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Jan 012014

Out with the old, in with the new!

Liverpool failed to earn any points in their final two matches of 2013, but did take the full three points on the first day of 2014. Without further ado, I have three observations after the completion of all three matches.

Observation #1: Liverpool aren’t good enough to win the title

At the start of December I said that the four December matches, three of which were on the road against teams in the top half of the table, would show us whether or not Liverpool are currently title contenders. They crushed Tottenham and Cardiff, but failed to take any points from their trips to Manchester City and Chelsea. The Reds deserved at least a point against City, but really never looked like they had a chance against Chelsea.

The good  news is that they continue to take care of business against lesser sides (including their 2-0 win over Hull on New Years Day) and they are still very much alive in the race for a Champions League spot. Not only that, but they will also face Arsenal, City, and Chelsea at home in the second half of the season.

You can’t lose against both City and Chelsea and hope to come out on top, but a Top 4 place is still a very achievable goal.

Observation #2: Defenders and midfielders are the priority in the January window

With Luis Suarez on fire, Philippe Coutinho getting better each game, and Daniel Sturridge due back soon there is little need for reinforcements up top. However, the matches against City and Chelsea revealed some serious flaws in the back line and the central midfield.

In the back, it seems as if either Martin Skrtel or Daniel Agger will need to be sold. I’m partial due to Agger. Skrtel has shown some lapses in judgment on set pieces and doesn’t really have the technical ability to play the way Brendan Rodgers wants to play. Agger is more confident on the ball and a little bit smarter when it comes to man marking. Since we haven’t seen much of Tiago Illori this season, it would seem a new purchase is in order. I don’t have too many ideas at the moment, but a quality center back would be a huge help going forward.

In the midfield, Steven Gerrard returns but continues to look half a step too slow as he gets older. Lucas has done very well in his newfound “sweeper” role in between the back line and the rest of the midfield. I’m growing less and less confident about Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson. The former hasn’t shown as much this season as the latter, but I’m starting to think that neither is fit to help this team contend for a title going forward. Allen doesn’t seem to have the technical ability to link up with the likes of Suarez and Coutinho. Henderson works his tail off, but he also seems to make the bad pass or fail to convert a good scoring opportunity at the worst possible time. It felt like the games against City and Chelsea were too big for him and although he continues to improve this season, you have to wonder if he’ll ever get the confidence needed to raise his game in high stakes matches.

I’m not so sure US international Michael Bradley wouldn’t be a good fit. Yes, I’m biased but I’ve also seen him play quite a bit and he has the intelligence and confidence to help stop opposing teams before they can even get to Lucas. He’s also an underrated deep lying playmaker. A midfield trio of Lucas, Bradley, and Gerrard going forward would commit very few bad passes that give up possession in a bad place.

Observation #3: Simon Mignolet isn’t an upgrade over Pepe Reina

This seems a bit obvious (and a bit harsh) after he gave up two soft goals to Alvaro Negredo and Samuel Eto’o, but if a title is the ultimate goal, you cannot have a keeper who is going to give up such goals. Nobody seems to truly appreciate good goalkeeping, but if Liverpool are going to contend for a title in the next few years, Mignolet will need to stamp out any such goals altogether.

I’m not sure a new purchase in the January window is necessary, but the position is worth keeping an eye on going forward.

Adam Uthe

VP of Content Development for GFT and proud supporter of Columbus Crew (MLS) and Liverpool FC (EPL). @AUtheGFT

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