Some perspective on the Carling Cup win
Yesterday saw the much needed return of silverware to the Anfield trophy room. So it's all good then, isn't it?
Sadly not. A quick look around the social media world this morning and it's clear that too many people are getting carried away with Sunday's Carling Cup win. With Stewart Downing starting to repay a large chunk of that transfer fee and Martin Skrtel becoming our new Colossus at the back it seemed that the previous 6 months of frustration, tedium and even outrage (Bolton away, anyone?) had been wiped clean from the memory.
Stewart Downing was decent yesterday for the first time this season. He wasn't outstanding by any means so let's not get ahead of ourselves. If he puts in a performance like that over the course of 5 or 6 consecutive games then we might be looking at a reasonably useful addition to the squad. As it stands, one decent performance against Championship opposition hardly makes him John Barnes.
I've never liked Martin Skrtel at the back for the Reds. Never have and never will. But even through my own biased, bloodshot eyes I could see that he was one of the stand-out performers for us yesterday. It was his type of game and coming up against a big physical lad with no mobility suited him down to the ground. When it came to last ditch clearances and headers he was in his element. Yet despite this he was at fault for the first goal on two counts. Firstly a terrible headed clearance gifted the ball back to the opposition, and he then played the boy Mason onside by not reading the defensive line his team-mates had created. Again, as with Downing, this was one game where he did ok but I'd rather judge a player over 20 or 40 games rather than one. My mind was made up about Skrtel years ago so its hardly going to change now.
Aside from our two "stars" yesterday, looking at the bigger picture of the 120 minutes didn't make for easy viewing. I saw one deluded Twitterist actually boast about how great it was to have 39 shots at goal! I'm no mathematician (well, actually I am) but a quick calculation tells us that 2 goals from 39 attempts gives a conversion rate of about 5%. I think it's worth repeating that gives us FIVE PERCENT. There are very few statistics in the modern game that provide us with any genuine insight but that one almost brings a tear to the eye. How can we possibly be so terrible in the final third?
Well, there are several reasons for this which I've explained to the death over the course of the last couple of months. Namely it comes down to the average players we currently have playing in a formation which doesn't maximise their basic abilities. To a certain extent I don't believe formations and systems to be massively important. If you've got the best players the rest generally sorts itself out. However when you've got a squad as limited in ability as ours it's best to keep things simple with clear instructions for everyone. That obviously hasn't happened this season.
A good example of this is when we examine the 4-2-3-1 formation that's been favoured by Dalglish this season. When the forward positions have been occupied by Suarez, Bellamy and Maxi we've looked reasonably fluid and exciting at times. Replace these three with Henderson, Downing and Carroll and it becomes about as fluid as a traffic jam because they simply don't have the same (or any?) footballing intelligence. And this might well end up being the death of Jordan Henderson after another horror show from him yesterday. I've stood by the lad from day one because I believe he's a genuinely talented young midfielder, but it's becoming harder as the season progresses to highlight the positives. I think that persevering with him on the right wing could destroy him.
The biggest doubts surfacing with Henderson is why he can't just "do a job" for us on the right wing. Granted, he will eventually be a central midfielder and there's no question that's his best position, but for him to be as poor as he has been when stuck out on the right does raise some questions over his adaptability and his understanding of the game, even at the young age of 21. He's had quite a few matches playing in a more central, attacking position which have been equally disastrous so it's hard to see where things are going to go from here. As it stands Henderson must either be part of a central two or out of the team altogether, for the lad's sanity if nothing else.
It was madness not starting Dirk Kuyt ahead of Henderson. As we've seen on countless occasions this season Dirk is no longer the force he was, often being dreadful against lesser opposition but stick him in a big game and he nearly always produces. The guy's been itching for a trophy for 6 years and the desire he showed when he finally was introduced almost won us the game. One of the highlights yesterday for me was seeing him lift the cup and collect his medal because Christ knows he's worked hard enough for it!
One positive point that could be argued is that we won without either Suarez or Gerrard playing to their normal standards. Well, to be a little bit more accurate we didn't win in 120 minutes against a 2nd Division side and regardless of whether Gerrard or Suarez were on the pitch or not, this was pretty pitiful stuff. In truth they both had stinkers with Gerrard's shooting boots unusually smelly. Naturally they are entitled to have off days now and again, it's just that you don't expect it to happen in a cup final and that was probably the most disappointing aspect for us on the day.
As poor as Gerrard was, it could at least partly be explained by his withdrawn role in the middle. As I've said before a gazillion times, his partnership with Charlie Adam doesn't work and we simply cannot have the best finisher in our entire squad playing so deep. As for Adam himself, I'm a little reluctant to be too harsh on our Aldi Alonso despite how rubbish he was yesterday. For all his failings (and there are plenty of them!), look what he cost in comparison to the big money buys and he's created more goals for us than anyone else this season. All things considered you can't really say fairer than that.
And so to Wor Andy. His recent "development" seemed to come to a halt yesterday and I thought he reverted back to his lazy old ways. After at least making a nuisance of himself for the past couple of weeks he was back to waiting for things to happen again. I can remember him being on the edge of the box on at least two occasions when the ball was fizzed across the six yard line. They say that you don't learn positional instinct like that but I'm pretty sure the instruction "GET IN THE F××KING BOX!!!" could have been politely passed on to him at some point? The subject of Andy Carroll has been done to death and I'm sick of it now. I just can't believe there are too many Liverpool supporters out there who think he's the long term answer to our striking needs. We've been spoilt in the past with Number 9s and it's a hell of a drop to Andy's level.
In many ways yesterday's game was a microcosm of the Reds' season. We had all the hype and expectation which was quickly followed by the stark realisation that things were going to be much harder than they should be. At this stage in the season things are not going to magically click up front and I have absolutely no doubt we will continue struggling to score goals for the rest of the campaign. Without goals coming from somewhere it's hard to see how we can push on for 4th. I suppose we'll be expected to believe that this cup success will send the confidence flowing through the squad but I'm afraid I'll need a little more convincing than that. Bringing Arsenal back down to earth next week would be a good start.