Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted with our start to the current campaign and not at all disappointed in a draw with a team that wins against the best at home. I am, however a bit disconcerted by the pattern that is emerging of a team that starts strong but fades, like Aunt Florence’s memory, in the last third of games.
I had originally thought that the manager was allowing the team to gain experience in defending when entering the second half in front. To this end, it seemed he was instructing the team to assume a defensive posture for the second part of the game.
On looking back, and judged in the context of every game so far, we have just run out of steam in the latter part of games and have been forced to rely on desperation and luck to finish to the final whistle without conceding.
Harking back to the manager’s post-mortem on the Swansea game, he seems totally unconcerned with the with the real danger that Liverpool faced of emerging empty handed:
“I thought the assessment was simple. In the first 65 minutes, we were very good, both with and without the ball, and we looked really in control for that first 25 minutes.”
Swansea was in almost total control of the final third of the game and that is mostly where points are gained or lost.
So why the apparent existence of two elevens in red? An ageing captain might be part of the explanation. Although I love Steven Gerrard with all my heart, and although he was central to controlling play in earlier games, against Swansea he seemed almost disinterested. His incisive passes were nowhere to be seen, and his ball watching on the equalizer was absolutely uncharacteristic.
A concentration on style of play during training sessions, at the expense of more intensive conditioning might also have played a part. Although some players like Jordan Henderson continue to push and challenge to the end of the game, a number of others seemed lethargic.
Iago Aspas, when he came on for Phillippe Coutinho, was energetic but lacked focus, perhaps because the team lacked focus. While Swansea attacked with purpose and energy, Liverpool reacted to the attack by running from threat to threat with no purpose beyond plugging leak after leak.
Perhaps we came out too hard in all four games and paid for it with a consequent depletion of energy for the second half. When the goalkeeper managed to gain possession, his next action was to kick the ball down the field where our diminutive midfield immediately gave the ball back to the opposition. Then the next attacking wave would close in.
Speaking of the loss of Coutinho, Brendan Rodgers was one of the first to imply that the loss of the creative Brazilian had had a serious impact, “young Coutinho going off disrupted the flow of our game.” But if the loss of one player can precipitate the near meltdown of the entire side, perhaps we aren’t as far along as we’ve been led to believe.
In the end, the important thing is that, however we got here, we are at the top of the league. I wrote a few weeks back that a major ingredient in Liverpool FC’s success had to be the feeling that they were not only a talented but also a ‘lucky’ side. This is pivotal in our drive for a Champions League spot and will maintain the Reds in high standing while areas such as fatigue and personnel are smoothed out.
Looking ahead, a) we have a number of fixtures that, although inviting on paper, gave us problems last season, b) Coutinho’s injury will require surgery and keep him out of action for at least 6 weeks, c) Suarez will be coming into a side that will have to accommodate him, and d) we have depth that we haven’t seen in years, yet our players flag noticeably in the second half – this has to be addressed..
We have a number of things to watch for in the course of the next month of fixtures, not the least of which is team conditioning. One positive among many is the return of Suarez who will have to bump someone from a starting position…but at least he will be have been well rested.
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