If ever a single game encapsulated an entire season, then for Liverpool, the 1-0 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion was exactly that: complete domination from the first to the final whistle, a barrage of shots on the opposing goal, visiting goalkeeper and defence performing heroically, easy chances not converted, woodwork hit repeatedly, then eventually undone by an individual error or a rare opposition attack; it is an all too familiar script for Liverpool, and one that is showing no sign of letting up anytime soon.
Far too often have Liverpool fans left Anfield scratching their collective heads in bewilderment, wondering how their team have failed to take all three points from the game. Yet whilst the Kop were scratching their heads in confusion, ex-Reds manager, Roy Hodgson, will have been rubbing his face with glee having somehow managed to steal a win on his first return to Anfield. A damning stat: during Hodgson’s half a year in charge of, he won six home league games, whilst this season the Reds have only won five at home under Dalglish.
Whilst some of Fleet Street’s finest will no doubt claim that this win is merely karma for the injustice Hodgson suffered when he was prematurely dismissed from Anfield last January – whilst conveniently forgetting that, despite losing today, Liverpool never showed the same ambition and control under his tenure than they did against West Brom – there was no real tactical master plan for the ‘Roy Hodgson for England’ brigade to fawn over; they got lucky, something Roy himself admitted after the game when he confessed that Liverpool were by far the better side and played extremely well.
Far too often have Liverpool fans left Anfield scratching their collective heads in bewilderment
The cliché ‘smash and grab’ was made for performances such as this one. Despite starting with two up front, West Brom showed no real ambition to test Liverpool - although on the rare occasions they did go forward they did force Pepe Reina in to a few fantastic saves – but overall they seemed content to sit back and take a point back down the M6, until Glen Johnson’s error late on gifted Peter Odemwingie a golden opportunity to open the scoring, which the Nigerian took clinically. Take nothing away from West Brom’s stubborn, resilient defending, though – but, had Liverpool converted even two of the twenty-nine chances they created against the Baggies, few would have argued that the Reds were worthy winners.
Still, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, Liverpool would still be in contention for a Champions League place. If a few of the 31 shots that have hit the woodwork this season we would be looking at their campaign in a completely different light. But they didn’t, and blaming bad luck was an excuse that wore thin well over six months ago; Liverpool have a serious problem in front of goal that goes way beyond luck, and questions need to be asked of the players and the staff. Liverpool lack the mental toughness that all good sides seem to have. The team lets their heads drop too easily, particularly if they go a goal behind - only once this season have the managed to win a league game after going behind – a Steven Gerrard inspired 3-1 win over Newcastle in December.
They have by far the worst conversion rate in the league, too. Luis Suarez is Liverpool’s top scorer with 14 goals in all competitions (though he has attempted 139 shots, of which only 59 were on target), and he is the only player who has managed at least 10 goals this season. Bellamy is next with 9 goals (49 shots, 17 on target), then Carroll (93 shots, 32 on target) and Gerrard (51 shots, 22 on target) both have 8 each, and Maxi has 6 goals (19 shots, 12 on target). Clearly, their profligacy would appear to be a combination of poor execution on the part of the players coupled with a complete lack of confidence. Is this being worked on in training? And if it is, why is it not resulting in us being more clinical?
The effort is there for the most part and chances are being created, but Liverpool continue to be wasteful
What is most frustrating, and perhaps most alarming for Liverpool fans, is that the players do not appear to have learnt from their mistakes. The effort is there for the most part and chances are being created, but Liverpool continue to be wasteful in front of goal and, as they no longer look at solid at the other end of the pitch as they did earlier in the season – largely due to the absence of Lucas Leiva - their continued failure to convert all this good football in to goals every week means they find themselves with only three league wins in 2012, and 16 points off fourth place.
The warning signs were in place very early on in the season, and the club chose not to try and solve their goalscoring woes in the January transfer window. The owners have, in the past, complained about a lack of value in the winter market, but both Everton with the signing of Nikica Jelavic, and Newcastle with the signing of Papiss Cisse, proved that to not be the case, and both strikers would have, based on their performances in the Premisership so far, catapulted Liverpool back in the Champions League race, but their refusal to spend all but put an end to any chance of fourth place months ago.
Liverpool’s superb winning run in the cups is in danger of being undone by their dire league form. Five wins in sixteen home league games this season is the sort of form you’d relate with teams fighting to stave off relegation. The solution to their problems appears to be something so simple to fix, yet that cow’s behind continues to elude the banjo. An instinctive striker must be top of Kenny Dalglish’s summer shopping list if Anfield is to play host to those world famous European nights in the foreseeable future, which was the club’s primary objective heading in to this season. Some of this side’s failures can be put down to being a team in transition, but the club’s owners showed they are not afraid to make big decisions if the goals they set out are not achieved.
And Kenny Dalglish knows better than most that nobody is bigger than the club.
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