With Liverpool struggling and chelsea prospering this season, encapsulated in the Reds’ 2-1 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s men at Anfield last Saturday, Colin Keane looks at the differences in attack between the Blues and the Reds.
Last weekend’s instalment of the Premier League provided a number of talking points. Potentially costly slips from Manchester City and Arsenal along with Manchester United’s continued inability to get their vast array of attacking options to gel made for interesting watching.
Southampton’s phenomenal season continues, though their fixture list is about to get a great deal harder with all three of the aforementioned clubs coming up in the next four games.
A special day for Burnley, who recorded their first win this season, contrasted with a pitiful performance from Steve Bruce’s Hull City.
However, it was Saturday’s early kick-off which provided the bulk of this weekend’s headlines. Liverpool losing at home to Chelsea highlighted just how far teams can rise and fall in a short period of months, and how vital the transfer window can be.
With the exception of a red card, this game had it all. The lack of a dismissal was not for want of trying either as Diego Costa and Martin Skrtel benefitted from an extremely lenient referee as far as they were concerned. Seven yellow cards, three goals, two handball shouts and the use of goal-line technology in the awarding of a goal made for some riveting viewing.
It was, however, the stark contrast between these two team’s front men that provided one of the more interesting talking points. The much praised Diego Costa and the much vilified Mario Balotelli epitomised their respective teams in many ways. Both are summer signings, both imposing centre forwards, both fiery on the pitch but this is where the similarities end.
Diego Costa has already justified his £32 million price tag. He is the piece of the puzzle Jose Mourinho was looking for last season and his ten goals in nine league games have made him a Stamford Bridge favourite in record time. His performance against Liverpool reflected his team’s overall performance.
Solid, controlled and rarely in trouble, Chelsea and Costa frustrated Liverpool. Chelsea’s midfield gave the impression that it could pass around the home team all day and Costa drove Liverpool’s defence to distraction.
His prowess in defence was highlighted again as Chelsea defended as a team, putting their bodies on the line to prevent threats from any rare chances Liverpool managed to conjure.
Costa links up extremely well with his midfield and most importantly he is a top class finisher, not lacking in confidence. The arrival of Costa to the Bridge has given Chelsea the boost they need to control this year’s Premier League. The transition may very well be over for Mourinho. Brendan Rodgers’ transition is just starting.
Last year’s Liverpool team was exceptional by their recent standards. The loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona and injury to Daniel Sturridge has almost eradicated the good work done by Rodgers last season. The substantial investment in new players hasn’t worked out quite yet and their new star forward is on a career trajectory that screams failure.
With Mario Balotelli there is no doubt he’s one of the most talented players in the world. Regardless of his attitude or age, it is clear he won’t live up to this billing if something doesn’t change for him. Saturday’s abject display highlighted that he cannot be relied upon at Liverpool.
His attitude mirrored that of the Liverpool collective. Frustrated, lacking in cohesive creative play and devoid of confidence. At times this season Balotelli has been used successfully as a scapegoat to cover up for Liverpool’s defensive and creative frailties with Real Madrid’s visit to Anfield being the prime example.
Criticism for shirt swapping belied the poor defensive organisation of Liverpool that night, albeit against possibly the best attacking team in Europe. Last weekend at Anfield, Balotelli and Liverpool could not hide their weaknesses anymore as Chelsea exploited them with some ease.
Chelsea’s dominant start and continued momentum could serve as an excuse for Liverpool this time but a change needs to occur, and quickly. Brendan Rodgers has the international break to find some solutions to their problems. After taking a risk on Mario he must include the 24-year-old in his plans.
It seems clear Balotelli is not capable of playing as a lone striker for Liverpool. The imminent return of Daniel Sturridge may provide a possible solution to this problem as Sturridge isn’t a game-changer on his own either. Playing them as a partnership may be the only viable option if Liverpool are to make strides for the top four, the title being out of their reach already.
No doubt this was at the forefront of Rodgers’ mind when he brought in Balotelli but Liverpool’s problems are not limited to striking partnerships. Their midfield was woefully inadequate in meeting the threat Chelsea posed. Over the course of the season their midfield has hardly oozed confidence in any game.
Two exceptions to this rule were evident against Chelsea, with Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho providing pace and an attacking threat, which Liverpool failed to capitalise on. Perhaps if the bench-warming Rickie Lambert had started up front with Balotelli they may have had more joy in and around the box.
Sacrificing Jordan Henderson for the more attack-minded Adam Lallana is an option many Liverpool fans might consider a positive step toward the attacking side they grew used to last season.
With Gerrard sitting in front of the back four, the team has an experienced leader to marshal the defensive responsibilities of the midfield.
Pushing Coutinho and Sterling out to the wings and slotting Lallana in the number 10 role, behind some combination of Balotelli, Lambert or Sturridge gives a much wider range of attacking options as well as pace throughout the midfield. This also allows for more defensive options off the bench if required.
There is no doubt Brendan Rodgers is an excellent manager. He has been hampered by injuries and he’s freely admitted his team are lacking confidence but everyone’s favourite bad boy is not the main issue.
Balotelli may love the attention but there is no doubt much of his frustration is down to a poor midfield. Being the lone front man may not be helping either.
Maybe he’s growing up and has realised he can’t do it all alone. Whatever it is, if Mario and Liverpool don’t start winning soon their Champions League adventures may be restricted to this one year and a return to the wilderness of Europa League football could beckon once more.
Colin Keane, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Ben Sutherland from Crystal Palace, London, UK (DSC01448) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons