Saturday saw Liverpool lose to Sunderland, again. I don’t know what it is about Sunderland away but we just cannot seem to come away from there with any points. The league cup game aside, we’ve not got anything from there since they came back up to the premiership. The loss also means that getting that elusive 4th place is now unlikely, especially with Arsenal winning again last night.
We are now at the stage where we not only need to have a perfect run in to the end of the season, but we also need at least two teams with decent squads to have a melt down. A win tonight against Everton (which is of course no certainty) would still leave us 10 points behind Arsenal, and 7 behind Chelsea, with 10 games to go. Bearing in mind our fairly abysmal goal difference, that means that should we win all 10 games, and Arsenal draw 50% of their remaining games, we would still miss out on 4th place. A loss does not even bear thinking about, as that would see us actually drop to below Everton.
Arsenal may well have had meltdowns in the past, and an injury to RvP would of course be a big test for them, but even if they did fail, we would still have to overhaul Chelsea’s 7 point lead over us, and whilst they don’t have a full time manager at the moment, that also means that a number of players are having to play for their careers. A number of them know that whoever comes in at Chelsea will likely come in looking to make changes. For both Chelsea and Arsenal to have that big of a meltdown would be rare. We could also possibly throw Spurs in there, as they’ve already started their meltdown, having gone from a slim chance of chasing the title to only 1 point ahead of Spurs. They do of course have the added distraction that Harry Redknapp may leave them at the end of the season to become the England manager but if we are to overtake them it would have to be one colossal capitulation from where they were before our cup final success.
Now, I’m not one for quitting, and Liverpool as a team have never given up, but I think its time to take stock of the situation and continue to build for the future. Last season, injuries to full backs meant that Robinson and Flanagan got a run in the team, but even upon return to fitness from other players, they were allowed to continue their run. That seemed to give them confidence, which has meant that when they have played this season they haven’t been nervous. I’d like to see us giving the youngsters a go, and I do not think that giving them a go is in any way admitting defeat.
Whilst some of the more experienced players may have the mentality that the season is all but over, that is certainly not true for the youngsters. Some in the first team may already have their mind on the FA Cup games and possibly even the Euros, with the thinking being that they may not wish to dive into a 50-50 challenge, because an injury could rule them out of the big competitions. A younger player, with no or limited first team experience , on the other hand, will be looking to grasp that opportunity with both hands. Sure there may be a bit of nerves going into the games but I also reckon they won’t be thinking about getting injured and missing out on the Euros. If anything some may be thinking this could be their slim chance of maybe getting selected for that initial squad for the Euros, and maybe a good performance there could get them in the final squad. That enthusiasm, and the willingness to give it their all will no doubt also have an effect on the more experienced players. They will know that anything short of their best and they maybe looking at sitting out the rest of the season behind a reasonably successful youngster. That can only be a good thing for the team. To me there seemed to be too many missing men at Sunderland, too many who just didn’t seem to be on their game. Sure the pitch was awful, and it was windy, but it was the same for Sunderland.
The second benefit would be the experience that this would give to the youngster. A youngster coming in this season has it all to prove, and relatively little downside. Messing up here will not cost Liverpool the title, nor will it be the major cause for missing out on 4th place, they can go out there with a little bit less nerves, and that gives them a better chance of learning something from the process. The premiership is faster, tougher, and more mentally challenging than anything these kids have faced so far. If they’re going in there worried that a mistake might cost the team big that’s going to make it that much harder. With the way this season has turned out, a mistake by them is hardly to be the deciding factor, and in the slim chances that it is, then credit would still have to be given for given them a chance. This also wouldn’t have to be for necessarily an entire game, it could be for 20/30 minutes or possibly even just 10/15 at the end of a game. Not only would they be up against a more tiring opposition, but the decision could be made based on scoreline, conditions etc so as not to put them on in a game where they are unlikely to have any joy.
So which youngsters deserve a chance? To me there are maybe two that I would be looking at, and those are Sterling and Morgan. Both of them offer something that the team is lacking right now. The other possibility could be Coady, who maybe has less of a “something we’re missing” side to him, but is definitely a rising star. Sterling has the pace, ability and willingness to take people on. I see him as maybe playing when Carroll isn’t being used, when balls into the box are somewhat less effective. He would give us what Bellamy provides with that ability to terrorise defenders with his pace, and willingness to take them on. Downing has pace, but his game is more about getting to that byline and putting the ball in. For that you need people in the box putting the chances away. That unfortunately is less effective against teams that park the bus, but somebody attacking the box with pace and ability will always lead to chances. Of course, that leads us to another problem this season, putting those chances away. Oh how we could do with Robbie Fowler being 10 years younger; how many more goals would he have gotten this season than he did back when he played with a more mediocre team. Suarez is a fantastic player, but he is also wasteful, Carroll isn’t the sort of player that makes unnoticed runs in at the far post, but Morgan seems to be doing that well for the U18s. We need that “fox in the box” player, somebody who may not dazzle with skills or pace, but will be there at the right time. Look at Hernadez for United, you don’t see him taking on 10 people often, but he seems to crop up when it matters most so often.
Coady on the other hand would likely be one to play either in the Stevie Gerrard rule or possibly even for Jay Spearing. He’s done well in the lower roles at the club and maybe a game or two here would potentially be a start to him replacing Gerrard in the future. We do also have Shelvey, who could also take on the Adam role. Given the way Adam played against Sunderland, and the fact that he seems to be less and less effective these days, maybe it’s time for his wake up call. Give him time on the bench, let him watch his younger competition. When we were first linked with him, that interfering busy body said “his set pieces alone are worth 10 million”. Well given this season’s performance I think we would have every right to complain about false advertising. I see corner after corner of his failing to get past the first man, I see freekick after freekick get wasted. It would be interesting to see his statistics in the last few games. Maybe this is a case of people seeing what they want to see, but I do not see why, with a squad this size, some players seem to make it into the first team regardless of their last on pitch performance, whilst others get on have a great game and then get to watch the next few months’ games from the bench if they even make it to the bench.
Now I would also like to point out that I think Downing and Carroll have been handled badly this season. Carroll more so than Downing, but I cannot understand the thinking behind benching them just as they were starting to gel. I get that Kuyt runs his socks off, but when you finally had Carroll and Suarez clicking, with Downing starting to find Carroll more and more often why bench them? Statistics also show that Downing is having no worse a season this season than last time. He’s still making the same number of crosses in the the same deadly areas, and (this will come as a surprise to some) he is finding a team mate just as accurately as he was last season. However, more often that not, Downing hasn’t had the luxury of playing with Andy Carroll, the one man who it seemed Downing was bought for. When we bought Downing, and Young went to United, I thought we made the right more. We got the player that was suited to what might become our game (balls into Carroll) whilst Young was going to a team that utilised his particular skills more. Sterling and Morgan would most likely replace these two guys, but as I mentioned above this wouldn’t necessarily be for the entire game.
The final point is that, we could well have in our ranks the next Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard or Steve McManaman. Why potentially waste more money in the summer, when maybe all that is missing is an opportunity for these youngsters to prove themselves. With 10 games left to go, we may just find a player that we could rely on next season when one of the first team gets injured. Coates is starting to get a few games over Jamie Carragher, but playing in defence is always going to be that little bit more nervy. A mistake here may well lead to goals; and let’s not forget that this is his first season in the UK. I’m sure he’ll turn out to be a great player, but he does need time to settle in a bit. Again though, him playing this season and making the mistakes he has, is less of a worry (at least to me) than say him having to step in next season for a lengthy period and being too nervous to play his game.