Liverpool are, quite frankly, terrible. Seven games into the season, they have played exactly two halves of Champions League caliber football. Ten men against Arsenal was riveting, and the comeback against Manchester United raised some hopes, although in retrospect that is probably made to look better than it was by the score sheet. Now, how much of this can we dump on the gaffer?
People, not least of all Hodgson, who seems intent on making us some sort of Fulham-esque, FC Copenhagen monster-thing, will say that we have had a tough start to the season. Indeed, both the schedule and off the field matters could have been better, but neither of those are acceptable excuses.
First of all, the owners are terrible, but everyone knew that going in, as far as the playing staff goes, not only has there been no Barcelona or Portsmouth style crisis, where wages were late or not paid, but not a single player has left to finance debt. Xabi Alonso left because bridges were burnt with Benitez, Riera the same, (character aside, probably not a good idea to let your only true winger leave), Mascherano was unhappy in England. Everyone’s come out and said it, the financial documents support it, payments can be met, there might not be funds for new players, but it’s not so bad that players have to be sold. So who loaned out Aquilani? Who sent off a left-back, when the things the club lacks are creativity in midfield and…wait for it…left backs? Hodgson himself has said that all dead wood will be sent out, so one has to wonder about his priorities.
The start to the schedule could have been easier, but Sunderland’s start was comparable. They had Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United, and they got 5 points from those fixtures. Liverpool had West Brom, Birmingham City and Blackpool, they got 2 points from those fixtures. Who has the better squad? (Hint: it’s not Sunderland, you know why you wanted to say Sunderland? It’s because Steve Bruce knows how to use his squad properly).
Suppose you have a squad with a renowned striker, famous for pace and timing of his runs, what would you do? I guess you would make him into Bobby Zamora, because I’ve seen Torres come down to midfield with his back to goal far more times than I’ve seen through balls for him to chase. He’s turned into Emile Heskey, setting up goals for others instead of what he’s in the team for.
While that’s the decision from Hodgson I’m most confused by, there are others. If you buy Raul Mereiles, who has played all his life in a central midfield role, who is a box to box midfielder that can surely be used as an Alonso-lite, why would you put him out on the flanks? He doesn’t offer width, and he’s not that good a crosser. It’s the same thing with Joe Cole, good behind the striker, but lost on the wing where he cuts in anyway. There’s the tiniest bit of width in Liverpool’s play at the moment, and it’s Glen Johnson, whose form is slipping daily.
The bottom line is, Hodgson’s made some mistakes. Of course this isn’t Real Madrid so the chances that he’s fired are slim to none. A better question to ask is if he can learn from his mistakes, if he can make the squad play to potential, (which is at the very least in the top 7 squads of the league). There have been some good moves, (maybe he just fell into them but nonetheless). Playing Gerrard in the center of the park is a neat trick, although the right person isn’t in the hole behind the striker. Whenever he’s deigned to make an early substitution the team have generally played better, especially with Torres partnered by N’Gog in a 4-4-2 that can become a 4-2-4. People say the players don’t look interested, but to be honest I don’t see it. Gerrard’s been trying his guts out, Reina too. Torres does well whenever he actually gets the ball, what I see is mostly frustration that every weekend points are being dropped. Boardroom distractions can also play a part in people’s mindsets but a lot of this can be blamed on the manager. But his mistakes aren’t terminal, not yet at least.