Thursday, 30 December 2010

Anfield of Nightmares

AFTER yet another dismal showing last night in front of a foolishly-expectant home crowd at Anfield, Liverpool Football Club remains in relative-crisis mode. The 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers was one that should have been avoided, but now we are subject to more excuses as to why the Merseysiders failed to turn up.

One point argued by Sky Sports pundit Andy Gray last night was that Liverpool looked rusty, having had their last two league games postponed and over a fortnight's rest. Wolves on the other hand, played only three days ago, slumping to a 2-1 home defeat to Wigan Athletic. In Gray’s opinion, Mick McCarthy’s merry men were a whole lot sharper than Roy Hodgson’s Scouse screw-ups.

Gray’s arguments could be seen as perfectly valid if it were not for the fact that throughout the season we are subject to managers complaining about fixture congestion and players underperforming due to too many games in too short a space of time.

Liverpool’s rest period of 17 days would be envied by other teams, but for a team whose best players would seemingly benefit from rest and recuperation from past injury problems, it has not worked out. The recent postponements meant Steven Gerrard was allowed time to return from a hamstring problem and Fernando Torres, if we are to believe what we are constantly subjected to by media sources, was given his first rest since he was 10 years old.

Also within this time period, it seems Glen Johnson has reverted to a Benjamin Button-esque state, now possessing the footballing capabilities of his 12-year-old self. One moment in last night’s first half was of particularly na├»ve nature, as he needlessly booted the ball out across his own box for a throw-in. Rather than holding his hands-up and admitting the act of travesty, he instead appeared to signal to his forward players that they should have already been in the stands waiting for it. If Liverpool are to miraculously gain a place in Europe by May, expect a 3-year-old nappy-wearing Johnson to be held aloft by Pepe Reina in front of the Kop amidst the celebrations, and then given the opportunity to complete five-yard passes to Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher.

The truth is that there is a combination of on-pitch factors which are directly affecting the team’s success. David Ngog is not going to be the next Thierry Henry, and just as it took Sir Alex Ferguson years to realise David Bellion wasn’t either, Liverpool should get rid of the young Frenchman. Any hopes of a possible partnership with Fernando Torres were surely vanquished last night, as both forwards struggled to hold up the ball and allow midfielders to join the attack.

Liverpool’s problems stem from this ability to not keep the ball in the final third. Fernando Torres is not the same player he was two years ago, and it looks often like English defences have him well and truly found out. Those who claim the Spaniard is still unfit must be as tired of their own voices as journalists are. Wolves last night were quick to close down the striker when he was receiving passes, but in reality they didn’t have to try too hard as the Spaniard’s control let him down more as the game went on.

Supporters of Torres who claim the Spaniard has poor support and delivery from teammates should look at the likes of Darren Bent, a player who has never played with a Gerrard, a Beckham or a Bergkamp, yet has consistently scored throughout his career in the Premiership. Torres looks constantly unhappy nowadays, but I’m sure his body language would be even more vitriolic if he were being supplied with through balls by Bent’s current teammates Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley.

There is a severe lack of confidence amongst the Liverpool team, but this is not something which the Charlie Chalk-lookalike Hodgson has solely instilled. Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool last season were at times equally awful, bowing out of the FA Cup early to Reading in a pitiful performance, and suffering the same tactical problems as Hodgson faces now.

Tactically, Liverpool’s biggest problem may lie in their reputation. Hodgson may have saved Fulham from relegation and moulded them into a capable outfit, but they were often playing teams who were open and not afraid of going for the jugular. Liverpool however, are still a club that can inspire fear, and with big names likes Gerrard, Torres and Reina, opposing sides often set-up with men behind the ball, frustrating the Merseysiders and limiting their opportunities.

It would be no surprise if at the time this article was published Hodgson had either handed in his resignation or had it terminated. His appointment was generally to be considered as a stop-gap. He was an elderly, experienced coach, who, though often appeared to be going blind, could help guide Liverpool through what was always going to be a transitional period.

The mid-table position comes as no surprise to many who have seen the decline of the team in the last 18 months or so, but many of the Kop faithful have found it hard during this period to accept Hodgson as the bloke responsible for managing their beloved club.

However, Hodgson should surely have not been expected to win titles and trophies. He was hardly achieving such feats at Fulham during his reign at Craven Cottage; instead he was battling against the odds and achieving commendable results and performances on a shoe-string budget. Indeed many Liverpool fans that were aware of financial restraints in the summer saw Hodgson as the perfect replacement to deal with such circumstances, due to his Fulham record.

Inheriting a Liverpool team in decline, Hodgson’s role was to steady the Liverpool ship and rebuild for the future, possibly for another manager to take charge when the team looks like it can win big trophies again, and consequently win all the plaudits. Rather like when former-boss Benitez took over Gerard Houlier's side in 2004.

There is nothing wrong with replacing Hodgson mid-season, and replacing him with someone like the heavily respected but equally-dour Kenny Dalglish. Most Liverpool fans would most probably desire a manager who isn't making decisions like playing Ngog and Torres up front together, employing Raul Meireles in a wide position, or simply playing Paul Konchesky.

Indeed, if something is not working and you don’t intend to continue with the set-up in a few years time anyway, then by all means cut your losses. However, as other teams get richer and rivals improve, Liverpool cannot afford to slip too far away. The club lacks a direction and a plan of attack – on and off the field. A short-term replacement for Hodgson however, is unlikely to have the galvanising effect that most Liverpool fans would like.

Finally, for those of you who wish to see old Roy first step on the shores of Liverpool docks back in the summer, please look at this rare clip...

1 comment:

  1. Losing Xabi Alonso was a bigger blow than i realised at the time...