Too often these days, critics are quick to jump on certain teams and say they are way too reliant on that one man. At Arsenal it used to be Thierry Henry, Chelsea had Drogba, and Liverpool have had Torres and now Suarez. Other teams seem to escape that branding….. where would United be without van Persie (or Rooney in the past); where would Stoke have been without Rory Delap’s long throw, and what about Newcastle without Shay Given a few seasons ago? Having said that I will now jump onto the band wagon and question whether Liverpool have indeed become too dependent on one man…
Luis Suarez has be outstanding this season. He has answered the call of Brendan Rodgers to lead the line, and has seemingly put his wasteful past somewhat behind him. Of course he could probably score more goals for a player who seems to create so much, but he has won the first goal milestone race in the premiership last week when he received the award for being the first striker to reach ten goals in the premiership.
Much like last year, he has continued to be a constant thorn in the side of many a premier league defender. He has that astonishing ability to make any defender look statuesque, with a swift turn or a cheeky nutmeg; and go on to create something out of nothing. I don’t think I have ever seen a man make it look so easy, he seems like he’s gotten himself into a corner and the next thing you know he’s taking a shot or crossing it/cutting it back for somebody else into the box. This season, however, he has also added that goal scoring touch. Whereas last season people complained that he was wasting those glorious chances he was creating, this season he’s scoring the vast majority of Liverpool’s goals. However, whilst I think that against the bigger teams we would definitely miss him, I do think that against “lesser” teams (and let’s be honest these days no team is an easy game in the EPL) we may have enough quality in the rest of the team to be able to do well enough without him. With Enrique and Johnson helping out in attack, Allen and Gerrard supplying the front three, and Sterling, Suso and Shelvey (possibly Borini and maybe one other youngster) up front we should be capable of scoring goals.
So if not Suarez, then who could it possibly be that we cannot do without? There’s always Stevie G, Captain Fantastic, a man capable of turning any game around, a man who recently joined the 600 club for Liverpool,
There is no doubt in any Liverpool fan’s mind that Stevie Gerrard has been one of the most influential players for the club during his time here. Being a local lad, playing in over 600 games for your club and being club captain would be enough to make some men a legend; however Stevie has done much more than that. He could be singled out as the man that won Liverpool the Champions League… without his goal in the last group stage we would have been knocked out, and without his goal in the final, Istanbul could have just been another European Cup final that barely registers in the memory of the fans. He’s done the same numerous times, be it against Everton in various league games, or against West Ham in the FA Cup final. He leads the team by example, constantly looking to get into space to receive the ball, and to deliver that killer pass. The only problem is that he is not getting any younger. You can see some difference in the way he plays. Against Southampton he had a couple of runs where in the past he would be looking to blast it into the back of the net; but this time he’s looking to make that pass to one of the front men. Don’t get me wrong he’s still a top class player, but it seems with the current system being played by Brendan Rodgers that the need to have Stevie take a game by the scruff of the neck has been replaced by the need for the team to collectively play as a unit, create the space for players to pass and hold onto possession.
So not Suarez and not Gerrard, well then it has to be Pepe Reina surely?? Last season I would have said without a doubt that we desperately needed Pepe Reina. Over the years Pepe has been phenomenal in goal. He has been pulling off save after save, coming out to claim crosses and on top of that he has launched a decent amount of counter attacks from his throw outs and kicks. During that time we’ve had a number of keepers come and go and they’ve all come in at some stage and looked average. In part that’s down to nerves. Imagine being that guy who comes in to replace an injured Pepe Reina, knowing that one mistake and people will think we lost because of you, and Pepe would have saved us. Some of it was also down to just how impressive Pepe has been for us. The biggest travesty for Pepe, is that fact that he happens to be Spanish, in a generation when Spain happens to have three quality goal keepers; all of them roughly the same age, playing for top clubs and performing phenomenally.
This season, however, Pepe hasn’t been his stellar self. He has performed well enough, and still remains number one but there are a number of errors creeping into his game. I’m also not entirely sure he got the memo about keeping possession. His ability to launch the ball long, whilst crucial at times, also leads to him going long when a short option is available to the full backs or the centre backs. When he goes long, even when we do win the ball it’s still difficult to play possession football. There was also the issue of his recent injury. During that time, Brad Jones came in and actually looked like a keeper who could be relied upon to be our number one should
Should Pepe leave or be injured, we would be OK in the short term. I would also assume that Pepe would go for a reasonable sum to be able to find an ample replacement. Whilst still one of the better keepers in the EPL, he is not irreplaceable.
So then who could it be. Well for me it is the one man that provides the team the perfect balance. When the guy first joined the team he was a long lad, and many of the fans didn’t rate him. At that time we had Alonso and Mascherano. This guy was nowhere near as good passing-wise as Alonso was; and he was not as impressive in the tackle as Mascherano seemed to be. However, in my opinion, he was somewhere perfectly in the middle. He could be relied upon to win the ball back a more than we could rely on Alonso to do that; and once he won the ball, I had far more faith in his distribution than I did in Mascherano’s ability to find a team mate. All three, to me were quality players in their own right, and I am of course talking about Lucas Leiva.
Lucas is the engine in midfield, he’ll play the entire game not looking to do anything too glamorous. He wins the vast majority of his battles with the opposition, and is more than capable to put a tackle in. When he wins the ball, he has the vision to seek out a team mate, be that backwards, sideways or forwards. Many people criticise Lucas because he “pads” his stats with simple five or ten yard passes, but that’s precisely what you want him to do, that’s precisely what Brendan Rodgers’ system needs. It needs somebody to be there in midfield, constantly available for others to pass to, and who can be relied upon to find a team mate with the vast majority of his passes. He links the defence to the midfield, and is more than willing to sit and cover Agger or Skirtel when they bring the ball out from the back.
More importantly than that though, with Lucas back, Joe Allen can move further forward. I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely convinced we needed Allen at the start of the season, but as he has played more and more I have to admit that he is an incredible passer of the ball. I remember watching one game earlier in the season and being astonished to hear that three or four games in (if not later) he had not managed to misplace a single pass. Of course the commentator’s curse meant that he messed up his next pass, but that’s unbelievable (assuming that commentator was right of course). It’s more impressive because of the deeper role he was playing at time in comparison to the one he played at Swansea. You would imagine that where he was playing, and being new to the Liverpool team he would constantly be under pressure. However, in recent games (especially against Swansea) I have noticed that he sometimes lacks that experience when it comes to putting a challenge in. He gives away a number of needless freekicks, most of which come about because he has gone too far up the pitch.
As a result of those moments when he does go too far forward, it also affected Stevie G’s game. It seemed like Stevie was reluctant to go forward himself as often as he would like because Allen was doing it too. With the full backs being encouraged to go forward as well, that always meant there would be gaps for the opposition to exploit. We then had two men who were not comfortably playing on the pitch, Allen because he had to come back deeper than the role he played at Swansea, and Gerrard because he was constantly checking to make sure Allen didn’t leave the back too exposed. With Lucas back, Gerrard and Allen were both able to be further up the pitch. Gerrard seemed a bit more comfortable knowing that Lucas was behind him, and Allen was able to contribute more in attack. In fact, early in the first half against Southampton there were a number of times when Joe Allen was our furthest man forward. It also seemed to give Johnson a lot more freedom too. With Lucas staying back to help out Agger and Skirtel, Enrique and Johnson were both able to play further forward, but Glenn Johnson seemed to spend the majority of the first half playing as a right winger than a right back.
Now maybe some of you are saying that dependent is probably too strong a word, and that there is no way Lucas is more important to the team than Suarez is. Maybe you’re right, but without balance teams will always struggle, and Lucas certainly provides that for the team. Of course next week will be a huge test for the team, with Suarez out due to receiving his fifth yellow card, however having seen Lucas survive almost the entire game against Southampton, I have a great deal more confidence in the team being able to pull through the absence of Suarez, purely because Lucas will allow Gerrard and Allen to join in the attack. There is also the issue of West Ham’s direct style of play. Lucas has decent statistics for aerial battles won, and that will no doubt come in handy against West Ham, as will his ability to put a defensive shift in. With more control at the back, that will give the team the opportunity to cope with the absence of Suarez.