe Allen and Emre Can have forced his hand, but Liverpool fans should reasonably expect to see Gerrard feature more as an impact substitute as the rest of the season unfolds.

Only as an impact substitute, or at least a lessened status as a squad player, will Gerrard’s career really be prolonged, and not hastened towards becoming the main liability in the middle of the park for Liverpool.

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

 

Making Use of Gerrard’s Versatility

One factor that should influence Rodgers’ planning and thinking over the next couple of seasons is the fact that he is one of the most complete midfielders to ever have come out of England. In that regard, the likes of Ryan Giggs and Frank Lampard don’t even come close.

It’s one thing to have a skill set comparable to Andrea Pirlo’s (even if his positional discipline and tactical understanding are inferior); it’s quite another to have won the PFA Player of the Year award playing as an unorthodox right-winger, to have struck up a world-class partnership with Fernando Torres as a second striker and to have influenced the biggest stage of all—the Champions League final—as a makeshift right-wing-back.

Now, there is no need for Gerrard to fill in at right-back—Liverpool are comfortably sorted at the moment with Javi Manquillo proving to be an astute acquisition and a number of players capable of assuming the role—and indeed the Reds’ optimal 4-4-2 diamond formation doesn’t allow for a right-winger.

Yet as Rodgers clearly still seems to regard Gerrard as the one “undroppable” player in his team—often substituting his midfield partners when Liverpool are in need of a change in formation or approach, before he takes that drastic step to drop his captain from the starting XI and turn him into an impact substitute—there is another blueprint that he can reference.

There’s no finer example than Roberto Mancini’s favorite tactical switch during his reign at the Etihad Stadium: Sending on a defensive midfielder (often Nigel de Jong), releasing Yaya Toure’s defensive shackles and pushing him forward into a free attacking-midfield role.

That Rodgers doesn’t have a world-class defensive midfielder at his disposal is perhaps down to the fact that he regards Gerrard as his optimal regista sitting at the base of his midfield, with Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen providing protection and help around him. Emre Can’s arrival, however, is interesting and could potentially pose an alternative for the Liverpool manager.

While not a specialist defensive midfielder, Can—who ironically has a skill set most comparable to Yaya Toure’s out of Liverpool’s midfield contingent—has more than enough to offer in terms of steel, physicality, pace and defensive nous. All Rodgers needs to do, when Can returns from injury and if he starts on the bench, is send him on and let Gerrard rekindle his magic with a free-scoring forward.

Only this time it’s Daniel Sturridge.

 

Phil Cole/Getty Images

 

 

A Case for Gerrard the Forward

It’s interesting that Rafael Benitez, the manager credited with realizing Gerrard’s potential as a devastating attacker rather than a controlled midfielder, stated during Gerrard’s peak years that he saw him becoming a striker later in his career, according to The Sun (via Emily Benammar in the Telegraph). Rodgers, on the other hand, has suggested he could become a right-sided center back, per BBC Sport.

Both suggestions reflect Gerrard’s universality as the complete modern footballer, to the extent that two managers who have reinvented his game can’t even agree on whether it’s his attacking game or defensive abilities that make him stand out.

But while he has always been known as much for his match-winning piledrivers as he is for his last-ditch tackles and thunderous challenges, Gerrard has always been afforded the freedom to do essentially whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. It’s for this reason he so frequently drove into the box in his heyday to score important goals.

That Gerrard reserves his best performances when a select duo is played as his midfield colleagues—now usually and preferably Henderson and Allen—means that Rodgers needs to tailor the entirety of Liverpool’s approach play to Gerrard by shaping the midfield, and thus forward line, around his strengths and deficiencies.

Without his famous acceleration, pace and power, Gerrard is required, perhaps more so than ever, to sit in front of his defence, command his midfield, control his area and remain positionally disciplined, which is a huge ask of a player who has always turned up to save the day when his team has needed him to.

That sounds all right until he ventures forward at his own will, leaving his area and the defence exposed—while without having the pace or stamina to track back to atone for a positional error.

Slotting Gerrard into a more advanced position akin to his prime might not see him replicate his majestic runs, but it would allow Rodgers to address a badly imbalanced midfield with more steel and defensive presence at the base, while retaining his captain’s famous vision, passing and game-changing shooting ability closer to the opponent’s goal.

After all, Gerrard is arguably the second most natural finisher currently in the first team—behind Daniel Sturridge—while the timing of his arrivals into the box have seen many a late winner, and his heading has long been an underrated facet to his attacking game.

In short, he is one of Liverpool’s few complete attacking weapons.

Moving him forward, playing him selectively and using him wisely in the wider context of the whole Liverpool team would reverse his rapid decline—and who knows, maybe Liverpool fans will be able to start cheering yet another superhuman winner from Steven Gerrard again. It’s been a while since we’ve seen one of those.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

10 Things Liverpool Learned from the 2013/14 Premier League Season

Perhaps it was just a touch too far for Liverpool in the end. Their fans harbored the hope and the romanticism, but Manchester City’s ruthless efficiency meant that as soon as Liverpool handed first place in the Premier League back into City’s hands, it was always going to be a tall order for the Reds.

On Liverpool’s part, it could’ve been a poetic end to the season on the final day. Steven Gerrard providing two set-piece assists to go clear in the Premier League assist charts, a goal from Daniel Agger on possibly his last-ever appearance for the Reds, and a goal for the understated Daniel Sturridge—all after Newcastle United took the lead through some dodgy Liverpool defending.

West Ham United—Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Joe Cole et al—just couldn’t play their supposed part against City on Sunday.

But while the conciliatory and congratulatory messages will be sent from the red half of Merseyside to the blue half of Manchester amid disappointment—“devastation,” Gerrard told Sky Sports (h/t Fox Sports)—at a lost chance to win a title, the overriding mood at Anfield after the final whistle on Sunday was a celebratory one.

For while City’s two goals in a clean sheet sealed their second title in three years, the Liverpool fans preferred to bask in the knowledge that their team had stormed their way back into the top four ahead of Brendan Rodgers’ schedule and preferred to acknowledge the brave but valiant efforts of their heroes.

And why not? It’s been an exciting campaign for Liverpool, and here are 10 things we learned from their 2013/14 Premier League season. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Attack Wins Games…

Attack Wins Games…Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Having scored 101 goals in 38 league games this season—just one short of Manchester City’s haul—Liverpool have been one of English football’s great entertainers over the past 10 months.

Without taking any penalties and having missed his first five games of the season, Luis Suarez equaled the 38-game-season Premier League goal-scoring tally of 31, while Daniel Sturridge added 21 goals and Steven Gerrard 13.

The blitzing of Tottenham Hotspur (both home and away), Everton and Arsenal—all considered rivals at the start of the season—will be remembered for years to come, as the Reds hit three or more goals in a remarkable 21 out of their 38 games. The thrilling 11-game winning streak that rocketed Brendan Rodgers’ men to the top of the table with a few games to go was especially memorable.

Rodgers has instilled flexibility, directness and dynamism into his team, who are now capable of changing tactical formations from game to game and during matches. They can score goals from a variety of approaches—counterattacks, direct free kicks and other set pieces. The interchanging of his electric forward line has added to their aesthetic appeal, which has won them fans up and down the country and around the world.

From 71 goals last season to 101 this term—a 30-goal swing over a 38-game span—it has been a remarkable improvement in attacking form from by and large the same group of players, and Rodgers deserves as much credit as his charges.

Liverpool fan or not, this has been a season to savor.

 

…But Defence Wins Championships

…But Defence Wins ChampionshipsMichael Regan/Getty Images

Yet a simple comparison of goal difference between City and Liverpool shows everything about how the season has panned out: City, who scored just one more goal in total, finished with a goal difference of plus-65, compared with Liverpool’s plus-51.

Somehow it seemed fitting that Martin Skrtel’s own goal was Newcastle’s opener on Sunday—he is the highest-scoring defender in the Premier League with seven goals this season, yet his four own goals this season set a Premier League record.

Defence has proved to be Liverpool’s Achilles’ heel, and the main reason behind their failure to win the title.

Inevitable off days notwithstanding, there were fixtures and results that hinted at their defence being susceptible and potentially damaging to their cause. Hard-fought wins over Stoke City (5-3), Fulham (3-2), Swansea City (4-3) and Norwich City (3-2) always featured three goals or more scored, but required resolute defending to hold onto their slender lead.

So as much as it was anticlimactic from Liverpool’s point of view, the draw at Crystal Palace in the penultimate match of the season was actually arguably a long time coming, considering their weaknesses in defence and tendency to commit costly mistakes.

Liverpool finished the season just two points behind Manchester City. If they had been able to turn one loss into one win or two draws into two wins, they would’ve ended on top. Their attack is near-complete; it’s now the defence that needs major work.

 

A Mental Collapse Toward the End…

A Mental Collapse Toward the End…Clive Rose/Getty Images

In this season’s title race, we saw it all from Steven Gerrard: the “crazy eyes” after his opener in the 4-0 rout over Everton, a shirt-flinging celebration after a last-gasp penalty winner over Fulham, a kiss for the camera after his second penalty at Manchester United and even emotional tears after the thrilling win over Manchester City.

And if those celebrations weren’t enough to confirm just how desperate Gerrard was to win his first-ever Premier League title, surely the team talk that he gave on the pitch after the City match did.

So it was a cruel twist of fate—and to some an inevitable turn of events—that Gerrard was the one who committed the fatal error to let Demba Ba through, allowing Chelsea an opening goal deep into first-half stoppage time and hand the impetus back to City.

From then on, we rarely saw the Reds’ nerves settle.

Instead of playing it patiently and build attacks through Suarez, Liverpool opted to cross aimlessly into the box against Chelsea’s bus-parked box while notching their highest tally of crosses in a single game over the course of the season. A draw would’ve done just fine.

Instead of holding a three-goal lead and maximizing the points return at Palace, Rodgers opted to take off Raheem Sterling, one of his best defensive players this season, and decided to leave his experienced defenders on the bench in a bid to rack up the goals. A simple three points, which they were on the way to achieving, would’ve done just fine.

An 11-match winning run was what started making the Kop dream—but conversely it was the belief and dreams that led them to a calamitous collapse in the crucial moment of the season. The five dropped points made the difference in the end.

 

…But a Clear Sign of Increasing Maturity

…But a Clear Sign of Increasing MaturityAlex Livesey/Getty Images

Eleven wins on the bounce is no mean feat, and in the context of the entire season—and considering the lack of squad depth and strength at Rodgers’ disposal—the Reds, by and large, carried and managed themselves well.

There were the nervy wins brought about by the hesitant defence and the prolific attack, and there were moments that showed Liverpool’s increasing maturity.

Holding onto a one-goal lead when the tide had turned and the momentum had shifted to their opponents was a sure sign of mental progress on the part of Rodgers’ men. In April when they held their nerve against relegation-fighting Norwich City after Philippe Coutinho’s second-half winner over Manchester City, Liverpool fans started to believe.

No two players can exhibit finer physical and mental development this season than the excellent Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, who got their chances to impress and took them in their own hands beyond any reasonable belief.

As we consider the close-season anticlimax, a good context to keep in mind is that one of the league’s youngest squads repeatedly held their nerve to secure a second-placed finish.

It will be of some comfort that reported targets Adam Lallana and Steven Caulker are currently the club captains of their respective clubs (Southampton and Cardiff City). Leadership is being targeted.

 

“They Have Been the Most Wonderful Underdogs”…

“They Have Been the Most Wonderful Underdogs”…

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Players and fans alike have lauded the fervent atmosphere of Anfield this season, especially during the final few weeks of the season when the Kop roared on in full voice every match and Liverpool fans lined the streets of the city to inspire the players.

The atmosphere has frequently been compared with that of Champions League nights at Anfield, and now the Reds finally have that to savor next season.

This title race even evoked memories of the miraculous Champions League final turnaround in Istanbul almost nine years ago—and Martin Tyler’s remark that the Reds had been the “most wonderful underdogs” over the course of the tournament that season surely applied to their Premier League title challenge this time around.

A young squad playing scintillating attacking football with the charismatic Rodgers and the elder statesman that is Gerrard helming the side—Liverpool’s title challenge was inconceivable but widely welcomed and supported.

For most of the season, they played with no fear and without shackles. Chelsea and Manchester City were the big spenders with big-name players and managers, while Arsenal’s fall from top of the league to fourth place, Everton’s top-four challenge, Tottenham Hotspur’s wild inconsistencies under Tim Sherwood and Manchester United’s spectacular demise captured all the headlines.

As they have proved over the years, especially in Europe under Rafael Benitez, Liverpool are at their most dangerous when the underdog tag is applied.

 

…But What Happens When the Pressure Is On?

…But What Happens When the Pressure Is On?

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The question now is whether or not the Reds can live with a “favorites” tag.

To expect a thin squad and a poor bench to sustain a top performance level over the course of a season and outcompete world-class teams proved too much this season. While their lack of European football has been claimed by many to provide them with a sense of regularity, the fact that Liverpool didn’t even qualify for Europe last season says it all about their status as underdogs.

When the pressure was well and truly on and they were expected to see out the season in first place, they buckled.

Whether it was because of Gerrard’s unfortunate slip, Rodgers’ decision to go for the jugular against Chelsea when a draw would’ve done or the naivety that they could make up for the gigantic goal difference by continuing to pile forward with a three-goal lead against Crystal Palace, Liverpool seemed to make the wrong decisions at the wrong time.

And after providing a surprise element and a breath of fresh air this season, Liverpool will be considered favorites for the top four again next year, and another title challenge—especially in anticipation of their transfer activity this summer—has already been mooted.

It’s not just about managing expectations anymore; it’s about managing themselves so they can unlock their potential, but also get results over the line when they most need them.

 

Success Built on Experience and Quality…

Success Built on Experience and Quality…

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Where would Liverpool be this May without Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard?

Together, the No. 7 and No. 8 contributed 44 goals and 25 assists, over 68 per cent of Liverpool’s whopping total of 101 goals over the campaign—and that’s including Suarez’s five-game suspension at the start of the season and Gerrard’s midseason injury layoff.

When Liverpool fans look back in years to come, their likely conclusion will be that keeping Suarez away from the clutches of Arsenal in the summer of 2013 might just have proved their most pivotal decision in recent years.

And Rodgers moving Gerrard into a withdrawn playmaking role has unlocked the best out of the captain, possibly even extending his playing career.

Suarez has added even more to his arsenal (ha): Not only has he evolved into a fearsome finisher, but he has also become prolific at direct free kicks and also ranks second in the Premier League assist charts.

Likewise Gerrard, who has taken to his new position smoothly and has been able to unlock defences through his unerring through balls and long passes. His dead-ball deliveries have been a big component of Liverpool’s league-leading set-piece goal tally.

 

…But Exciting Glimpses Toward the Future

…But Exciting Glimpses Toward the Future

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

But despite Suarez and Gerrard taking first and second place in the Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards, their supporting cast have been equally important and threatened to steal the show.

There is no need to elaborate on the maturation of Jordan Henderson, nor the meteoric rise of Raheem Sterling—likewise with the resurgence of Jon Flanagan, the consistency of Daniel Sturridge and the mercurial talent of Philippe Coutinho.

What has been made abundantly clear is that Rodgers, himself a young coach, has prized talent development and made youth a centerpiece of his Liverpool side. In taking such a young team to within a whisker of the Premier League title takes vision and guts and deserves credit.

That Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge have risen from pure potential to potentially starting alongside their club captain in Roy Hodgson’s England lineup in the World Cup this summer is a testament to their own hard work and Rodgers’ tutelage.

Add a few more quality players with at least a few top years ahead of them this summer, and Anfield could witness not just a new generation of blossoming talent, but a golden era in itself.

The possibilities are tantalizing.

 

Liverpool Face Their Most Pivotal Summer Transfer Window…

Liverpool Face Their Most Pivotal Summer Transfer Window…

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

To realize their potential, however, Liverpool must continue their encouraging momentum and take full advantage of a first genuinely exciting summer transfer window ahead of them.

For the first time in a few years, the Reds have the Champions League and a title challenge to offer—with the money that comes on the back of such developments—and can use them to attract the players that will keep them there.

Too many transfer windows have come and gone without real progress. Even last summer, after almost six months of tantalizing attacking football following the excellent additions of Sturridge and Coutinho, the Anfield club wasted a good opportunity.

Eight players were signed, but only Simon Mignolet has managed to make himself a mainstay in Rodgers’ team. Pepe Reina left on loan to Napoli, leaving the Belgian as the only realistic choice as No. 1.

The excuse that has often been offered is that squad strengthening was the priority last summer, but a quick look at the Liverpool bench shows that even that objective was not realized.

They must not repeat the same mistakes again, not in the least because their rivals will no doubt be spending big to boost their own squads this summer.

 

…But the Belief Is Back

…But the Belief Is Back

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

At the core of it all, though, this season has been about the triumphant return of belief, of lofty ideals and of giddy daydreaming for Liverpool Football Club—whether it be in the stands, on the Kop, on the Anfield pitch or in newspaper headlines around England and the world.

As we close out the season and look ahead to the World Cup—less so the inevitable circus that is the summer transfer window—we prefer not to focus on the possibility that this was perhaps Liverpool’s best shot at the title for many years to come.

We prefer not to focus on the calamitous slip that lost them their sure footing en route to winning a first-ever Premier League title.

Why focus on the negatives, when Liverpool have just finished ahead of schedule, not only in the Champions League places, but just two points short of the title outright?

While they have done so while breaking the three-digit mark in terms of goals scored, just one short from one of the most expensive squads in world sport? And with one of the youngest top-ranked teams in all of European football?

The anxiety and apprehension at how next season will pan out should come right as the Premier League resumes again in August—not now.

The anxiety and apprehension will only come about because Liverpool have made it possible to dream again anyway.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Tense Win

Two Steven Gerrard penalties were enough to give Liverpool a precious win over West Ham United at Upton Park on Sunday, as the Reds climbed back to the top of the Premier League table with five matches to go.

James Tomkins’ handball against Luis Suarez and Hammers goalkeeper Adrian’s foul on Jon Flanagan gave Gerrard the opportunity to notch a brace from the spot, while Liverpool’s goals were sandwiched by a Guy Demel finish as Andy Carroll’s foul on Simon Mignolet went unnoticed.

It was a cagey affair, with Sam Allardyce’s men displaying yet again their infamous physical style of football in a valiant attempt to stifle the creativity and fluidity of Brendan Rodgers’ side. But the visitors did enough to hold on for all three points.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s tense win over West Ham. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not every match this season can be a four-goal demolition like Liverpool’s emphatic win over Tottenham Hotspur just a week ago, but it’s not the first time the Reds have ground out a much-needed win.

Away victories against the likes of Fulham and Stoke City come to mind, and Brendan Rodgers can rightly feel proud of his charges after another battling display at a traditionally difficult ground to visit.

It was far from vintage Liverpool, as West Ham’s closing down and clearing of their lines were enough to stifle the visitors’ attack. But Liverpool’s patience and insistence at finding the right moment and space to break through the Hammers defence yielded the two all-important penalties.

Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho—starting in place of the injured Daniel Agger—put on a show of commanding defending against the expected aerial bombardment of West Ham, and together with substitute Kolo Toure, they held on despite a nervy ending at Upton Park.

 

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

After all these years, where, still, would Liverpool be without Steven Gerrard?

His brace from the spot made it double digits for the Reds skipper this season from penalties alone, and they also took him past Kenny Dalglish in the Liverpool all-time scoring charts.

Besides the composure he displayed in dispatching two excellently clinical penalties, Gerrard also showed an ever-increasing ease in his newfound holding midfield role, as he dictated play from deep within the Liverpool half.

It was his sumptuous cross-field pass, of course, that set Luis Suarez on his way to winning the visitors’ first penalty. But it was all down to Gerrard after that to make sure they took their chances.

As usual, he delivered with aplomb.

 

Contrasting Fortunes for ‘SAS’

Contrasting Fortunes for 'SAS'

Julian Finney/Getty Images

It’s a testament to Luis Suarez’s brilliant form this season that his performance on Sunday could be considered disappointing, despite him winning Liverpool’s first penalty and hitting the crossbar twice.

But by the standards of any Premier League striker, Suarez already put in a blinder of a shift up front for Liverpool on Sunday, and his two audacious efforts—both of which hit the Hammers crossbar—deserved to go in from the sheer brilliance of his improvisation.

By contrast, Daniel Sturridge’s quiet form has continued for a second week running. A subdued performance against Tottenham last weekend was followed by an uninspiring display on Sunday, featuring a few hurried shots that he would normally have buried.

While a fit and firing Suarez should be more than enough for Premier League defences to deal with—especially with a confident and ever-developing Raheem Sterling alongside him—Brendan Rodgers could do with a resurgent Daniel Sturridge for the end-of-season run-in.

Starting with the titular clash against Manchester City next week.

 

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not for the first time this season, the match referee has grabbed the spotlight in a Liverpool match.

On this occasion, it was Anthony Taylor, who appeared to have overruled his linesman and awarded Guy Demel’s goal right on the stroke of half-time.

Andy Carroll’s flagrant punch at Simon Mignolet’s head was apparently spotted by the linesman, who seemed to have flagged right away for an infringement of the goalkeeper, but Taylor ruled the goal to be legitimate, much to Liverpool’s chagrin.

Ultimately, it didn’t make too much of a difference to the end result, but it could’ve been a decision to derail the Reds’ title challenge.

And that’s not even mentioning a contentious decision to award Liverpool a penalty after Adrian’s challenge on Jon Flanagan.

 

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

Julian Finney/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, Upton Park rang out in boos despite West Ham beating Hull City 2-1, which was met with derision by Sam Allardyce, as reported by BBC Sport.

It was alleged at the time, according to Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian, that the Hammers supporters were fed up with Allardyce’s direct and physical playing style, and on current evidence, perhaps the West Ham faithful have a point.

With the backs-to-the-wall defending that they employed in a home fixture and the rough playing style they adopted against the Liverpool defence, West Ham’s performance certainly didn’t make for any entertaining viewing.

For the self-styled “Academy of Football,” West Ham’s current approach doesn’t seem in line with their history and traditions—but they’ve practically secured their all-important Premier League status for another season.

 

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With five matches to go, Liverpool find themselves back at the top of the table after a Premier League weekend that saw both Manchester City and Chelsea notch convincing wins.

Liverpool are currently on 74 points—two ahead of second-placed Chelsea—and on a nine-match winning run, which makes next Sunday’s match against Manchester City all the more pivotal to either side’s title hopes this season.

That Liverpool have discovered a newfound mental strength and resoluteness has been a tried and tested theory this season, but they will need to display the kind of rearguard action that they did this Sunday for the rest of the campaign if they are to come out on top.

The underlying narrative doesn’t change, though: Win all their remaining games, and Liverpool will win the league.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Fulham 2-3 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from the Reds’ Last-Gasp Win

Fulham 2-3 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from the Reds' Last-Gasp Win
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Steven Gerrard scored an stoppage-time penalty to earn Liverpool a hard-fought Premier League victory at Craven Cottage on Wednesday, as Fulham led twice before being pegged back by the Reds three times.

A comical error from Kolo Toure gave Fulham the lead via an own goal, before Gerrard launched a sumptuous through-ball for Daniel Sturridge to equalize before half-time.

Kieran Richardson seized on a defensive mishap to hand the Cottagers the lead just after the hour mark, before Philippe Coutinho again leveled matters with the aid of a deflection.

Sturridge’s speed on the turn saw Sascha Riether foul him inside the box in stoppage time, and Gerrard stepped up and finished with aplomb to hand the visitors all three points.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s last-gasp win over Fulham. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Problems Persist at the Back

Problems Persist at the Back
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Before we mention the positives from Liverpool’s win, we will first give credit to Fulham’s approach and attitude, as well as acknowledge the Reds’ weaknesses.

Rene Meulensteen’s side started the match not looking like a team currently bottom of the Premier League, and their constant pressing and runs at a nervy Liverpool defence meant that Kolo Toure’s own goal, while a dreadful error, was everything the home side deserved.

Lewis Holtby has proven to be an inspired signing in the January window by Fulham, as he was at the center of everything good about the Cottagers’ first-half play. Darren Bent, so often criticized for his work rate and for being merely a good finisher, looked a transformed player as he led the line up front.

Even as Liverpool started the second half on the front foot, picking up from how they had finished the first, their defence was still susceptible and looked a liability every time Fulham crossed the ball.

Martin Skrtel, coming off the back of a heroic two-goal salvo against Arsenal on Saturday, was nervous and hesitant in his positioning and clearances, and was at fault for Kieran Richardson’s equalizer.

The Reds continue to rack up the goals up front, but until Brendan Rodgers sorts out his defence, Liverpool fans may have plenty of nail-biters to come yet.

 

Steven Gerrard Is Still the Man for Liverpool

Steven Gerrard Is Still the Man for Liverpool
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Now onto the positives.

After all these years, Steven Gerrard is still the main man for Liverpool.

Having been written off as “past it” many times in the past couple of seasons, Gerrard has also been criticized in recent weeks for adapting slowly to a new role as the Reds’ holding midfielder.

But just because the captain has been pushed into a deeper position doesn’t mean his influence on Liverpool’s proceedings has waned a bit.

His through ball to set up Daniel Sturridge was a moment of brilliance fit to change any game, and the sort of split-second flash of inspiration only Gerrard seems to be capable of.

And what of his late, late penalty?

On Wednesday, as ever in the past decade, when Liverpool were in need of a winner in the 90th minute, up stepped Steven Gerrard to hand his side all three points.

It’s now seven goals and nine assists for the England skipper this season. Not too shabby at all.

 

Daniel Sturridge, Game-Changer

Daniel Sturridge, Game-Changer
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

There was a time when a whole match of anonymity and frustration would precede a breathtaking, all-important finish, and in the forms of Michael Owen and Fernando Torres, that would sit just fine with the Liverpool fans.

Daniel Sturridge has taken up that mantle.

Not as hard-working off the ball or mercurial on it as Luis Suarez, Sturridge has his own approach to being Liverpool’s main striker, one that requires him to be alert to every opportunity and ready to take every chance off the shoulders of the last defender.

Another game, another cool finish from Sturridge. Gerrard’s pass was a moment to savor, but Sturridge’s control and composure were what made the goal happen.

It’s now seven goals in seven consecutive league games for the No. 15 (a first for Liverpool), and 16 goals in 18 matches this season.

Have we mentioned his speed on the turn to win a penalty at the death?

 

A New Member Joins the Liverpool Makeover

A New Member Joins the Liverpool Makeover
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

When the fourth official’s board lit up on 82 minutes and Raheem Sterling was to come off, it wasn’t for a wing replacement in Victor Moses or an additional striker in Iago Aspas.

It was for No. 53, a little-known Portuguese prospect named Joao Carlos Teixeira, making his debut.

With 10 minutes left to play, Liverpool were level with Fulham, knowing that Tottenham Hotspur had just thumped Newcastle 4-0, and both Arsenal and Manchester United had dropped points in a 0-0 draw.

And it was Teixeira that Brendan Rodgers turned to.

Yet in those 10 minutes, it was clear to see why. The 21-year-old showed a calmness and composure on the ball to eclipse perhaps even that of Coutinho, while his passing and shooting on goal both showed signs of a young player confident in his own ability to influence a match.

Perhaps he didn’t play a direct part in Liverpool’s late clincher, but running out last-gasp winners in his senior debut will have done all the good in the world for Teixeira.

This is a young, young Liverpool side with an old head in Steven Gerrard leading the dressing room. Exciting times for Reds fans, even without looking at the league table.

 

Character and Mentality Now a Reds Hallmark

Character and Mentality Now a Reds Hallmark
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

It is perhaps because of the youth and raw exuberance of this Liverpool team that Brendan Rodgers brought in the leadership of Kolo Toure last summer and pulled all stops to keep Steven Gerrard in the first team.

And it’s fair to say that they are reaping the benefits now, even despite Toure’s two high-profile errors in the space of 10 days.

The togetherness shown by the squad in recent weeks as Liverpool have stepped up their chase for the top four—and, whisper it quietly, in the title race—has been nothing short of impressive, and Rodgers deserves all the credit he can get for the mentality he has instilled in the Anfield dressing room.

With youngsters getting a chance on the pitch even in important games—see Brad Smith’s debut at Stamford Bridge in December, regardless of his performance, and Jordon Ibe’s cameo against Arsenal on Saturday—and a healthy mix of experience and energy, Rodgers is at the helm of a purring machine with all its parts humming in harmony.

What better to exhibit this togetherness than to see Iago Aspas, who would’ve been forgiven for sulking on the sidelines, leaping from the bench and yelling at the referee for a Coutinho foul at the death?

 

Liverpool Must Keep Their Feet on the Ground

Liverpool Must Keep Their Feet on the Ground
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

All the same, Liverpool have to keep a balanced sense of perspective and their feet firmly on the ground.

The last time they thrashed a rival in the 4-0 Merseyside derby demolition, they followed it up with a limp 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion. And for 90 minutes at Craven Cottage, it looked like they would follow up a 5-1 hammering of Arsenal with yet another two points dropped.

So in the context of the whole season, it may prove to have been to Liverpool’s benefit that they had to grind out this victory at Fulham.

As the old cliche goes, there are no easy games in the Premier League, and a hard-fought win at the league’s basement club has shown just that.

Next up are Swansea City at home and Southampton away, both sides who have posed real challenges to the Reds in recent seasons with their styles of play.

There will be plenty more opportunities to test Liverpool’s mettle, and every win from this point forward will be their biggest win of the season.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Demolition of Gunners

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: 6 Things We Learned from Reds' Demolition of Gunners
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Two goals apiece from Martin Skrtel and Raheem Sterling, and another composed finish from Daniel Sturridge, handed Liverpool a 5-1 trouncing of Arsenal in the Premier League at Anfield on Saturday.

A ferocious performance from Brendan Rodgers’ squad started perfectly as Skrtel’s header gave them a lead within the first minute. He followed up with a brilliant header from a Steven Gerrard corner to double the Reds’ lead at 10 minutes.

Raheem Sterling then found himself on the end of a flowing Liverpool move and on the scoresheet, before Daniel Sturridge latched onto a glorious through-ball from Philippe Coutinho to score the hosts’ fourth.

After Sterling got himself a second—and Liverpool a fifth—Gerrard’s challenge on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain earned Arsenal a consolation penalty, with Gunners captain Mikel Arteta scoring from 12 yards.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s demolition of Arsenal on Saturday. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

The Curious Case of Liverpool’s Set Pieces

The Curious Case of Liverpool’s Set Pieces
Michael Regan/Getty Images

There were two set pieces within the first 10 minutes for Liverpool, and two goals, both created by Gerrard and scored by Skrtel.

So continues the curious case of Liverpool’s set pieces. How can a side known for being weak at defending set pieces be so prolific at scoring from them?

With 22 already notched, Liverpool have now scored more goals from set pieces (including penalties) than any other Premier League side this season (as of the end of the match). More than a third of the Reds’ 63 league goals this season have come from set pieces.

By contrast, they have conceded seven goals from set pieces, approaching a fourth of their 30 goals against, and that’s not counting penalties.

Week by week, Steven Gerrard continues to provide strong evidence that he is the Premier League’s finest set piece taker; today’s two assists today won’t have done that reputation any harm.

 

Raheem Sterling Continues His Rise to Prominence

Raheem Sterling Continues His Rise to Prominence
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Once in a while, a performance comes along that makes everyone stand up and take note of a new player coming of age. On Saturday, that was Raheem Sterling.

Sure, he got himself two goals, the first well taken and the second after a fortuitous parry from Wojciech Szczesny right back to him, but it wasn’t just about the double haul.

Not only did Sterling get into fantastic positions on the counterattack, but he didn’t for a second neglect his defensive duties and proved to be an important outlet on Liverpool’s flanks.

It was clear even from his first few months in English football that Sterling had more than just pace and dribbling about him, but since reestablishing himself in Brendan Rodgers’ team in December, he’s developed his footballing intelligence and taken more responsibility on the pitch.

To firmly establish himself as one of the best wingers in the Premier League, Sterling needs to further work on his finishing, to ensure that he gets the rewards from his excellent attacking play.

But will Feb. 8, 2014 prove to be the making of Raheem Sterling? Only time will tell, but his improvement so far suggests that he still has a long way to go yet.

 

Press the Midfield Like Your Lives Depend on It

Press the Midfield Like Your Lives Depend on It
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Saturday’s trouncing was all the more surprising, considering that Liverpool were quite comprehensively outplayed in November at the Emirates Stadium.

Skrtel’s early goal definitely made a difference, as it meant Arsenal had to chase the game right from the beginning, but the way the home side approached the match also had a telling influence on the outcome.

Whereas Aaron Ramsey powered his way through the Reds midfield time and again in November, this time Liverpool never allowed Arsenal to enjoy any time on the ball, as the entire midfield set about a frantic and relentless pressing game that forced errors and back passes from the Gunners’ midfield.

Jordan Henderson put in another famous workhorse shift, but it wasn’t just him: Luis Suarez defended from the front, Philippe Coutinho belied his slight frame with a performance of power and pace, and Sterling’s defensive work arguably outshone his attacking contributions.

This was Brendan Rodgers’ midfield blueprint blossoming on the pitch.

 

Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta Are Not a Title-Winning Midfield

Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta Are Not a Title-Winning Midfield
Michael Regan/Getty Images

With Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey both out of contention for Saturday’s clash, Arsenal’s midfield lacked bite, steel and energy.

Jack Wilshere was more petulant than probing, while Mikel Arteta’s lack of acceleration and pace on the turn proved an Achilles’ heel against the high-energy pressing game that the Liverpool midfield adopted.

With Wilshere showing his frustration via a few cynical fouls and failing to assert himself on a big stage, he showed that while he has the tools to become a great player, he still has a ways to mature and develop his mental game.

Ramsey has scored eight goals and provided six assists this season, contributing to almost 30 percent of Arsenal’s total league goal haul, and has been a big miss for Arsene Wenger’s side.

On Saturday, it was a fellow homegrown talent, Jordan Henderson, along with the previous holder of the “best box-to-box midfielder in the league” tag, Steven Gerrard, who formed the crux of a dominant midfield.

 

When Liverpool Are on Song, They Are Frighteningly Good

When Liverpool Are on Song, They Are Frighteningly Good
Michael Regan/Getty Images

In 13 home games this season, Liverpool have scored 38 Premier League goals, almost an average of three per game—and that’s including a draw and a loss.

They’ve scored four or more goals in eight league matches out of their 25 already played this season. Including a 5-0 rout and 4-0 Merseyside derby demolition of fellow top-four challengers Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, and now a 5-1 trouncing of a title hopeful.

In Luis Suarez (23 goals) and Daniel Sturridge (15), the Reds have the two highest-scoring players in the league. (Sturridge is tied with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero.)

Simply put: When Liverpool are on song, they are frighteningly good. When the players carry out Rodgers’ pressing plans and passing game to perfection, Liverpool take some stopping.

Besides the aesthetically pleasing controlling approach that they are still perfecting game by game, they have now added the set piece and the counterattack to their arsenal.

What happens when they shore up their defence and boost their midfield?

 

Underdog Tag Suits Liverpool Perfectly

Underdog Tag Suits Liverpool Perfectly
Michael Regan/Getty Images

While Liverpool are now painted as favorites to finish in the top four, they still entered Saturday’s clash perhaps as underdogs considering the quality of their opposition.

Given the comprehensive manner of Arsenal’s defeat, just as they did after the Gunners’ loss to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season, the attention may focus squarely on the weaknesses of Arsene Wenger’s team and how they may fail to win the title after all, leaving the spotlight firmly away from Liverpool.

That will suit Brendan Rodgers’ side just fine.

Liverpool have historically outperformed expectations when classed as underdogs—and given Manchester City’s draw at Norwich City this weekend, suddenly the Reds are just four points off third place.

That will probably slip under the radar for a few weeks yet, as the discussions revolve around Arsenal and City’s dips and Chelsea’s rise to the Premier League summit.

But if Liverpool keep plugging away and also winning those matches they’re favorites in, who knows what’s in store come May?

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Hawthorns Draw

West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Hawthorns Draw
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Luis Suarez set up Daniel Sturridge for the opener, while Victor Anichebe capitalized on a Kolo Toure blunder for an equalizer, as relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion held Champions League-chasing Liverpool 1-1 at the Hawthorns in the Premier League on Sunday.

The Baggies had started the game brightly, but the Reds took a well-deserved lead on 24 minutes and finished the first half strongly.

Pepe Mel’s half-time team talk evidently worked a treat, as the home side came back from the break looking to attack Liverpool on every occasion. Bringing on Anichebe, a former Everton striker, turned out to be a masterstroke.

So a minor setback for Liverpool in their quest for a top-four spot, while West Brom move a point away from the relegation zone.

Here are six things we learned from the pulsating draw between West Brom and Liverpool on Saturday. Let us know your views and thoughts in the comments below.

 

Defence Is Just as Important as Attack

Raheem Sterling. Luis Suarez. Daniel Sturridge. Goal. 1-0.

Is it a surprise anymore that the famed SAS partnership (and Sterling, who we’ll talk more about later) combined yet again to take Liverpool into the lead?

Sturridge’s goal brings him to 14 for the season, inching him close to Sergio Aguero’s second place (15) in the Premier League scoring charts for 2013/14. Liverpool’s lethal frontmen are currently far and away the most prolific strike partnership this season. (Suarez, of course, has 23 goals).

But while Liverpool fans have undoubtedly enjoyed watching their free-scoring attack at work this season, they’ll also be massively frustrated at yet another costly defensive blunder, this time from Kolo Toure.

Sure, it wasn’t just Toure’s mistake, as Simon Mignolet’s decision to roll the ball out to him, despite being surrounded by opponents, was questionable itself. But surely passing the ball across the face of goal when you’re enjoying a spell of pressure is not a good idea.

There will be times when Liverpool’s forwards can’t bail them out every single match. When that happens, they’ll need their defenders and midfielders to do what they can to ensure that, first and foremost, they don’t concede.

How many more reminders do they need?

 

Liverpool’s January Targets Weren’t What They Needed

Liverpool’s January Targets Weren’t What They Needed
Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

Much of Liverpool’s January was spent agonizing over the failed bid for Mohamed Salah, and in the final days, diverted towards the desperate push for Dnipro’s Yevhen Konoplyanka.

With the Suarez-Sturridge-Sterling trio working in tandem so smoothly and effortlessly, perhaps the non-arrival of the aforementioned wingers will prove to be blessings in disguise; the Reds’ current front three need time to develop together.

But it does raise a few serious questions.

The first of which is: Why was Brendan Rodgers targeting a forward to begin with?

More specifically, why, when Liverpool have such glaring weaknesses in the defence and midfield, was Brendan Rodgers still looking to strengthen up front instead of at the back?

And if the underlying reason is that Rodgers didn’t see a need to bring in defensive reinforcements, that would be the biggest question of all.

Perhaps January was just a case of bringing in extra firepower up front while all major defensive targets wouldn’t have been on the market.

Regardless, if Liverpool are to push on next season, they’ll surely have to look at doing more serious business this summer across the squad.

 

Steven Gerrard Can Do a Holding Job, but Needs a More Reliable Partner

Even before Lucas’ injury, it was apparent that the midfield needed shoring up (we even wrote an article about it in November).

But with Lucas out for a considerable period of time and no signings brought in over January, Brendan Rodgers has now tasked Steven Gerrard with the holding midfielder role and responsibilities.

A shaky introduction to life at the base of the Reds midfield against Aston Villa was followed by a masterclass in the 4-0 demolition of Everton in the Merseyside derby last week.

In the first half against West Brom, Gerrard was comfortably one of the best players on the pitch, as he showed much improved positioning and timing to anchor the midfield and protect the back four.

As the Baggies stepped up a gear in the second half and went at Gerrard, however, his need for a partnering midfield runner became all too apparent. And Jordan Henderson, as he has tended to alongside Gerrard, once again left his assertiveness and confidence on the sidelines.

The return of Joe Allen can’t have come any sooner. Arsenal possess midfielders capable of playing at a far higher level than West Brom’s, and Gerrard will need all the help he can get next week.

 

Raheem Sterling Is Quickly Becoming One of Liverpool’s Most Important Players

Raheem Sterling Is Quickly Becoming One of Liverpool’s Most Important Players
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

As Gerrard shone in the first half and toiled in the second, there was only one player of note that impressed over the entire 90 minutes: Raheem Sterling.

That Sterling’s shown encouraging and exciting improvement since returning to the first team in December is well known. That he seems to have rediscovered his confidence from the start of last season has been widely acknowledged.

But not only has he come back with a vengeance; he’s made it extremely difficult for Brendan Rodgers to leave him out of the starting XI.

Time and again on Sunday, Sterling tormented Liam Ridgewell on the West Brom left, while also putting in an admirable defensive shift to support Jon Flanagan.

His involvement in Sturridge’s goal was timely and important, while his strength on the ball and burst of acceleration means that he is a genuine all-rounded player.

At just 19 years of age, Raheem Sterling is fast becoming one of Liverpool’s most important players.

It wasn’t that long ago that he was linked with a loan move to Swansea City for more playing time; now, if he keeps this form up, it might not be long before his name is added to the Suarez-Sturridge mix—for an “SSS.”

 

Liverpool’s Away Record May Haunt Them

In 12 away games, Liverpool have now only amassed 16 points from an available 36 with four victories and four draws, and a goal difference of just +4.

Contrast this with their impeccable home form, which has seen them earn 31 points from a possible 36, and a goal difference of +29.

Fair to say, then, that it’s the Reds’ away record that has the potential to be their undoing this season.

Of course, Liverpool have already gotten most of their tough away games out of the way in the first half of the campaign, but if they are to reach the Champions League next season, they’ll need to start making their away form count.

With injuries slowly on their way back to the first-team squad, Liverpool need all the numbers they can get as they look to solidify their position in fourth, and maybe even close the gap on third-placed Chelsea.

Brendan Rodgers and his backroom staff will be working tirelessly to ensure that all their good work—especially in the immediate aftermath of the Everton thrashing—doesn’t go to waste on the road.

 

Two Points Dropped, and It’s Only Going to Get Tougher

Two Points Dropped, and It’s Only Going to Get Tougher
Ian Walton/Getty Images

The corresponding fixture last season was Steve Clarke’s first at West Brom, and Rodgers’ first at Liverpool. It ended 3-0 to the Baggies.

So compared with the 2012/13 campaign, in which Liverpool didn’t manage to get any points off West Brom across both fixtures, this season has already represented a massive improvement (four points from a 4-1 win and this draw).

But for Liverpool fans, players and coaches, this will have felt like a major two points dropped, especially in the context that fellow top-four rivals Tottenham Hotspur drew at Hull City and Manchester United lost to Stoke City at the Britannica Stadium.

As the competition for a Champions League place heats up in the remaining 14 games of the season, the pressure and stress won’t be forgiving on the players.

Next week’s clash against Arsenal at Anfield will prove pivotal—as will every other league fixture until the end of the season.

Without any new signings made in January, it’s now Rodgers’ job to cultivate in his squad the “cup final” mentality so famously necessary for the business ends of Premier League seasons.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Liverpool Must Improve on FA Cup Display for Merseyside Derby vs. Everton

Liverpool Must Improve on FA Cup Display for Merseyside Derby vs. Everton
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Goals from Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge—both assisted by Luis Suarez—took Liverpool into the FA Cup fifth round with a 2-0 win over a spirited Bournemouth side at the Goldsands Stadium on Saturday.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe will have been pleased with the manner his side went about the game, as they fearlessly went about attacking their esteemed visitors in impressive fashion, only for the final finish to let them down.

His opposite number, Brendan Rodgers, will be glad to have overcome a potential banana skin fixture with a performance that was more professional than it was impressive, but one that did the job nonetheless.

But it is exactly because of the nature of the Reds’ win that they must improve on Saturday’s performance when they host the visit of high-flying and fellow top-four challenger Everton on Tuesday, in the 222nd Merseyside derby.

 

 

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Concerns at the back: A return to 3-5-2?

That Liverpool are now besieged with a host of injury problems is no longer news, but Rodgers and Liverpool fans alike could be forgiven for fearing the worst after Martin Skrtel received extended treatment off the pitch for a blow to the head.

His subsequent return to the field with a bandage around his head was comforting as it was important, but he will be paying further visits to club doctor Zaf Iqbal in the build-up to the Everton game.

With Glen Johnson out injured, Martin Kelly was granted an opportunity to stake a claim for a first-team place. But yet again he looked labored and still some way short of full match fitness as he faced a quick and dynamic Cherries left flank.

Not that fellow full-back, the perpetually out-of-position Aly Cissokho, fared any better. Not only was he lacking in defensive positioning, but he failed to provide any inspiration going forward.

This compounds the problem that Rodgers already has, with Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson—arguably the Reds’ first-choice back four—out on the sidelines.

In this context, the return of Jon Flanagan, and the man he replaced, was illuminating: Kelly could have been withdrawn to preserve his match fitness, but Rodgers showed Flanagan’s importance by giving him some minutes of his own to prepare for the derby.

With the current holes in the Liverpool squad, and the in-form partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, don’t be surprised if the 3-5-2 formation seen earlier this season returns on Tuesday.

For maximum work rate, positioning and defensive awareness, don’t be surprised if both starting full-backs on Saturday are replaced for Everton: It could yet be the in-form Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan who assume the wing-back roles in the derby.

 

 

Ian Walton/Getty Images

Gaps in the middle: Fitness is the key

With his inconsistent performances in the Liverpool midfield this season, club captain Steven Gerrard has had both his importance to and role in the squad questioned this campaign.

With Brendan Rodgers’ decision to move him into a holding midfielder role, Gerrard’s time to adapt to his new position has attracted criticism, while Jordan Henderson, as the only other fit senior midfielder in the squad, has been nigh-on anonymous in recent games as Gerrard’s midfield partner.

Saturday, however, showed just how important Gerrard still is to the Reds cause. Some excellent tracking back and timing in the tackle allowed the skipper to avert danger on a few occasions, while his passing added some much-needed directness and variability to the Reds’ approach play.

And while Henderson once again had a quieter game, his work rate and presence in the midfield remains important, especially when the advanced midfielder in front of him is the physically slight Philippe Coutinho.

But as much as their presence in the middle of the park enabled Liverpool to come away with a win, it was very much a gamble to start both players amid the club’s injury troubles.

The competitiveness of the game, and the dogged spirit of the Bournemouth players, ensured that the visitors had to wait until the hour mark before Liverpool gave themselves more of a cushion in the game.

Running themselves into the not-so-well-groomed ground at Goldsands Stadium won’t have done Gerrard and Henderson any good ahead of Tuesday’s derby, where Everton’s powerful and dynamic midfield will pose far bigger problems than Bournemouth’s.

Whatever spirit and attitude they showed in the FA Cup on Saturday, they’ll have to replicate it and then some if they are to get an important result against Everton in just a few days.

 

 

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Consistency in the attack: A second chance for Victor Moses?

Before we go into more detail on Liverpool’s first goal, let’s devote a few column inches to the Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge forward partnership.

The burgeoning strike duo, who were in such exciting form prior to Sturridge’s injury, have shown signs that they are back to their exhilarating best in Liverpool’s past few games. Saturday yet again saw “SAS” work in tandem for an impressive second goal, even though Suarez went a second consecutive game without scoring.

But enough about their collective excellence: More interesting was Victor Moses’ display against Bournemouth.

Critics will dismiss Moses’ performance as it came against a Championship side in the FA Cup, but what was evident for all to see were his much improved attitude and the attributes that have always threatened to show themselves on the pitch.

Time and again, Moses showed great acceleration to get past his man on the left wing, and good awareness in passing, positioning and attacking. His first goal, a combination of an excellent first touch and a clinical finish, was deserved reward for an encouraging first-half performance.

Simply put, this was more like it from Moses, after what has been a thoroughly disappointing six months in a Liverpool shirt.

And it comes at a good time for Brendan Rodgers, who could do with a selection headache and will have been pleased that Moses grasped a chance to impress with both hands.

If Sterling is indeed employed as a safe defensive option but an intriguing counterattacking weapon in the derby, then Moses could yet reprise his starting role against Everton.

Alongside an interchanging strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Victor Moses might just salvage his Reds career yet.

But just like the rest of his teammates, simply replicating their display against Bournemouth won’t be enough: They’ll have to improve on that to get a morale-boosting win over a tough rival on Tuesday.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.