Tuesday, 7 April 2015

What went wrong and where do we go from here?

It’s been a tough few weeks for Liverpool. Defeat against Manchester United at the end of March was the worst way imaginable to enter the international break, while comments from Raheem Sterling regarding his on-going contractual negotiations have not been helpful in the least, providing an unnecessary off-field distraction.

In light of that United defeat, getting something against Arsenal on Easter Saturday was crucial for the Reds’ hopes of Champions League qualification. Had Liverpool at least drawn with United, a point at the Emirates might not have been a bad result, but what Rodgers’ men really needed was a win.

It was always going to be a tough task at a venue where Liverpool have historically struggled. Few could have foreseen the complete collapse that occurred on Saturday lunchtime, though. Admittedly Arsenal were on top form, as Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud all found the net in a comprehensive 4-1 victory, but Liverpool were as bad as their hosts were brilliant.

The day after Goof Friday was a bad day for Liverpool fans
In fact, the Reds were so poor that a very long list could be written detailing in great depth where they went wrong, but here are the three main things that went wrong against Arsenal.

Defensive disaster

Liverpool’s defence has improved hugely recently, but it reverted back to the bad old days of earlier in the season on Saturday, utterly undermining the visitor’s efforts. Having not conceded away from home in the League since the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford in December, the defence capitulated and conceded that number of goals in the first 45 minutes at the Emirates.

Kolo Toure was particularly awful, routinely giving the ball away and inviting pressure from the high-pressing hosts. Wing back was also a problem area, as Jordan Henderson, pushed out to right wing back to accommodate the returning Lucas, clearly looked uncomfortable, while describing Moreno’s defending for Bellerin’s opener as school-boy would be paying the Spaniard a huge favour.

Moreno was beaten far too easily for Bellerin's goal
Also, although he made a few good saves to avoid an even more embarrassing result, Mignolet had to do better with Ozil’s free kick. There’s no way that should be beating him.

All in all, it was a very bad day in the office for Liverpool’s defence, which clearly missed Martin Skrtel. The absence of Emre Can against Blackburn following his red card against Arsenal only depletes the Reds’ defensive resources further, and Brendan Rodgers might want to consider reverting to a back four, as he did with some success in the second half against the Gunners.

Costly missed chances

At this level, and against top teams like Arsenal, missing golden goalscoring chances will always cost you dearly, and that well-established fact proved true once again on the weekend. Liverpool’s profligacy in front of goal is reflected in the statistics. Only 2 of their 13 shots were on target, which is pathetic in comparison to Arsenal, who managed to get 10 of their 16 shots on target.

The most costly missed chance came on roughly 20 minutes. Liverpool had weathered an early storm and were coming back into the game when Lazar Markovic went clear through on Ospina’s goal. Instead of shooting, as he should have done, the 21-year old Serb squared to Sterling, who wasn’t expecting a pass and therefore couldn’t quite stretch far enough to get a toe to it and turn home.

Sterling should have given Liverpool the lead
It was a terrible spurned opportunity at a crucial time of the game. Had the Merseysiders taken the lead at that stage, the game could have taken on an entirely different complexion. As it was, the chance was wasted and Arsenal went on to dominate and all too easily claim three crucial points.

Lack of leadership

With Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel both picking up suspensions for stupid stamps against United, a youthful Liverpool lacked the leaders necessary to provide the grit that helps teams get through tough times in matches against the best sides.

Kolo Toure could have taken the leadership mantle, as he did spectacularly in Madrid earlier in the season in similarly adverse circumstances, but instead put in one of the poorest performances of the season.

Toure was useless against his former employers
Jordan Henderson also still lacks the air of authority of a natural leader, although it admittedly didn’t help that he was given the graveyard shift on the right wing.

Nobody else looked like stepping forward and taking the lead, either, which is a particularly worrying fact that both Brendan Rodgers and FSG should seek to address. Perhaps they need to modify their transfer strategy in order to ensure that youthful potential is balanced with the experienced leaders needed to pick up points in big matches against top four rivals, which is something that Liverpool have really struggled to do this season.

Where do we go from here?

All of that makes for particularly grim reading. That is because Liverpool’s situation is fairly grim, though, as they are now seven points behind fourth with seven games remaining. As a result, their hopes of Champions League qualification are all but over.

The FA Cup now therefore assumes much greater importance, as winning it would be a great way to salvage something from this season. Liverpool have to overcome Blackburn Rovers in the quarter-final replay tomorrow night and then beat Tim Sherwood’s improving Aston Villa side in the semis to set up a final against Arsenal, in all likelihood, on the 30th May.

Some revenge against Wenger’s men and Cup success would be sweet.


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