We have now seen Liverpool play a few times under Roy Hodgson and the most surprising thing about their season so far is how familiar it all feels. Their only win this season in the Premier League has been at home against West Bromwich Albion, a team destined for a relegation dog-fight. Of Course in the other games 3 teams who finished in the top half of the table, the disappointing aspect has not been the results (which could’ve been predicted) but the manner of them.
Tactically Liverpool have lined up in the same manner as they have over the last 4 years under Benitez. The 4-2-3-1 formation is not something Unique to Benitez but his style of play was distinct. The ‘2’ part of that formation would be 2 defensive midfielders (ignoring Xabi Alonso’s advantage in his ridiculous passing range), which is precisely how Hodgson has the team playing. The problem with this is that when placed against a similar formation or one where the other team are packing the midfield is that it can get bogged down in the middle allowing the defence to plug any gaps and not allow any space behind them for Torres’ searing pace to exploit. Hodgson cannot be blamed for how teams play against Liverpool, much in the same way Mancini cannot be blamed for this at Man City, however the key is to adapt your own tactics to overcome.
As the game dragged on at St. Andrews Liverpool dominated possession but did not have a single clear-cut opportunity. It was a familiar sight as it was something that happened under Benitez frequently, it was their inability to break down teams at home that ultimately cost them the title in 2008/9. Hodgson had shown at Fulham that he was adept at changing his team to suit the situation it was this flexibility that allowed his Fulham team to get to the Europa League final. However at Fulham his team was usually the underdog who could expect the other team to put pressure on them higher up the field therefore exposing themselves at the back. At Liverpool it is a different game, teams will try to bring Liverpool forward and exploit their lack of pace at the back.
On the player front Liverpool still rely (too) heavily on three players. Steven Gerrard ( who is now playing better for his country than his club), Fernando Torres (who is far from his imperious best) and Pepe Reina (who has won back one of the two points he dropped on the opening day). It is too early to judge the worth of new players yet but on first impressions Liverpool have regressed since even last season. Christian Poulsen was very quiet at St. Andrews and because of his lack of movement, passing and energy seems to be a step down from Javier Mascherano. Raul Meireles was lively but ineffective and Milan Jovanovic does not have the pace necessary to be effective in the Premier League. If Stephen Carr can keep him quiet then it is promising when Liverpool meet better clubs. Maxi showed Liverpool fans what they are missing in Dirk Kuyt as Liam Ridgewell was able to move forward effectively with little worries about the Argentinian.