WELL, after that opening day, things could only get better. Now we’ve started with a defeat, a win (in Europe) and a draw, and at least we’ve avoided spending the whole of this week anchored to the bottom of the early Premiership table.
Arguably we’ve got better with each game. That’s my view, anyway. We were dire in the second half against West Brom, solid but unimpressive most of the time against Hearts, and sparky with flashes of brilliance (those two goals, eh?) against Man City.
Progress is being made on two fronts:
- Integrating new young players: Joe Allen already looks to the manner born, Seb Coates looks to have what it takes (when our back four gets its act together, that is), Jonjo Shelvey put in a damn good shift after his unexpectedly early entrance, and Sterling – well, there’s brilliance there, as well as an instinct for combining with other players that you don’t always see in a 17-year-old.
- Counterpunching: last season, when things went against us, we’d often row back, sit deep, and prepare to soak up pressure like a punch-drunk boxer. Against Man City each period of pressure was followed by immediate forward movement and a clear signal that we were coming back at them. The old Liverpool would have been drained by Yaya Touré’s equaliser; the new one was back in the lead after three minutes.
But – and everybody knows what the ‘buts’ are – there are still major problems in both penalty boxes. Last year we just couldn’t put it in the net, but at least we had a solid back four. Now, at times, the defence is looking horribly jerry-built, and this can’t fail to start affecting Pepe Reina’s confidence. Both goals came down to the two Martin’s failing to control the ball properly and giving it away, and you can’t do that in front of goal against the likes of Tévez. Skrtel’s performance reminded me – and this is not to diss either of them – of some of Sami Hyypiä’s: the thundering header from a corner, and the occasional howler at the back – Sami’s were usually own-goals, but Skrtel has form there too! (Suggestion for a really imaginative move from Brendan: has he ever thought of playing Skrtel as a centre-forward with Andy Carroll at centre-back?) Coates at least was always there with a solid clearance, although it would be nice if they went to Suarez’ feet rather than into Row Z.
But on the whole signs are encouraging. I was hoping for six or seven points out of the Citeh-Arsenal-United series of home games; maybe it’s more realistic just to aim for not getting beat, and so far so good. And a hatful of goals against Hearts at Anfield wouldn’t do any harm, though who’s going to score them is not yet clear.
Two general points that occurred to me in the last few days:
1) Is it fanciful to argue that Brendan Rodgers’ qualities as a manager can be judged more appropriately from Swansea’s early season performance than from Liverpool’s? Or has Michael Laudrup done it all on his own?
2) How good a piece of business was it to have snapped up the 15-year-old Raheem Sterling for half a million? Imagine what the price will be in a season or two!