Liverpool’s frustrating transition

To surrender a 2-0 lead in just fifteen minutes against a side so awful that their relegation from the Premier League has been taken as a formality was a new low

Liverpool’s frustrating transition

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March 22nd, 2012

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This was supposed to be a blog about the tactical balance of Liverpool’s side. About how Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam should never be paired together, how much Lucas Leiva has been missed and why Jay Spearing, though an inadequate replacement, is better for the balance of the side than the portly Dundonian. Then Wednesday night and Queens Park Rangers happened.

I didn’t watch the game live, that delight was saved for Thursday morning, but as the drama unfolded there was naturally much gnashing of teeth from those of a Liverpool disposition, and much hilarity from those who aren’t. To surrender a 2-0 lead in just fifteen minutes against a side so awful that their relegation from the Premier League has been taken as a formality was a new low in and a microcosm of a season of ups and downs.

For just over seventy minutes of the match, Liverpool were largely the dominant side. Their biggest worry was the often cited lack of composure in front of goal, but when Dirk Kuyt prodded home from five yards out, they had a two goal lead and after three consecutive victories, one of which set up an FA Cup semi final, the questions could be left for another day, while we celebrated the sheer lunacy of a 6’5” centre back scoring with a scissor-kick.

All that was swept away, however, in fifteen minutes of gutless ineptitude. From the moment that Shaun Derry escaped the marking of Jordan Henderson and guided home a header for the first of QPR’s goals, there was a sinking feeling of inevitability amongst Liverpool fans that two points at least would be surrendered.

Djibril Cissé and Jamie Mackie finished the job off for the home side, meaning that Liverpool have now given up eleven points from winning positions this season, eleven points which would have seen them still in the battle for fourth place, just a point behind a Spurs side whose form has fallen off a cliff. Instead they lie seventh, five points behind Newcastle and just three ahead of Swansea with fans screaming “transition!” until they are red in the face.

But as was said recently on the Anfield Wrap podcast, to be in transition, you must be transitioning to something, there must be a sense of moving forward. In terms of league form at least, it’s possible to argue the exact opposite for Liverpool. In the 18 games played under Kenny Dalglish last season, they averaged 1.83 points per game (ppg) and played some superb football, particularly in the final run of games when Lucas and Spearing provided a solid base from which the front four could attack. In the 29 games so far this season, Liverpool have collected 1.45ppg. Over the course of a season that drop equates to 14.4 points, or the difference between finishing 6th in last season’s final table and 15th. A team without Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson played with much greater freedom and fluidity (and admittedly less pressure) and achieved better results.

If anything should characterise this season for Liverpool, it is maddening inconsistency, rather than steady transition. Dalglish’s men have not won back-to-back Premier League matches since December. They’re perfectly able to get themselves firing for the challenge of a one-off cup tie, as shown by their Carling Cup success and progression to the semi final of the FA Cup, but when it comes to the week in, week out task of league football, their results are those of a manic depressive.

They are still capable of playing football at the level we saw last season, just watch the first half of the recent loss against Arsenal for evidence of that, but too often they are guilty of playing to the level of their opposition; unable to break down Stoke, Blackburn or Wigan yet capable of outplaying Arsenal and Chelsea.

The simple truth, to me at least, is that this team isn’t good enough for the job most Liverpool fans want it to do; to progress in and eventually challenge for the Premier League. When given a specific tactical job to do, as against the bigger sides in the league or for an important cup fixture, they’re perfectly capable, but when asked to be the creative force, to break down the massed ranks of sides in the bottom half of the table, Adam, Downing and their ilk simply are not good enough.

In the end what will render this season a success or failure is what is achieved this summer. If the club can use its new found taste for silverware, return to European competition and apparently willing pockets to tempt players of a higher quality to Anfield, then all in all it will have been worth it, the club will have moved forward. If all they have to show come September, however, is another Stewart Downing, then what we now call transition might edge further towards a permanent reality.

Words by Simon Furnivall

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