Something is very wrong with Liverpool. Although it has become cliche to ring the alarm bells during the first few games of a team’s season, especially when a team has so much promise and a long season ahead of them, these alarm bells are warranted. And at this point the alarm bells have become cacophonous. This team is not working. Plenty of analysts have been clamoring for Liverpool’s critics to ease up on their concerns because the team needs time to “gel.” They claim that the new and old players need time to learn how to play with each other and once they do they will become the team we expected to see after last seasons excitement. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this point of view is overly optimistic. While many people enjoy a person who can see the glass as half full they never stop to question what the glass if half full with. In Liverpool’s case it is a glass filled with a warm stale beer that had been sitting on the table for over a day. After the past three games in the last week this Liverpool team looks like they may be much worse than analysts and fans feared. Tottenham began last season in a similar manner with several new players looking to “gel” with their new teammates and suffering some disappointing losses as they looked to do so. The problem was that the season came and went but Tottenham never did fully gel as a team. They looked as disjointed at the end of the season as they did in the beginning of the season. Fans kept waiting for the team to improve and the improvement never came. Tottenham was then forced to revaluate their team this summer which lead them to sell several of the players that were never able to gel with their teammates. It was, in essence, a lost season. Legitimate concerns are growing that Liverpool is facing the same fate.
Is Suarez’s absence the main problem? For starters, yes, his absence has definitely hurt Liverpool’s playing style. Last season Liverpool was frequently faced with opponents who would pack the box and force Liverpool to beat them. A man with individual brilliance was necessary to break these teams down and Luis Suarez provided this. His slipperiness and creativity were essential to breaking down the obstinate defenses that Liverpool was forced to attack against. A seemingly innocuous buildup could become a goal when Luis Suarez was in the game. He distracted defenders, created space, and freed up his teammates to have more time on the ball. Without him in this side teams have a lot less to deal with and as a result, are much harder to break down. It also does not help the Daniel Sturridge has been once again hit by the injury bug, forcing Mario Balotelli into a starring role when he was originally brought in to compliment Sturridge. However, the loss of one player does not excuse the woeful start to Liverpools’ Premiership campaign. Last season Luis Suarez was a big part of their team but it must be stated that this is also a team that scored over 100 goals last season and they showed that they have skill at other positions besides just forward. The loss of Suarez was a setback but it is not the main reason for Liverpool’s decline.
Injuries, the loss of Luis Suarez, and new players still needing time to gel with each other are just a fraction of what is wrong with Liverpool. A significant fraction, but still only a fraction. Defensively the Reds have been repeatedly exposed despite Brendan Rodgers bringing in new players specifically brought in to fix last years leaky defense. It was last years leaky defense that proved to be the achilles heel of Liverpool that would eventually lead to them losing out on the title to Manchester City. For the most part they were able to cover up their defensive frailty with goals but this season Liverpool, with the exception of their game at White Hart Lane, have been unable to score the goals necessary to offset their poor defensive performances. Profligacy in front of goal, mixed with a swiss cheese defense, has proven hard for Liverpool to overcome so far this season.
Losing Luis Suarez definitely hurts an offense but there is no excuse to become as profligate as they are considering the talent within the squad both from last season and the talent added over the summer. It is not that the players are incapable of matching last season’s success, instead it is as though the players have regressed. Last season Coutinho was a master at zipping in pin-point accurate passes that could lead to devastating breaks and goal scoring opportunities. Steven Gerrard used his newfound role last season to spray ambitious passes that could spur lightning quick counterattacks. The team as a whole was capable of replicating Barcelona styles at times to work their way out of tight spaces using brilliant passing triangles, movement, and vision. This season though Liverpool has yet to find that ability. There are brief times during games this season where they have looked their old selves but most of the time they look slightly off. Due to the style of play they have chosen, being slightly off can have tumultuous consequences. Whereas last season Coutinho could fit a pass through a pinhole, now his passes have been missing their mark and have gotten intercepted. Steven Gerrard has been man-marked out of many the games he has played so far and many of the other Liverpool players have looked uncomfortable on the ball. Almost as if they have lost their confidence. It was their soaring confidence that led to last seasons 11 game unbeaten streak and it is confidence that is needed by the players so that they remain calm on the ball and complete the perfect passes needed for Liverpool’s style to work. If Liverpool continues to play like they have been then their problems will further intensify and their confidence will continue to erode. Their problems need to be fixed and fixed fast or this season will get even worse.
Teams have rebounded from rough starts before. It is a long season and their are always bumps on the road. The concerns surrounding Liverpool are real but thoughts of this season being a failure are still conjecture. Daniel Sturridge’s return and a possibly blossoming partnership with Mario Balotelli could produce great things for Liverpool and lift then out of the Premier League basement. It is also possible that players such as Coutinho find their form and help lift the team back to the pedestal it was believed they would occupy this season. Only time will tell. Brendan Rodgers has a lot of work ahead of him though if he is to insure that fans look back on the end month of September as the wake-up call they sorely needed rather than the beginning of a long and fruitless season.