Manchester United entertained fierce rivals, Liverpool at Old Trafford last night with a massive 21 points separating the two sides at kick-off and for 45 minutes, it certainly looked it. The hosts dominated the opening period and should have led by more than a solitary Robin Van Persie strike going into the break.
However, Liverpool rallied in the second half to put United under pressure and the 2-1 scoreline made sure that Sir Alex Ferguson's troops didn't have it all their own way. Nevertheless, the gulf in class over 90 minutes was evident and for the visitors, coming up short against another team in the top half of the table has been an all too familiar story.
United defeat highlights Liverpool's shortcoming
Comfortable 3-0, 0-3 and 4-0 wins over the likes of Sunderland, Queens Park Rangers (QPR) and Fulham of late have given the Anfield faithful a false sense of heightened progression. Yes, they certainly have taken significant strides forward under Brendan Rodgers, their style of play undoubtedly verifies that. However, the Northern Irishman's frequent hints at challenging for a top-four spot this season following some of those comfortable victories are misleading to say the least.
They have clearly struggled against sides that aren't inclined to roll over and there are a few obvious reasons why, the foremost of them being their wafer-thin squad. They lack cover in nearly every area of the pitch. Up until Daniel Sturridge's recent recruitment, the Merseyside outfit were criminally light in the striking department.
In order to win games against the best England’s top flight has to offer, you need to have options on the bench. Over the course of the season, youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Suso, Andre Wisdom and Jonjo Shelvey have regularly featured in the first team. They are budding young players no doubt but not one of them have a single season in its entirety under their belt.
Lacking in depth
Liverpool have especially struggled when having to fulfill their commitments in the Europa League this season. Their limited resources have made rotating the squad a tedious process and they have had to pay for that in points.
Perhaps their insufficient options have led to their next problem which is the absence of a plan B. Although Rodgers must be credited for introducing a more attractive style of play, he hasn’t shown much tactical flexibility as the Liverpool boss yet. He did employ a three-man defense away to Chelsea but that particular ploy failed to reap any benefits.
Apart from switching around personnel in a three-man central midfield, Rodgers has been fairly rigid with his tactics. Liverpool have stuck by their 4-3-3 formation regardless of whether they needed to throw caution to the wind or shut up shop. They have been desperately missing a plan B to dismantle the better sides - that is until now.
Liverpool finally have an alternative
Last night, Sturridge came on in the second half and made an immediate impact as the visitors switched to a 4-4-2 formation against United. This is not to say that the striker played out of his skin or to hail his introduction as a piece of tactical genius on Rodgers’ part but for the first time this season, Liverpool finally offered something different in attack.
Rodgers should nevertheless be commended for not playing it safe and sticking to his 4-3-3 system. He could have slotted Sturridge in the middle and asked Luis Suarez to play on the flank or vice-versa. Instead, he went with two upfront and the directness of Liverpool’s play coupled with the promising link-up play between the pair caused United all sorts of problems.
Sturridge’s goal, his second in as many appearances for his new club, is all the more welcoming because of the next reason to why Liverpool are yet to beat a top-ten team. Their over-reliance on Suarez has reached unhealthy levels. The Uruguayan is a brilliant player but not a natural goal-scorer or an accomplished finisher. Nevertheless, he has been forced to take up the goal-scoring mantle this season simply out of necessity.
Over-reliance on Suarez
It has led to a point where keeping the 25 year old quiet normally results in stifling the entire team. Suarez has been directly responsible for 59% of Liverpool’s goals during the current league campaign. Steven Gerrard (4) is the only other player to chip in with more than two goals. Sturridge will need to step up to the plate and deliver along with a couple of others if the Reds intend on finishing the season well.
Finally, the team have simply lacked character and resilience. It’s hard enough to incorporate youngsters in the team but some of the slightly more established players have never tasted success at this level either. Joe Allen, Fabio Borini, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson know very little of what it takes to sustain a winning streak.
Furthermore, their manager is not someone who’s been around the block and he doesn’t have the kind of winning mentality that can be instilled into his team. In actual fact, Rodgers has grown accustomed to managing a side punching above their weight during his time at Swansea City, Reading and Watford.
Still punching above his weight?
This kind of inferiority complex explains their hesitance to take the game to their opponents especially away from home. They were extremely negative in the first half against United and paid the price. They finally showed a sense of ambition when they were forced to chase the game and to their credit they gave the home side a run for their money. However, they probably should have started with that kind of ambition and intensity.
There are a few things that have kept Liverpool from beating a top-ten side this season but like most statistics of this nature, it is hardly relevant when the next game kicks-off. It is but an indication of their shortcomings so far and if addressed correctly, there’s no reason why this streak should prolong.
|What do you think Liverpool have lacked this season? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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