Liverpool’s season has yet to take off. Two months into the 2014/15 campaign they sit in an underwhelming fifth place, below the expectations of many of their supporters who carried renewed hope that they could be in the title mix come May next year.
The season is still in its infancy, and it should be noted that there is time for Brendan Rodgers’ side to get themselves in contention again this time around. However, being nine points off leaders Chelsea is a little worrying for a side that is seemingly struggling to move on post-Luis Suarez.
Liverpool, who beat Queens Park Rangers nine days ago 3-2, were fortunate to take all three points. The game witnessed four goals in the final three minutes, in a crazy conclusion that grabbed the immediate headlines. However, the root of the problem appears to run deeper than Liverpool’s present inability to keep a clean sheet.
This problem resurfaced midweek as they were decimated by European champions Real Madrid in the Champions League. Although the 3-0 loss was not as heavy as some other results around Europe, the gulf in class between the two sides was clear to see, and should be particularly worrying for Liverpool fans.
In many respects, it could be argued that the Reds have yet to recover from their hangover following the conclusion of last season, where they stood on the brink of their first ever Premier League title only to then fall agonisingly short. Every football fan remembers Steven Gerrard’s decisive slip in the game against Chelsea that led to Demba Ba’s winning goal. Even now, the Liverpool captain is at the centre of taunts from opposition fans, and the slip is seen as the moment which effectively handed the title to Manchester City. Even still, finishing as runners-up was a creditable achievement for a Liverpool side that hadn’t finished in the top four since the days of Rafael Benitez, but more was expected this time around to see if they could firmly kick on.
To some extent, their big problem has been trying to reproduce the phenomenal partnership that Daniel Sturridge and Suarez shared last season. Any team would struggle to replace the goals the Uruguayan scored, and while he is a controversial figure given, amongst other things, his tendency to bite opponents, Liverpool simply have not found a replacement following his big money move to Barcelona.
Sturridge himself has seen his campaign to this point blighted by injuries, and a certain Mario Balotelli has not produced the goods expected of him. He was also the subject of sustained criticism following his glaring miss in the late stages of the win at Loftus Road, and while Rodgers has publicly backed the Italian to begin scoring, it is a worry for those connected with Liverpool.
It is Sturridge’s absence, combined with Balotelli’s barren start to life at Anfield that, if anything, has put more pressure on the likes of Raheem Sterling, Rickie Lambert and Philippe Coutinho to deliver the goals.
Last season Liverpool were scoring for fun, but they had one of the worst defensive records in the league for a side in the top half. The acquisition of Dejan Lovren from Southampton was made with shoring up a vulnerable back-line in mind. While he has thus far proved to be a promising signing, the jury (rightly or wrongly) is still out on Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Rodgers’ big conundrum is that Liverpool’s play was based upon ball retention and possession football. This, combined with a devastating ability to hit teams on the break led them to have one of the most feared and potent attacking forces in the top flight. In many ways this shrouded some of their defensive deficiencies. Without a regular goal scorer so far this term, the defense has been horribly exposed.
So far this season Liverpool have at times been careless with the ball. While the aforementioned Stirling and Coutinho, as well as Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and the skipper Gerrard provide enough attacking impetus, no system can be effective if you’re constantly losing possession.
Injuries have left Liverpool with forced changes. Teams have adjusted and have been able to neutralise some of their attacking threat by employing a high pressing game.
Liverpool currently sit in a reasonable position, just outside the Champions League places and have had to come to terms with the absence of Sturridge, who leaves a void (like Suarez), that has yet to be filled. It is certainly too early to write them off.
Football is a game that is constantly changing. It is this wisdom that Rodgers should use as inspiration to try to overhaul the nine-point deficit they currently trail pace-setters Chelsea by. Nine-points adrift may not be ideal, but it is not impossible to overturn, particularly at this early juncture in the season.
Liverpool still have the credentials to push for the title. In the meantime, they must begin to hit their stride now, not in a few months down the line, or else they may find it leaves them in an insurmountable position where their hopes of winning the league will be well and truly over.