A nervy, gritty performance to keep Liverpool – just – in the title race. More optimistically though, it was a game that kept Liverpool firmly in the driving seat for that all-elusive 4th spot, after Everton and Tottenham Hotspurs both lost but Manchester United coming away with a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace.
Much will be made of Jordan Henderson’s magnificent brace but Liverpool’s extremely poor overall defensive performance, maybe Daniel Sturridge’s eighth consecutive goalscoring game but Luis Suarez’s continued goal draught.
This 4-3 win though, is part of one of four types of results or performances the Reds have had to endure, or enjoy, so far this season under Brendan Rodgers’ side. I will take a closer look at what these four types of results are, and how they will impact the Reds in the run-in for 4th, and maybe beyond.
So often in the first half of the season, Liverpool, and Luis Suarez to a certain extent, were seen as flat-track bullies who could only put 3, 4 goals past bottom-half oppositions, at Anfield. The three 3-1 home wins against Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff could prove this case. However, a similar scoreline victory away to Sunderland and a convincing 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane, places Liverpool usually struggle, does counter this view.
Similarly, the two more recent thrashing at Anfield, to 7th placed Everton and then-league leaders Arsenal does help to disprove this notion. Other results included a Suarez-inspired victory at home to Norwich, along with a 4-0 win against Fulham and a routine victory against Hull.
Suarez’s third of four magnificent goals against Norwich
Still, amongst most of these convincing wide-margin victories, Liverpool’s defence have allowed the opposition a consolation, showing how even teams playing poorly and utterly demoralised by Suarez and co. can find a way to penetrate the Reds’ shaky defence.
The three 1-0 victories at the start of the season against Stoke and Manchester United at home, and at Villa Park, had Liverpool fans wondering if the Reds had found some sort of defensive resolve that could be the mark of Rodgers’ future title contenders. However, as it is, Liverpool’s defence has been too weak and making too many mistakes, with Kolo Toure the main culprit, Martin Skrtel a close run to as chief villain and even early season hero Simon Mignolet wasn’t spared of criticism.
Sturridge heading the winner against the old foe at Anfield
These three were all at fault for the three tight high-scoring victories at the Britannia, Craven Cottage and yesterday’s game at Anfield. Mignolet should arguably have prevented Stoke’s third, scored by Jon Walters, which made the game very uncomfortable at 4-3, before the Reds’ firepower once again took them over the line with a fifth goal. Toure’s hilarious sliced own goal gave Fulham an early lead which needed a 90th minute penalty by the skipper to steal all three points for the Reds. Skrtel’s petulant kick that resulted in a needless free-kick that allowed Swansea to score their first equaliser at 2-2, was followed by the Slovakian’s umpteen grabbing of opposition strikers in his own penalty box that led to Wilfried Bony ramming home Swansea’s second equaliser from the spot.
Whereas the tight 1-0 victories were based on superb second-half defensive displays, recently this season Liverpool have found their defence easily beaten and sliced open at every attempt, and only the power and precision of their frontline is bailing out their heart-stopping defence line.
Only 4 of this season’s 27 games could really be seen as very good performances without getting the deserved point(s). The two big away games at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge during the hectic Christmas period saw injuries pile up for the Reds. Yet, they still managed to take the lead in both of those big games, only to see Manchester City and Chelsea both equalise and take the lead before half-time. The Reds, playing as well as they could have, could not find a way back – thanks no in part to some dodgy refereeing decisions.
Mignolet failing to keep out a weak Samuel Eto’o shot
Still, both games saw Mignolet commit game-changing mistakes, both allowing the opposition to take a lead Liverpool never recovered from. At Everton and Newcastle though, Liverpool could count themselves unlucky not to take all three points.
In the Merseyside derby, Philipp Coutinho gave Liverpool an early lead. Though Kevin Miralles equalised for Everton, Liverpool went ahead through a trademark Suarez free-kick. At 2-1, Joe Allen could have made the game safe at 3-1, missing that absolute sitter that would arguably eventually cost Liverpool two points. At St. James’ Park, Yohan Cabaye’s screamer and poor Liverpool defending at a Cabaye free-kick saw the Reds needing to battle back to equalise twice in the game. The Reds pushed on for a winner, but had to settle for a point.
Off-key, Poor Performances
The first defeat of the season, at home to Southampton, was unexpected. But after Rodgers decided to field four centre-halves at the back, Liverpool clearly lacked any balance at the back and looked blunt upfront. This was also the first game that Liverpool conceded, and from a set-piece, and in a way, paved the way for Liverpool’s defensive frailties this season, especially from free-kicks and corners.
The defeat at Hull City was one plastered with complacency, much like a similar scoreline reverse at Southampton last season. Raheem Sterling played really poorly, but this was the platform to which he hit his current blistering form. Another complacent showing was the home game against Aston Villa, where Liverpool trailed by two before their fightback. Both occasions were filled with horrendous defending.
Jake Livermore’s deflected effort set the way for a disappointing defeat
The start of Toure’s recent slump in form was at West Bromwich Albion, where Liverpool lead from another SAS combination. However, Toure gifted ex-Everton striker Victor Anichebe with a simple goal, and Suarez and co. never managed to grab a winner, much to Rodgers’ frustration. The first time Liverpool returned from an international break was against Swansea, when ex-Liverpudian Jonjo Shelvey stole the show and had a part in all four goals in a pulsating 2-2 draw.
The defeat at the Emirates against Arsenal was arguably expected. But the way Mesut Ozil and co. ran rings around Steven Gerrard and Lucas, and how SAS could not get the better of Arsenal’s holding duo Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta, was hugely frustrating for travelling Reds fans that night.
To think, Liverpool have performed below-standard for six games this season. That’s a little over 22% of the league games played so far, while a similar percentage of games this season has been tight victories. For every ten games the Reds have played so far, they have outplayed and outperformed the opposition four times, though 15% of the time they did not get the warranted results.
The Reds have 11 games to go to secure 4th, or 11 cup finals to win the title – as some might say. If Rodgers keep up the current rates as pointed out, his side should be able to rack up another 7 victories, with the other 4 ending up in disappointing defeats or undeserved draws. That should be more than enough to secure 4th, but will definitely see them fall short in the title race.
If Liverpool fans were given this at the start of the season, most will definitely not mind.