My goodness, it’s been awhile since I wrote anything about Liverpool!
What a wild ride November was! We saw a sound 2-0 defeat at the hands of the table toppers from London, maybe the best Merseyside Derby match ever, a 3-1 loss to Hull City, and some convincing wins against the worst the EPL has to offer in between all of that. Luis Suarez continues to amaze us, Daniel Sturridge won’t be back any time soon, Glen Johnson IS back, Jon Flanagan is growing up before our eyes, and the center of the midfield could use a bit of a tune up.
Despite the losses to Arsenal and Hull City last month, Liverpool still find themselves tied for second with Chelsea while Manchester City, Everton, and Tottenham lurk close behind. As I write this Arsenal are squaring off against Everton, but even if the Gunners should lose the Reds would still be five points away from the top spot. That seems like a manageable deficit. But when you look at the upcoming schedule you’ll find that three of the next four are away to Spurs, Chelsea, and Manchester City with a visit from Cardiff City in between. Obviously 12 points from that stretch would go a long way towards keeping Liverpool in the title picture, but that’s a bit of a tough ask given how soundly Arsenal won and how much the whole team struggled against Hull.
If Liverpool are going to navigate these treacherous couple weeks before the January transfer window opens, they’ll need to address some issues.
Who Will Help Luis Suarez Score The Goals?
I’m the not world’s biggest Daniel Sturridge fan, but there can be no denying his has been in excellent form all season and his loss over the next month or so is a huge blow. In the West Ham game we saw Raheem Sterling put himself in position to score several times and fail to do so. He’s still only a teenager, but his performances over the last couple games haven’t exactly been encouraging. Victor Moses finds himself on the outside of the Starting XI looking in at the moment and Coutinho is much more of a playmaker than a goal scoring threat. Brendan Rodgers will likely look to the January window for help, but it could be too late by then. For now Liverpool will have to hope guys like Sterling and Moses can find some bit of form until then.
What Should Back 4 Look Like?
Coming into the season the back line consisted of Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, and Jose Enrique. Brendan Rodgers added Frenchman Mamadou Sakho and Ivorian Kolo Toure for depth and has recently turned to youngster Jon Flanagan at the left back position. In my eyes, Sakho has revealed himself to be the best defender on this team, but it’s unclear who should be starting alongside him. Agger, Toure, and Skrtel have all missed a game here and there with fitness issues and summer signing Tiago Illori doesn’t appear to be in Rodgers’ immediate plans. Flanagan has held his own recently, but his first surprise start in that pivotal loss to Arsenal revealed he may not be entirely prepared for the big stage. For now, I think the best combination is Johnson, Sakho, Agger, and Flanagan but it may be time to look for a different answer at left back.
Can The Central Midfielders Hold Up Over The Next Few Weeks?
To say Liverpool haven’t gotten anything out of their midfield this season is a bit of an understatement. Central midfield (or rather “the midfield” given Rodgers’ return to the 4-3-3) has been far and away the weakest part of this team. Arsenal ran roughshod over them in November and Spurs/Chelsea/City have midfielders more than capable of doing the same. Steven Gerrard continues to look like he’s losing a step, Lucas has been uncharacteristically inconsistent, Jordan Henderson can’t seem to take the next step, and Joe Allen is only just now getting consistent playing time. This may be the biggest need come January, but, again, it may be too late by then. If Liverpool are going to get points at White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge, and the Etihad Stadium, they’re going to need some inspirational performances from each of those individuals.
So Who’s The Best XI For The Grueling December Fixtures?
It’s going to take something special for Liverpool to escape this “road trip” over the next few weeks with enough points to remain in contention for the title. When I look up and down the roster I see a lot of youth and inexperience and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Aside from Coutinho, I’m not sure how many of the youngsters are prepared for the magnitude of these next few games. But Rodgers has to trot 11 guys out there, so let’s take a shot at it.
Johnson – Agger – Sakho – Flanagan
Henderson – Lucas – Gerrard
Coutinho – Suarez – Moses
I’m not wild about deploying Coutinho as a winger. If Daniel Sturridge is healthy, I’d rather have him in between Suarez and Moses up top with Coutinho as a “trequartista” in between them and a two man defensive midfield pairing of Lucas and Gerrard. But that’s not the case and I don’t think Sterling should be starting even if he is more of a true winger. I like the idea of Johnson getting forward to link up with Coutinho with Henderson in support while Flanagan and Moses can feel confident being on the same side of the field as Gerrard.
It’s clear this team needs help come January, but their title hopes may already be decided by then. There are a couple silver linings though. Spurs look very uninspiring of late. Chelsea aren’t quite what they used to be and can’t seem to find a consistent goal scorer up top. The most daunting game is the trip to Manchester where Manuel Pellegrini’s side have been utterly unstoppable. But they’ve struggled mightily on the road so there’s opportunities for them to slip up between now and then. If Liverpool can take nine points from Spurs, Cardiff, and Chelsea then perhaps the Manchester game won’t be as crucial.
The loss to Arsenal was huge, but the rest of December still presents a number of golden opportunities for Liverpool to get back into the title race. We’ll find out very quickly whether or not this current roster has what it takes.
“Walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone!”