Liverpool Striker Void Sees Big Opportunity Go Begging
My wife stuck her head in the door as I typed and asked what I was doing.
“Trying to write a match report on the most boring game I’ve ever seen”, I replied.
I’m not sure the Liverpool/Sunderland non-event was actually the most boring game I’ve ever seen, I imagine that there have been cold Tuesday night League Cup ties that have been less entertaining but I’m damned if I can remember them. I couldn’t even claim that this was more soul sapping in its ordinariness due to the opportunity missed.
There was an opportunity missed; the opportunity to begin December as high in the table as sixth. The opportunity to close the gap on an equally under performing Arsenal - a club looking better than us but still wanting to sack their manager. The opportunity to close the gap on Chelsea to a mere…..oh yeah, that’s right, insurmountable and slightly less insurmountable isn’t a world of difference is it?
The real opportunity missed was the opportunity to pull in 9 points in a week without really looking like good value for more than half an hour in each game. Grinding out a 3-1 away win at Leicester was pleasing. The late winner against Stoke became more impressive with their first-half treatment of the aforementioned Gooners. We had ground to make up and morale to lift. We did neither. We weren’t poor as such, we just weren’t very good. It doesn’t matter how many times Coutinho and Sterling are given the ball to drive at defences if they look up and there’s no sign of a forward to play the ball in to.
God love Rickie Lambert, he’s led the line well the last couple of games, been a decent target, held the ball up well, brought others into the game, closed down the space between the central defenders. Against Sunderland he provided his most anonymous display to date.
Nothing up front. Nothing at all. We need two men at the head of the attack to pull defenders around, we currently have none. The introduction of Gerrard after the hour and Markovic (looking lively for the first time) around the 80 minute mark (I just typed 80 hour, which may be an accurate summation of how the afternoon felt) was right. The fact that they replaced Lallana and Coutinho - both of whom presented at least some kind of threat - rather than the ineffectual Jordan Henderson and Lambert was wrong. We’d have been substantially better off just ‘false nine-ing’ it all over the park, it would at least have given Sunderland something to think about, at least given us some movement.
Henderson? Suffering some kind of hangover from last season. Whether it’s the not winning the league, whether it’s the fact that his absence has been hailed as a reason that we didn’t win, wasting his summer on England’s latest farrago, the responsibility of the vice-captaincy weighing heavy on his shoulders or simply that he is far more effective in a diamond than as a ‘sort of holding/sort of not’ midfielder, we’re not seeing anything like the player that we saw last season. Take him out of the firing line, give him a rest, let him regroup, play Emre Can. Henderson will come good again but we’re not doing him any favours at the moment.
The old guard came out of this dreary mess best. Lucas was strong, Toure reliable enough to keep Lovren out for the time being and Gerrard was the key to us starting to play. His arrival saw the ball move further up the pitch, saw speed and dynamism and purpose arrive. It saw Sterling start to play, saw him running at men.
One moment of utter genius, a weaving run, a dart, a drop of the shoulder, a world class piece of work. With only Coutinho to pass to. Not a real finisher. Not a real forward. Because there wasn’t one on the pitch. Lallana may have converted but he’d left the pitch for Gerrard. Small details Brendan, it’s the small details that matter. The right substitutions involve two players not merely one, leave your threats on the pitch, take off the guys who aren’t threatening.
It was cold, it was dull, it was a wasted opportunity; just one more in a season of disappointment and under achievement. We’re not going to get better until we’ve got someone who can put the ball in the back of the net, someone who can be considered a threat at the top of the team.
Hope to God Brendan’s got one of those on his Christmas list.