City, Liverpool Exposed for What They Are

Yesterday’s action proved especially telling for two sides, Manchester City and Liverpool. Both teams came into this season with high expectations; Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez stated repeatedly that winning the Premiership was his side’s main goal and obviously he wanted the deep Champions League run that has become the Reds’ trademark. Manchester City didn’t have the same expectations as Liverpool but with a new, successful manager and significant turnover from the 2006-2007 squad, City fans had to have been thinking along the lines of a place in Europe.

To be fair, City have had the least disappointing season of the two teams so far and there is still just over a third of the schedule remaining. However, with the way City started the year (three consecutive wins–including a win over fierce rivals Man U–, seven wins in their first ten league games, and three straight victories in the Carling Cup), fans have to be a bit nonplussed with the way City is going right now. The Blues have won just three times in their last 14 games in all competitions; one of those wins was in the FA Cup and another was against Newcastle.

City are the soccer version of bipolar as they boast a 9-3-0 record at home but only a 2-5-5 mark away from Eastlands. Yesterday’s 1-1 draw against Derby, who are looking like the worst team in Premiership history, was a clear representation of City’s problems. The equation is simple: If you can’t win away from home, you won’t challenge for anything significant. City were actually down 1-0 and it took a goal from a youngster, Daniel Sturridge, to equalize. Where was Elano? Where was Stephen Ireland? If your big name players don’t perform on a consistent basis, again, you won’t challenge for anything.

After yesterday’s games, City sit in 6th place in the Premiership but that’s looking tenuous. Liverpool (and I’ll get to them in a bit) are only a point behind but have a game in hand and a much, much better goal differential. Blackburn is in 8th place and they’re only a strong run away from passing City as they’re just three points behind, and Portsmouth will make that strong run after they get the players who are currently taking part in the African Cup of Nations back in mid-February. Suddenly, City’s 6th place spot and UEFA Cup berth could vanish and they could be looking at anywhere between 8th-10th. With the way they started the year, that would have to be viewed as a disappointment.

The true definition of disappointment, though, is Liverpool. I don’t want to get into much detail about the Reds as I’ve already done that in the past week or so (and taken heat for it; was I wrong? No.) and there’s no need to restate the obvious. Yesterday’s game against West Ham was a microcosm of the entire season for Liverpool. More often than not, the Reds will have the clear advantage in amount of possession (the most useless stat in soccer), a high shot total but with few of those on goal, and more corners than their opponent. Yet on the scoreline, which is the only thing that matters, Liverpool tends to come up short. I don’t care how long have you the ball; you can pass it around all game long and it wouldn’t mean anything to me. It’s all about what you do when you have the ball and in Liverpool’s case, it’s a whole lot of nothing.

Having said everything I have about Liverpool, I stand behind the prediction I made a couple weeks ago that they’ll still finish in 4th place. But is that good enough? I’m sorry, I don’t think just scraping by the other teams in the hunt for the last Champions League spot can be viewed as a success. It would be a step backwards from Liverpool’s performance last season at a time when all the clubs around them are getting better, not worse.

City and Liverpool are two different cases of disappointment. Liverpool had title hopes and will be fortunate to finish in fourth place, while City had legitimate European hopes with the way they started out and may not get there. If you’re a Liverpool fan, I’m not sure how you could possibly look at this season in a positive light and although you still can if you root for City, you have to think about what could have been.

8 thoughts on “City, Liverpool Exposed for What They Are”

  1. I personally don’t want Champions League football and hope we don’t get there. Nothing could be worse for a squad just coming together than to make the Champions League and have the burden of expectations and the fixture congestion that comes with it. Maybe in another year we will be ready, but any top half finish is fine with me. When you are used to fighting relegation or even being relegated as we have three times since I have become a supporter, being 6th in the league is fine with me.

  2. Diehard Liverpool fan, and I can’t disagree with what you’ve written. Very disappointed, even with golden boy Torres of late. The team play uninspired, uninventive football. I watched Arsenal the other day, my lord do I envy their fans. Such a free flowing, exciting, unpredictable game. That will probably never be Liverpool’s style, and rightly so with the talent we have, but it would be nice to get the feeling the players enjoy the game and are putting forth maximum effort every time they step on the pitch. Problems at Liverpool run from the pitch to the boardroom, but week in and week out the performance on the pitch has been, for me, the worst.

  3. Django, I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of style of play. Arsenal and Liverpool play completely different styles based on their personnel; I have no problem with that at all. Too many people think Liverpool isn’t winning because they don’t play “beautiful football” like Arsenal and Man U, but that’s rubbish.

    There are plenty of ways to win games. Under Big Sam, Bolton showed that grinding out games can work. Man City play that same type of style, and up until recently, it’s worked for them.

    The reason Liverpool isn’t winning isn’t because of their “style”, it’s the way their players don’t buy into it and can’t seem to grasp the concept right now. Questionable tactical moves by Benitez like starting Kuyt and Kewell ahead of Crouch and Babel don’t help matters either. If you want to win ugly, you have to put your players in the best possible position to do so.

  4. All very good points and I’m afraid its only going to get worse before better. There will have to be a moment of truth sooner rather than later about Rafa’s future. He can only go on so much longer being half-heartedly supported by the owners. If Rafa has any chance of saving his job he will have to be clear in his direction for the team in the next couple of weeks. He needs to stick with the same team for the next few matches (even if its the wrong one) just for consistancy’s sake. If that’s not good enough then its clear he has no place at the club.

    Going back to City, I think its slightly unfair to be critical of them. They have exceeded all expectations and their start to the season was more about heart and determination than anything. Only now is their weakness in depth beginning to show, with the rubbish like Vassell and Mpenza really proving why they should not be in a top flight team, let alone a top half team (especially Vassell, his misses this week were diabolical). I was, however, slightly disappointed with their moves in the market today. It would be unfair to pass judgement on the Ecuadorian lad as he’s young and I have never heard of his let alone see him play, but Benjani, although solid, is getting on and can be very inconsistant. They should have vigorously persued Crouch who probably have been able to leave if the price was right, and/or another big name striker, Defoe? Huntelaar? Luis Fabiano? I just think with their new financial clout, City could have really bagged a striker to build a new generation around.

  5. Looks like i made a mistake, Benjani didn’t arrive at Eastlands. Harry Redknapp must have egg on his face a bit now with several strikers to play and keep happy.

  6. Agreed Michael, it’s simply about finding a way to win, and recently ‘pool haven’t done that regardless of who’s on the pitch. I think back to watching the FA Cup Final in 2006, one of my favorite Liverpool matches in recent memory. Back and forth the whole time, runs being made throughout the match, but a distinctly Liverpool style. Obviously a great result, but more than anything it was nice to watch the players and know they were giving it their all. There has really not been that much personnel change since that match, if anything we’ve improved in that regard. I realize a cup final brings it out of the players, but there is no excuse for the laxidasical style that has become so common for the first 75:00 of recent matches. Long ball, hope we get a good touch, get Torres into space…tactically, not our strongest efforts.

  7. i love liverpool so much since i was 6 years old…
    liverpool is the miracle football team that i have seen. One from the miracle that they have made are in the UEFA CUP final,when they against Milan. They score 3 goals in the second just we cant believe but in the football every thing can be happend..when they buy Torres for this season, i believe that Rafa has make a good decision because Liverpool neeed a ruff stryker who can score in any situation. and he had show his ability..

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