GIVEN the club’s current league position, today’s fixture was – if this is possible – in an even higher category than ‘must win game’. Anything but victory would have spelt immense criticism – rightly or wrongly – of Brendan Rodgers and he would have began to feel very uncomfortable in the Anfield hotseat.
The least said about the first half the better. Liverpool’s performance was poor and it created a very flat atmosphere within Anfield.
Less glamorous home fixtures can often create a vicious circle. When the players lack intensity it gives the fans nothing to shout about, but the players also suffer due to the resulting reduction in decibel levels. The team holds particular responsibility in this regard however, the onus has to be on them to get the crowd going.
But, the only chances in the first half that are worthy of mentioning were two efforts from young Spaniard Suso.
The first came after a dazzling run and powerful shot blocked well by Gary Caldwell (an attribute of Suso is that he runs very well with the ball and commits defenders, it can often open things up). The second came from an even more ferocious attempt that almost took Al-Habsi back into the net in the process of palming it away to safety.
Suso was unfortunate to be withdrawn on 36 minutes for Jordan Henderson. He didn’t play too badly, but his replacement performed extremely well, in fact this was one of Henderson’s best performances in a red shirt. He brought much needed dynamism into the Liverpool midfield and his hard-work and energy changed the game.
He should have topped off his performance with a goal, but he ballooned over from six yards in the second half. If he could have just grabbed that goal, his confidence (which has always been unsustainably low in a red shirt) would have been restored to optimum levels.
This was another substitution by Rodgers that initially seemed quite baffling but ultimately looked very astute. These subtle tactical changes are a notable aspect of Rodgers’ tenure thus far and it bodes well for the future.
After the first half performance, a half-time rollicking was in order. Judging by Liverpool’s much improved second half display, Rodgers had obviously dished it out in considerable portions. Instantly, the team’s intensity increased and a goal quickly followed.
On 47 minutes, Raheem Sterling intercepted Wigan in a dangerous area and sprinted towards goal and he eventually – after looking hesitant as he bore down on goal – pulled the ball back for that man Luis Suarez. With the ball ever so slightly behind him, he managed to wrap his right boot around the ball and fire a shot into the roof of the net.
You had the feeling that an all important first goal would open the floodgates, and so it proved.
It is important to note that both of Suarez’s goals were ‘finisher’s finishes’. An argument put forward on a recent match report is that Suarez is more a scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer.
However, the majestic South American star is going a long way recently to smashing this theory to bits. His prolific spell in an Ajax shirt was obviously no fluke and a crucial point here is that Liverpool fans would have probably backed Suarez to waste the likes of those chances this time last season, but now, he, and Koppites, are confident he will produce the goods.
He is now the Premier League’s leading goalscorer and it should be a comfort to Reds all over the land that having a golden boot contender in the side is a sure-fire way of climbing the table.
Jose Enrique topped off a satisfying afternoon on 65 minutes. Raheem Sterling – who put in another impressive performance helped by an evident increase in confidence – played a sharp one-two with Suarez and fired in a powerful shot that was saved well by Al-Habsi, but it fell straight to a very grateful Enrique, who had the most simplest of finishes.
It was a well deserved goal for the Spaniard. His latest two performances have given Rodgers plenty of food for thought. You get the impression that the Northern Irishman doesn’t fancy him, but he may now have a change of heart.
He’s a strange player Enrique. When off form, he resembles Manuel from Fawlty Towers – hard-working and obedient, but ultimately quite clumsy. But, when on song, he is an incredible athlete and should his form continue he may get a regular starting position in this more attacking role.
Indeed, if Rodgers can get consistency from Enrique and find a way of cutting out his silly errors, Liverpool could have one hell of an asset on their hands.
If last week’s draw at Chelsea was the foundation on which to build, then today’s performance is the first few courses of bricks and mortar.
Liverpool fans would not be grateful for any use of the words ‘turning’ and ‘point’, both forming part of a term that’s as overused as it is infuriating.
A considerable test of Liverpool’s league renaissance awaits next week. Swansea are becoming a very decent side, Michael Laudrup has complimented Rodgers’ good work with some technically gifted continentals and Liverpool have already been overturned by the Welsh outfit at Anfield in the Capital One Cup.
Hopefully Liverpool will avenge this loss and secure another victory at the Liberty Stadium. Should that happen, the Reds’ league campaign will be reinvigorated.
L4L Man of the Match: Luis Suarez. An obvious choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. Another exceptional display from the latest darling of The Kop. He just pips Enrique and Henderson.
Follow me on Twitter: @antonyjlfc