It is a truism that statistics can tell you anything you want them to, but ultimately the cannot or should not ignored. There has been an undoubted renaissance in Liverpool’s recent form, so much so that we might realistically expect to finish in the top four of the Premier League this season.
The FA Cup fourth round tie against Bolton at Anfield yesterday is a prime example of the problems that the club is currently facing – namely an inability to break down teams that “park the bus” on the 18 yard line. Liverpool had 23 shots at goal yesterday, but the only stat that matters is that the game finished 0-0 meaning an unnecessary and unwanted replay when the club should be focusing on a top four finish. The most depressing stat is that Liverpool have only won six of their 18 matches to date at Anfield – a sure indication that teams have worked out how to play against the Reds at home. I am not football manager, but I know that if I was, I would simply set up a bank of four midfielders and a wall of four defenders and allow Liverpool to play in front of me. This worked for Hull City, Leicester and Sunderland, and almost for Stoke City.
There seem to be two issues confronting Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool.
Firstly, teams are happy to allow Liverpool possession as they know that the way the Reds plays means there will be plenty of passing and movement, but very little of this will take place in or around the 18 yard box. Liverpool very rarely flood the penalty area with players waiting to pounce on mistakes that opposing defenders sometimes make, unlike Chelsea, for example, who have plenty of attacking options in and around the box. Liverpool are crying out for a “Fox in the Box” – the type of striker who only starts to work his socks off 30 yards from goal, but there is a depressing lack of that type of player on the market, and certainly nobody at Anfield fits the bill. I would stick my neck out and attempt to sign Charlie Austin. He may not be the most mobile of players, and also lacks subtlety, but scores goals wherever he plays, even in a poor QPR team. His playing style may actually compliment the creativity of Sterling, Coutinho and Lallana and give a viable alternative to a fully fit and functioning Daniel Sturridge – if that day ever arrives.
The second problem is a lack of alternatives, a plan B when Liverpool fail to turn possession into goals. Rodgers will persevere with Raheem Sterling as a main striker in the absence of Daniel Sturridge, but this really isn’t working. Sterling has all the talent in the world, but his end product has been found wanting. As he becomes more experienced, he may begin to make better choices when goalscoring opportunities present themselves, but at the moment, his decision making is not always of the highest quality. Sterling is supremely gifted, and his electrifying bursts of pace and trickery can light up the dullest game, but he is more suited to the role of goal maker than goal taker. Brendan Rodgers had the foresight to try Sterling in this role, but does not seem to have the talents to take him to the next level and turn him into a truly world class talent.
It is interesting to note that Liverpool have not yet made any signings in the January transfer window. Either they are waiting until the window is about to close in order to do business, or the players they want to buy don’t want to come to Anfield (Xherdan Shaqiri is a good example of this) or there is a lack of support from the owners, FSG and they do not want Rodgers and the Transfer Committee to make the same mistakes as those made in the Summer. No matter what the reason, there is an obvious need for an infusion of players in order to get our top four challenge back on track. If not, those statistics will tell a depressing story. Of the six games Liverpool have won at Anfield, one was in the Captial One Cup against Swansea, the other was against Ludogorets in the ill-fated Chamnpions League campaign. In fact, Liverpool have only won two home games since beating Swansea at the end of October. At one time, Liverpool could almost guarantee winning at Anfield, irrespective of the opposition, now the most likely result is a drawn game with Liverpool dominating possession but not taking enough of the countless chances they create.
Brendan Rodgers needs to get more out of his players at Anfield, or the poor run of home results will truly put the brakes on a season that should have been rich in potential rewards, but now looks like fizzling out into one that will be remembered only for wasted opportunities, poor management and good, but ineffectual football in and around the box, without the requisite end product to deliver victory.
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