Despite my love of saying ‘I told you so’ I’m not claiming I know more about football management than Kenny Dalglish or Steve Clarke. Yet after weeks of pleading in various articles on this very organ, I, along with a vast majority of Liverpool fans, got our wish of Suarez, Bellamy and Kuyt starting a match together with the compact Maxi thrown in as a fourth musketeer to hit Chelsea on the break and disrupt their rhythm. Even allowing for Chelsea’s 20 minutes of dominance in the second-half, only a fool would say it didn’t work. In constantly switching possession, chasing everything, forming neat triangles and trusting each other, the four of them dizzied Chelsea and left David Luiz looking more mentally unhinged than his doppelganger, Sideshow Bob. But what else did we learn?
Intelligent forward play is the first line of defence
Football fans, and I include myself in this, are often guilty of praising effort over intelligence. We ask forwards to run for every lost cause, midfielders to never be seen standing still and full-backs to occupy the entire length of the pitch. Bellamy and Suarez put in a considerable amount of work today, but it was their intelligence as the first line of defence that really caught the eye. Rather than constantly get on top of Luiz and Terry and run themselves to a standstill, they adopted a classic pressure/cover defensive position. When one closed down the space in front of a centre half and stopped him playing wide, the other would drop in the hole and stop the ball coming through the middle to Mikel and Lampard. On several occasions in the first-half Terry and Luiz hit three or four square passes, got frustrated with the lack of advancement, and were forced to pump long balls towards Drogba which were gobbled up by Agger and Skrtel and recycled quickly to the front four.
Glen Johnson should play right-midfield
I’m not going to rehash the article I wrote last weekend regarding Glen Johnson, but today’s match-winner remains suspect at the back. He struggles positionally and there were too many occasions in that worrying second-half period when he was too close to his centre-halves and lost Malouda. If Malouda could finish, the scoreline could’ve have been a lot different. Johnson has what it takes to play wide-right, especially at home when we have more space to play in and his ability to beat the opposing full-backs both inside and out would help us stretch deep-lying opposition defences.
Charlie Adam had his best game
There have been times this season when Adam’s reliance on Hollywood balls and sloppiness in possession have had me screaming red murder. Today marked his best performance. He played more simple 5-yard passes than he has all season, regularly went backwards to start again rather than trying to force the issue and his decisions on when and where to tackle showed a marked improvement. Him and Lucas ran the midfield when it was 2v2 and complemented each other positionally. He was getting hammered on Twitter in the second-half when his legs looked to have gone, but in reality Liverpool were three against two with the laborious Mikel having been replaced and he soon re-found the pace when Henderson came on, not least with his raking ball for Johnson’s goal.
Torres didn’t want to leave Liverpool
Warming up on the sideline, Torres looked like he was going to cry. Perhaps it was his close proximity to the club stalwart who allegedly drummed him out of the club because of a spat in a derby last year. Whatever the reason, Torres looks lost, and rather than revel in this I’m left to wonder at Liverpool’s attacking potency had both Meireles and Torres stayed. We miss Meirleses ability to run beyond the strikers and I’m sure, deep down, even the hardest of Liverpool fans would have preferred to see Suarez and Torres playing up front together. I don’t believe he’ll rediscover his form until he leaves Chelsea and England altogether. Or returns to Liverpool, which will never happen.
Bellamy and Suarez should start every league game
As excellent as they were defensively, it their attacking rapport which had me bulging at the crotch. I can see no good reason why Carroll should ever start a league game ahead of Bellamy. With him just behind Suarez and making those untrackable runs around the back of full-backs Liverpool look a top four side. Defenders must hate the sight of them, two angry wasps running at them with the ball, buzzing around their feet, talking to them non-stop and displaying impeccable quality and decision making in the vital areas. The first goal was a case in point. Players with less footballing intelligence (see Kuyt late in the second-half) would’ve shot rather than squaring to Maxi, but Bellamy never even considered it. Apart from City and to a lesser extent United, the top 7 look very well-matched and the race for Champions League places will not be won by hammering the Wigan’s 5-0 at a canter, but by having players who know what to do and when to do it in the tight games. I said when Bellamy signed that he was the best free transfer in European football, I just didn’t know then that he could be the catalyst to make sure we got back into it.
And so should Agger and Skrtel.
It’s a fact that, since Carragher got injured, Liverpool have tightened up defensively. Without the constant injury problems of the heavily-tattooed pair, this is a partnership that, on paper, should've rivalled Rio and Vidic in their pomp. Yes, Skrtel should probably score more goals, but they complement each other perfectly. Agger is one of the best ball playing defenders in Europe and Skrtel is a muck-and-bullets type of player. Quick enough to deal with most, he made the right decisions today, clearing when he had to, heading wide rather than centrally and not steaming in on every occasion. Agger was calmness personified, you almost didn’t notice him. If one of these two gets injured again Liverpool are in trouble. Carra has lost his final bit of pace and looks suspect, Coates needs a season of cup games and reserve encounters to get up to speed and Kelly still isn’t sure of his best position. With that in mind, I’d like us to sign a top-level centre-back aged 25-27 in January to put pressure on the two of them and perhaps force them to play on with the kind of niggles that centre-halves will always struggle with.
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