Liverpool have not been great in their last two matches. They were poor in spite of victory against Cardiff and they couldn’t put their chances away (again) against Arsenal. This time Robin Van Persie made sure they paid and now the Reds are a full ten points off fourth place. Sunderland may have hit a roadblock in their incredible rise recently, especially since both Cattermole and Sessegnon were suspended following red cards against Newcastle, but they still have enough to give Liverpool plenty of trouble.
Admirably, Ian Ayre and Charlie Adam have both come out and said Liverpool will still try for fourth place but in reality there is no chance Champions League football will be returning to Anfield next season. Unfortunately, things could get even worse with Fulham and Stoke City just three points behind the Reds and Sunderland not an easy prospect; by the end of the weekend Liverpool could be level on points with either of those former two sides.
Here are just a few reasons Liverpool might struggle.
Sunderland are dangerous from wide areas
When Martin O’Neill took over from Steve Bruce Sunderland were 16th in the Premier League. Until a recent 4-0 defeat to Roy Hodgson’s West Brom he had guided them as high as eighth, and they now sit just 5 points below Liverpool in the Premier League table.
O’Neill is a master of motivation and instills a never say die attitude wherever he goes, but there is more to the Northern Irishman than man-management.
O’Neill sides play with width and it’s almost always effective. At Aston Villa he had Stewart Downing and Ashley Young, and at Sunderland he has Sebastian Larsson and James McClean with either Nicolas Bendtner or Frazier Campbell able to provide outlets in the centre.
That’s a problem for Liverpool if Jamie Carragher’s playing because we all saw from Sagna’s beautiful cross to Van Persie that Carragher is not great at defending crosses. At 186cm (probably smaller now in his old age) he’s not the tallest of centre backs and there a plenty of examples of him being out-jumped in the air, Kenwyne Jones getting the better of him last year after a Jonathan Walters Cross springs to mind.
Sunderland cross the ball a lot so Liverpool will be under pressure. It would ne nice to see Coates start, seeing as he’s six foot five and the Copa America player of the year, but it’s almost a given that Carragher will be selected ahead of him.
This one really goes without saying. Most likely Liverpool will dominate the game, play well and create a host of great chances. There’s also no doubt those chances will miss by inches and the post-match press conferences will consist of excuses like bad luck and goalkeepers reserving world class performances just for Liverpool.
The fact remains Liverpool have close to the worst conversion rate in the league. They hit the woodwork twice against Arsenal, missed a penalty and then missed the relatively easy follow up. There comes a point when you can’t go on blaming bad luck and you have to accept that some of the forwards just aren’t up to scratch
Last season under Kenny Dalglish Liverpool were banging in the goals. Maxi Rodriguez was goal-scorer in chief, coming off the left wing to finish off the good build up play of others (Sound like a familiar problem?). He might not be the long-term solution, but surely putting Maxi in the team until the end of the season is exactly what this team needs. If we do that all those chances we create will stop ending in hands on heads moments and might start leading to goals.
A weak central midfield
Yep, the position that Liverpool spent £23 million reinforcing with British players, “because they are ‘Premier League Proven’ so they should have an easier time adjusting”, is one of our weakest areas. Arguments that these players need time to gel just don’t cut it because that’s exactly what we paid a British premium to avoid.
In fairness to Jordan Henderson, he is still young and at least shows the basic abilities of a top level footballer, i.e. being able to trap and pass a ball, but right now he’s not offering enough.
Charlie Adam didn’t really do much defending at Blackpool and when you look at moments like him chasing David Silva around unnecessarily a few weeks ago and allowing Nigel De Jong all the time in the world to fire off a once in a life time shot, or literally standing in one spot and watching as Kenny Miller drifted deep to set up Cardiff’s first goal you can see why at times our defense has been left horribly exposed.
His passing is still erratic, too. Yes he creates chances but how many times has he hit the first man from a set piece or given the ball away in midfield. Against Arsenal he had a 72 per cent pass completion rate. That’s pretty poor, considering the best passers in the league are consistently in the 80′s. The problem with Adam is it looks great when his fourty yard passes come off but a lot of the time he’s giving the ball away or committing unnecessary defensive errors.
Nonetheless, Liverpool’s defense is still good, but there are times where we really miss Lucas, who won’t dive into tackles and has the positional sense of a TomTom. Jay Spearing is willing but would he really get into the first team if he wasn’t from Merseyside?
The Reds will welcome back Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson from injury; and Suarez, Bellamy, Kuyt, the defense and Reina will continue to be positives. Who knows, maybe everything will magically click tomorrow and Liverpool will kickstart a scoring run. More likely, though, is that Sunderland will frustrate Liverpool to breaking point, hit them on the counter attack and whip in a beautiful cross that will snatch a surprising win that really won’t be surprising at all.
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