Liverpool: Cardiff Win Proved We're More Than Just Counter Attackers & More Things We Learnt
Watching Liverpool this season has been both exhausting and exhilarating for fans of the Merseyside club. The irrepressible attack though pleasing on the eye, isn’t a luxury, but a genuine necessity at times with the red’s defence so prone to costly individual errors. Yet despite such maladroit defending, Liverpool have developed a notable arrogance this season, safe in the knowledge that their relentless attack will more often than not, compensate for any mistakes made at the back.
The reds’ victory at Cardiff means Rodgers’ side have now put together six consecutive wins, the first time any Liverpool team has managed such a positive run in the league since the 05/06 season eight long years ago. With only eight games left to play they’re the Premier League’s form side and with a fit and firing Suarez on hand to inspire them, Liverpool can win the title.
Here’s what we learnt from another dizzying yet productive away performance from Rodgers’ side on Saturday.
1. Diamonds aren’t forever
Whilst Rodgers’ decision to employ a diamond against Manchester Utd was a smart one given that Moyes’ team is one with a lack of genuine width, it proved ineffectual against Cardiff. During the opening 20 minutes it became clear that a diamond wouldn’t work against the 3-4-1-2 that Solskjaer had set his team out in. Cardiff’s wingbacks got a lot of joy capitalising on a nervous start from Liverpool and sloppy passing from Allen and Flanagan enabled the hosts to attack productively down the reds’ left flank.
As well as the initial period of sloppy passing and trepidation on the ball, the pressing that proved so effective last week against Utd was also nowhere to be seen. Under pressure from the pace of Bellamy and Frazier Campbell, Liverpool’s defence dropped deep leaving far too much space between them and the midfield for Cardiff to counter into. Once Rodgers’ reverted back to a more familiar 4-3-3 his defence were able to squeeze the space to greater effect, greatly diminishing Cardiff’s counter attacking threat.
2. Skrtel’s scoring big goals
Following his brace against Cardiff no defender in the Premier League has scored more goals than the Slovakian centre-back, a quite remarkable turn around in fortunes for a player whom many thought was set to leave Liverpool last summer. Skrtel has had plenty of critics over the last few seasons and rightly so, with a number of positional/technical individual errors leading directly to poorly conceded goals. However, despite Skrtel’s well known shortcomings as a defender, Rodgers has made a conscious effort to publically back the centre back whenever the opportunity arises. This man management of the previous maligned Slovakian has seen him perform with great confidence this season and when Skrtel is aggressive and proactive in his defending he’s an extremely effective option. Showing the instincts of a centre forward for his first goal, which drew Liverpool level for a second time, he then attacked Coutinho’s corner well glancing a header in for his second. Scoring 27 set piece goals this season, Rodgers’ side have added another perhaps unexpected facet to their game that has proved vitally important in many of their victories this campaign.
3. Liverpool aren’t just a counter attacking side
Prior to the game, Cardiff boss Solskjaer praised Liverpool as one of the most exciting attacking sides to watch in Europe, noting their ability to suck teams in then counter quickly and effectively. Whilst Solskjaer certainly wasn’t wrong about the way Liverpool have demolished certain teams this season, his suggestion also seemed to imply that the reds’ attacking game was far simpler than it actually is. The Dane’s reductive view of Liverpool’s attack was repeatedly proved wrong against Cardiff on Saturday where Rodgers’ side showed their ability to patiently pass their way through a compact defensive set-up. Suarez’s first goal was preceded by 25 passes before Johnson provided the final ball and the Uruguayan’s second goal was the culmination of a 30 pass move finished off brilliantly with a backheel assist from Sturridge. Whilst Liverpool also displayed their counter-attacking prowess yesterday with late goals to further punish Cardiff, this team has shown it has a variety of ways to score regardless of shape and personnel.
4. It was nice of the old Glen Johnson to turn up
This season, Johnson has often looked a shadow of his former self. Whilst his positional defensive lapses have long been acknowledged, the Liverpool right back often used to make up for such shortcomings with his attacking contributions. Since the second half of the 12/13 season Johnson has been in a sustained period of poor form, he’s looked hesitant on the ball, ineffective going forward and disinterested in defending. Following his return from injury Johnson’s performances have gradually improved with his solid showing against Utd being backed up with a competent attacking display yesterday against Cardiff. The right-back’s overlapping runs were a constant threat for Cardiff, and he provided an effective attacking outlet for the reds, two of his low crosses leading to goals for Suarez. Although such a return to form has been long overdue a fit and focussed Johnson may prove an important asset to Liverpool in the final games of the season, with his combination play with Sterling an obvious advantage.
5. Liverpool’s defence will need a leader next season
Despite what eventually turned out to be another resounding away win for Rodgers’ side, the defensive lapses that led to Liverpool conceding three poor goals should rightly concern the reds’ boss. With two clean sheets in the previous games you’d be forgiven for thinking Liverpool’s defence may have sorted itself out, however, a relentless spate of individual errors has plagued the back four all season. Yesterday it was Agger’s turn, with two positional lapses leading to free attempts on goal for the Cardiff forwards, who at times couldn’t believe their luck. Sakho’s authoritative cameo prior to his injury in December offered a glimpse of what’s needed for Liverpool’s defence to become a solid unit again, his proactive defending well suited to Rodgers’ style of play. With Agger seemingly unable to string a consistent run of performances together and Rodgers’ conspicuously quiet in his backing of the Danish captain, it’s highly likely that Sakho will take his place permanently in the summer.
6. Rodgers has turned Liverpool into a relentless goal machine
Okay, so this isn’t necessarily something we’ve learnt, with Liverpool’s attacking threat well known for most of the season, however, it’s a point worthy of repetition. Where Chelsea and City have recently made hard work of dispatching the league’s poorer sides, Liverpool have annihilated teams, frequently making a mockery of suggestions that a defence is essential for a sustained title challenge. Despite the tedious simplicity of media coverage surrounding Liverpool’s SAS the partnership between Sturridge and Suarez is developing with every game and shows no signs of diminishing in terms of its productivity. Sturridge has 19 goals in 22 appearances and would easily be Liverpool’s player of the season if it weren’t for the record-breaking performances of Luis Suarez who now has 28 goals in 25 appearances, whilst contributing 11 assists. Currently leading the way in the race for Europe’s ‘Golden Boot’, signs that Suarez’s goalscoring form has picked up again following a relative dry spell in early March should act as an ominous warning to the club’s title rivals.