As the calendar turns to 2015, things are not going as planned for Liverpool FC supporters.
Liverpool exited the Champions League after a series of poor performances in group play, Daniel Sturridge has been injured the majority of the season, the new arrivals – most notably Balotelli – have yet to find their form, and after a disappointing tie with bottom-of-the-table Leicester City on New Year’s Day, Liverpool finds itself in eighth place with 29 points.
Liverpool has reached the midway point of the Premier League season with plenty of questions, so we’ve brought together an esteemed panel of Liverpool supporters in an attempt to find some answers.
Stuart Fearon, a member of the Houston LFC supporter’s club, was born into a LFC family in Liverpool, “although I have plenty of blue-nosed cousins, but that’s their problem.” He’s lived stateside for 28 years. You can find him on Twitter @3lions1962 and can follow Houston LFC @HoustonLFC.
Scott Gregory is law student from North Central Ohio who’s closely followed LFC since discovering Steven Gerrard’s scoring abilities in FIFA ’06. Follow him on Twitter @ScjGreg.
William Bryson has been a Liverpool supporter since 1991, when the exploits of a young Macca first caught his eye via the family’s newly-installed satellite dish. He has 30 years and counting as player, ref or coach of the world’s greatest game. Follow him on Twitter @Bbo13.
Bryn Griffiths is a member of the LFC Madison supporter’s club and a lifelong Liverpool supporter. “While my Mum and Dad are both Liverpool supporters, the inspiration for my LFC love really came from my Dad.” He was the youngest of four brothers growing up in Liverpool in the ’50s and ’60s, playing footy in bombed-out churches and on cobbled streets and although his Dad was a Liverpool supporter, too, all of his older brothers were Evertonians (“Dad/Granddad – I am eternally grateful for your excellent taste in football teams!”). Follow the club on Twitter @LFCWisconsin.
Question 1: Of all the things that are currently wrong with the club, which one worries you the most?
Stuart: Off the field, I think the club has been making progress in improving the commercial side, which had long been neglected by former club chairman David Moores. We lost ground and are now trying to catch up. On the playing side, it’s the spine of the team, from center forward, center midfield, center of defense through to goalkeeper. There are too many question marks and weaknesses in these areas, whether that’s through injury, poor signings or loss of form, it doesn’t matter – we are just not solid in these key areas.
Scott: The defense. The stat that comes to mind has been floating around Twitter and involves LFC having only two clean sheets under Brendan Rodgers that didn’t have Daniel Agger in the starting XI. Dejan Lovren and Simon Mignolet in particular continue to be horribly mistake-prone, and none of the players look to have any trust in themselves or one another. Glen Johnson appears equally disinterested and inept from both sides of the pitch, and set pieces continue to be a glaring issue.
What worries me is these are problems that have been a part of the Rodgers package since day one. They don’t seem to be going anywhere, and I question whether the players available now have what it takes to turn the ship around. It’s like there’s a web of entangled problems.
William: Three words: defense, defense and defense. To be fair to the 2014-15 edition, this problem is not new. For all of the excitement surrounding the club’s performance a season ago, the defending third was rarely a place a Reds’ supporter could feel comfortable seeing the ball. And a more potent attack might allow these defensive deficiencies to continue to go overlooked. But with Luis Suárez gone, Mario Balotelli struggling to get acclimated, and Daniel Sturridge working to recover from injury, there is no consistent attack to cover up the blemishes.
So why not highlight the weakened attack as the issue? It is because goals rely on a good deal of chance, in addition to strategy and execution, whereas consistent, quality effort on defense is far more within the control of the players and manager. Provide a sturdy defense, and a team can get by on finding goals over time.
Bryn: The most worrying thing for me is the sheer scale of the demise from being arguably the best team in the league during the last six months of last season to one of the worst in mid-table. I understand we’ve lost Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge, who were our two best players and contributed 51 of our 101 goals last year, but the players brought in haven’t been able to improve us in the other areas of the pitch. Our wing backs are probably better, but the centre-backs have regressed, midfield looks disorganized, and the strikers brought in haven’t been able to hit the ground running.
Transfers aside, though, the lack of fight, passion, soul and a clear plan are what’s really troubling me. Brendan Rogers was able to get the best out of the team last year, but this time around he has been persisting with players out of position or out of their element, and has been unwilling to change the team based on form or performance.
Question 2: Of all the things that are currently wrong with the club, which one can be fixed this season?
Stuart: If Daniel Sturridge can come back then maybe he’ll form an effective partnership with Raheem Sterling and/or Mario Balotelli, and we might be more effective at the attacking end. Now having said that, I think it’s time for a new keeper. Simon Mignolet is a nervous wreck out there, and it’s certainly impacting the lads around him.
Scott: Tactics and player selection. Rodgers needs to get back to being the adaptable manager he was last year (I’ll address that further at the final question).
William: The current lack of offensive potency can (and I believe will) be resolved this season. Love him or hate him (and I have always found myself doing far more of the former than the latter), Luis Suárez is among the most creative and disruptive attacking forces in the game today (notice I didn’t include consistent, but that’s for another time). The idea that anyone, the ever mercurial Mario Balotelli included, could step in and immediately replicate what Suárez brought to the pitch each match was patently foolish, yet commonly held among fans.
The chemistry between Raheem Sterling and Suárez in the attack was the stuff of epic Greek poetry, their ability to riff off of one another in the moment akin to Coltrane and Monk playing Carnegie Hall. But as magical as such pairings are to behold, they also create unreasonable expectations. “Those two make it look so easy! Why can’t that happen all of the time?!” We fans – Reds’ and soccer in general – were spoiled by something unique last season. Expecting it again this year and beyond is entirely unreasonable.
But Sterling is still one of the best young footballers in the Premier League and beyond. Balotelli is, for all his idiosyncrasies, still a formidable talent. Daniel Sturridge will (hopefully) heal and return to form in time. The individual talent is still very much there for the Reds. With time, it seems inevitable that they will find harmony. We must simply be patient.
Bryn: Moving Steven Gerrard from defensive midfielder and playing Fabio Borini up front with Mario Balotelli or Rickie Lambert – Borini’s movement will help Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana moving forward as he can find or create gaps with his constant running. I’d also play Alberto Moreno, Mamadou Sakho, Kolo Toure/Martin Skrtel and Javi Manquillo as much as possible to help them and Simon Mignolet foster some understanding, while giving them a proper defensive midfielder (Lucas Leiva/Emre Can) as protection ahead of them.
Question 3: What is up with Mario Balotelli? Is it possible he’s no longer a top-flight player at age 24?
Stuart: I think Mario can still play, but our team for years has been built around movement up top, which we saw to great effect last season. I don’t think he can play up top on his own, so if Sturridge gets back shortly maybe they can make it work together. They played together against Spurs (can we play them every week?) and it worked really well, so for me there is still hope.
Scott: I think Balotelli’s style of play just doesn’t match with the style Rodgers wants or needs the team to play. Being a Cavs fan, he reminds me of Dion Waiters in that the game and offensive movement seem to slow down when the ball gets to him. If the ball doesn’t get to him, he works hard to get involved further up the field, which is precisely what Rodgers doesn’t need with such few other options in the box.
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