Liverpool fan Stephen O’Leary laments another poor Liverpool performance and questions Steven Gerrard’s influence on the side.
It’s a strange feeling this, having a vested interest in the midweek madness of the Champions League once again.
It returned to Anfield two weeks ago with the visit of Ludogorets, but from the muted atmosphere in the stadium you might have mistaken it for a humdrum Europa League encounter. The performance was none too exciting either, as we made what should have been the easiest game in the group look far too difficult.
The last time we were in this fabled tournament, the 2009-2010 season, Ludogorets were still an amateur club. Let that one sink in for a moment.
Last night was possibly even worse. Not even the fact that we lost, but the continued lack of urgency in our play is worrisome. Steven Gerrard said afterwards that Basel wanted it more. Surely that shouldn’t be the case. It’s been five seasons since we’ve played in the Champions League and we have no desire to do well?
That effort was lacking in most players on the pitch, and that isn’t good enough. Sterling, by far our best in attack so far this season, had an off night. Balotelli was quiet again and Markovic still hasn’t shown enough to justify his €20 million price tag.
Henderson, thankfully, was his usual energetic self and covered more ground than anyone else. For me, he’s now the most important part of the team. Manquillo impressed me going forward, but was regularly exposed at right back. So too was Enrqiue on the other side, but then again you can’t say our full backs get much protection from our midfielders, do they? That brings us nicely back to our skipper.
When people talk about Gerrard playing as a defensive midfielder, the buzz-phrase used is his “range of passing”. In theory, it’s a great idea. Further back he has more space to pick out passes and he doesn’t have to run as much with those 34-year-old legs. It worked a treat most of last year, but this year teams have caught on to it and are essentially man marking him.
Most teams have a number 10 type player who would be in the same area of the pitch anyway, so it isn’t that difficult to tell that player just to stick on Gerrard when Liverpool have the ball. It severely limits his effect on the game, such as last week against Everton (just as an aside: Phil Jagielka? Really? Conceding was always a danger after failing to add another goal, but it was inconceivable that he, of all people, would pop up to smack one home like that).
My question is this: is it worth playing Gerrard there if it is that easy to curb his influence? Should we use him more sparingly, like Chelsea did with Lampard? At least we know, from that excellent free kick, that he still has a huge role to play for us.
West Brom are next up before we break for the internationals. Any prediction is dangerous really, but the pessimist in me can only assume we’ll make hard work of it again. This season, outside of the Spurs match (our only good performance to date), we have not had a clean sheet nor have we scored more than twice in a match.
The optimist in me (still going strong since last season) is expecting a much improved performance. The derby had us on the right track; chances were created and the defence was fairly solid. If we discount the poor showing last night, we can certainly be hopeful of more improvement.
Just a stray observation, but our old favourite Jamie Carragher recently had a Q&A session on Twitter (@Carra23). Some interesting topics in there, including Carra’s thoughts on Mignolet, who he would love to sign for us, and, of course, if he saw the Neville brothers fighting, what snack he’d be eating. Interesting reading indeed!
Stephen O’Leary, Pundit Arena.