Well, the West Ham game was a sickening reminder that Liverpool still have a ways to go before they get back to being a top 4 team again. Contrary to what fans might have believed after the first three games of the season, the Reds did not fix all their problems in one magical summer. While I’m inclined to believe that the 3-0 defeat was just a bad day at the office, it’s clear that LFC still need to improve in a few areas.
For one, as the scoreline suggests, the defence still needs to improve. Mignolet was the only player who couldn’t be blamed for our defensive frailties at the weekend, and at least three of our back four were found wanting. It was Skrtel’s poor header away that gave West Ham a sniff at goal for the first one, and he offered no resistance for the third. On his day there’s no getting past Skrtel, but for every one of those there are several others where he’ll let opposition forwards just bat him aside. If Skrtel doesn’t improve, then this will likely be his final season as a first choice defender for the club.
Then there’s Lovren. The man who makes Skrtel look world class in comparison. I was ready to admit that I might have been a bit hasty in giving up on the Croatian after our first 3 games this season, but then he seemed to experience a sense of deja vu and turned back into the player he was a year ago. I’m not really sure what he was thinking when he decided to take on a player by his own corner flag, but if that’s Lovren when he’s actually confident then I don’t think he’s really worth keeping anymore.
Unfortunately it seems as though Rodgers will be sticking with Lovren at Old Trafford after the international break, but if he keeps this up then it’ll be an absolute crime if Sakho isn’t starting in his place by the time October rolls in. Everyone else seems to realise that Sakho should have been starting at the beginning of the season anyway. Everyone except the manager.
While Clyne seemed to try and do his best with the defensive partners he had available, Joe Gomez really struggled. Lanzini inexplicably beat him to the ball for the opening goal and continued to cause problems for him for the rest of the first half. It was the first time that Gomez really looked like a right-footed centre back/right back being asked to play left back. But it’s important to remember that Gomez is still only 18 years old and this was his first bad game after three impressive performances against difficult teams, so it’s easier to forgive him.
In midfield, we seem to have some real issues with personnel once you get past Henderson and Milner. Allen is good at keeping possession and picking the right pass, but I wouldn’t say he’s ultimately more useful to us than as a squad player and he’s injured at the moment anyway. Lucas is our “veteran” defensive midfielder and clearly needs his defenders to help him out by not being complete idiots, but nevertheless his legs seem to give out after the hour mark and he ends up chasing the ball for the remainder of the game.
Emre Can will seemingly grow into his role in midfield, but right now he’s not quite there yet. He’s not as experienced as Lucas in DM, but when he plays further ahead with Milner he proves himself completely unreliable on the ball, often giving the ball away when trying to do anything beyond a simple pass. With Henderson currently out injured, it means we still have some real weaknesses in midfield when either the captain or vice captain ends up sidelined. Fortunately neither play has a reputation with injuries so we have to hope this won’t happen often.
Up front, our creative midfielders and forwards still seem to have problems linking up with Benteke. It’s clearly not as simple as “just swing more crosses in the box” like the commentators and pundits would have you believe, as some of Benteke’s best chances have come from linking up close to Coutinho when the ball’s on the ground. Nevertheless, in 3 out of 4 games so far this season, Benteke has been feeding on scraps. Almost as if our midfielders/wingers don’t really know how to get the ball to him.
It doesn’t help matters that Coutinho is now suspended for the United game, and he was the one who seemed to understand the Belgian best. It would seem that responsibility will almost certainly lie with Firmino now in the little magician’s absence, as the £29m signing is likely to start in the number 10 role at Old Trafford.
However to be effective there will require him to make a considerable leap in quality, as he’s understandably spent his appearances so far adapting to a new league and developing an understanding with his team mates. I don’t think you can accuse him of not working hard enough but right now he often spends too long dribbling with the ball and running into someone before he decides to pass to a team mate. He’ll need to cut it out if he wants to be as effective as Coutinho.
Jordon Ibe seems to be getting games in the hope that he’ll transform into Raheem Sterling in the next few games, but it could be a lot longer before that happens. It took months of regular appearances before Sterling exploded into form (including a particularly bad game in a 3-1 defeat to Hull) and it looks like it’s all come too soon for Ibe, especially with the heightened fan expectation after what happened to Sterling.
I’m all for giving Ibe more minutes and more first team experience, but not at the cost of the team’s performance. Once Sturridge comes back will be hard to accommodate him, so I hope Rodgers has a plan when that happens.
My final concern with the team is that Rodgers seems very reliant on the idea of playing one up front. While there will be games where playing a lone striker supported by attacking midfielders will be beneficial, sometimes it does more harm than good. For example, after getting that early goal West Ham were just fine sitting back and playing on the counter. They were well organised and hard to break down. Playing Benteke on his own without another striker is not going to be enough in those situations, especially when you consider that he’s still finding his feet in a new team.
Ings has barely had a look-in so far this campaign, so I hope he gets more opportunities to pair up with Benteke as the season goes on. Of course, when Sturridge gets back we all hope that he’ll be given time to develop a partnership with Benteke as well.
Liverpool have a lot of problems to sort out before things start getting better. Let’s hope Rodgers proves he can do it before it’s too late.