First Impressions And Disproving Assumption
There have been far, far, far too many games recently in which the defeat has seemed inevitable. Too many matches when a loss or a draw have been frustrating not because they’ve seemed undeserved, but because you could see it coming from a mile away.
There have been more occasions than most would care to admit to when the revelation of the team sheet has resulted in a slight rolling of the eyes and a shrugging of the shoulders. When seeing Alberto Moreno’s name in the left back slot or Simon Mignolet in goal has caused a feeling of apathy owing to repeatedly poor performances.
In other words, the wheels have come off the league campaign and it’s been difficult to really and truly get behind the team that Jurgen Klopp’s been picking with such unnerving regularity.
There’s something to be said about books, covers and judging them. The same thing can easily be said about the team that Klopp picked past night, with Twitter going into standard meltdown mode as soon as it was announced. The fear was that a physical West Ham side would make fools of Liverpool’s more inexperienced players, as though the supposed ‘first XI’ has been non-stop brilliant this season when up against the Hammers.
To say that the second string gave a good account of themselves would be an understatement. Even Simon Mignolet only messed up a couple of times rather than his usual double-figured amount. The centre-back pairing of Lucas and Thiago Illori was definitely cause for concern before kick off, with the former only having played the role fleetingly in the past and the latter hardly looking the strongest their in recent times.
Couldn’t understand Klopp using Lucas at CB in the last few months but looks like he was right! #Colossus
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) February 9, 2016
Yet both excelled, with Lucas in particular really impressing in a position that you could easily see become his future if he remains at Liverpool. He isn’t the tallest player at 5’ 9 so he goes against Paul Tomkins’ theory that the Reds need some commandingly tall players at the back. Yet he seemed to win virtually every header he went up for, something that he’s also done against players like Marouane Fellaini in the past.
Right now I would much rather see Lucas’ name on the team sheet in the centre-back slot than Mamadou Sakho’s, for example, and I really rate Sakho as a player. The same could be said for Illori over Dejan Lovren or Martin Skrtel. If Lucas was imperious then Illori was steady – something that shouldn’t be sniffed at at the moment. Likewise Jon Flanagan will never set the world alight, but what he does offer is a degree of dependability in a back four that is constantly all over the place.
Is there really a £12m difference in the abilities of Brad Smith and Alberto Moreno? Not from what we have seen this season.
— Dominic King (@DominicKing_DM) February 9, 2016
Brad Smith was excellent in the left back spot – or at least relatively so when you compare his performance to those produced by Alberto Moreno in recent times. He is lightening fast and was causing West Ham’s defence problems time and time again. In a world where Liverpool challenged for the title with Aly Cissokho in the full-back position and Djimi Traore has a Champions League winner’s medal, is it about time we realised we’re perhaps putting too much stock into the importance of having flair players in the back line and instead opted to have players who can just do a job?
In the middle of the park Kevin Stewart and Pedro Chirivella gave excellent accounts of themselves. Stewart in particular should be immensely proud of his performance and Jurgen Klopp might have been given some food for thought over his midfield options by the former Spurs man. With Lucas looking increasingly out of his depth in the defensive midfield role thanks to his advancing years and his lack of pace, Stewart looks like a ready made replacement who will improve with guidance and if played alongside a more mature set of players than he was placed with last night.
Played well there, had to dig in at times. Kevin Stewart has been everywhere. He’s been superb.
— Stephen Evans (@StephenEvans75) February 9, 2016
Likewise Chirivella looks as though he’s got a bright future. The 18-year-old more than held his own against a West Ham midfield that’s made fools of the likes of Arsenal and Man City, let alone our more senior players. He kept things tidy, moved the game forward and was a calming influence in a remarkable manner when you consider his age. If Jurgen Klopp wants to call upon a youth player to bolster his squad in the coming months then don’t be surprised to see his name on the substitute’s bench.
The Final Third
Despite the loss there were plenty of positives to take out of the game, not least of which was the return of Daniel Sturridge. The man with the wriggly arms dance is a class above and you could visibly notice the West Ham defenders panic every time he had the ball. He was a little rusty, but that’s only to be expected seeing as though he hasn’t pulled on the Red shirt since 1973.
Philippe Coutinho’s return should also have Liverpool fans licking their lips. The Brazilian looked excellent at times, ghosting in and out of the Hammers’ defence as if they weren’t there and seeming to have a brilliant understanding with Teixeira despite not really having played with him before. His free kick was sumptuous and displayed an intelligence we haven’t seen on the pitch in recent times unless Joe Allen has been making one of his rare appearances.
Love it when a footy player plays percentages. That’s his best chance of scoring by absolute miles.
— Philip Blundell (@PhilBlundell) February 9, 2016
An attacking trio of Coutinho, Sturridge and Roberto Firmino is enough to make the heart flutter and if we’d had them from the start of the season all fit and firing there’s no telling how differently our season could have panned out. Klopp is right to have been strict with Sturridge over his return, with the manager refusing to rush him back just because we’ve been struggling for goals.
If Daniel Sturridge can stay fit for the rest of the season then I’d fancy us to win at least one cup and probably two. The Europa League is now Liverpool’s most important target moving forward, with the top four well and truly out of sight with only thirteen games remaining, twelve points the deficit and five teams all needing to be overtaken should we get there. Whilst plenty of Europe’s elite attackers will fancy their chances against Mignolet and his merry men, not many of the defences from far flung places will be keen to take on our attacking triumvirate if they start to click as it’s easy to imagine they will.
Not A Christian Thing To Do
All of which brings us neatly around to Christian Benteke. The £32.5 million man had his best game for Liverpool arguably since we played Arsenal at the start of the season last night. Yet he didn’t score. Therein lies the problem.
The former Aston Villa target man is, above all else, suppose to score goals. It’s all well and good him showing good strength and holding defenders off. He can bring other Liverpool players into the game until the cows come home. If he doesn’t stick the round thing into the rectangular thing, however, he’s as good as useless to this team of misfiring misfits.
Benteke now hasn’t scored in 594 minutes of play. In that time he’s played full 90 min matches against West Ham x 3 and Exeter x 2.
— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) February 9, 2016
Sam McGuire, whose tweet you should see above this, wrote a good blog about Benteke the other week. The general gist of it said that old Tekkers is doing for us pretty much what he did for Aston Villa, stats-wise. The fact that we aren’t playing to his strengths in the way that Villa did isn’t his fault and he should get a degree of sympathy rather than the lambasting he’s received of late.
It’s also worth noting that at Villa he often had players like Gabby Agbonlahor running around him, opening up space and distracting defenders. He had quick and intelligent players getting on to his knockdowns and putting in the sort of cross that he thrives off game-in, game-out. He hasn’t been getting that at Liverpool and probably won’t do for the foreseeable future.
Benteke appears to be playing with all the confidence of a man with diarrhoea who’s about to sneeze.
— Jason (@NickMotown) February 9, 2016
Maybe confidence is the problem. Perhaps he just needs to score one and then the ball will fly into the net game after game. The problem is that whilst we’re trying to play him into form he’s costing us a place in the FA Cup. If Daniel Sturridge gets any one of the countless chances the Belgian had last night then Liverpool are through to the next round rather than West Ham.
He definitely looked like a much better player when the burden to score wasn’t only on his shoulders and perhaps he’ll look more like the player we’ve signed if we can get him on to the pitch at the same time as Sturridge, Coutinho or Divock Origi. I’m just not sure that I want Jurgen Klopp to take that chance any more.
With the explosion of Firmino in recent games coupled with the return of Sturridge and Origi, Benteke is now our fourth choice striker – and that doesn’t seem fair to anybody.