Has The Fat Spanish Waiter Learnt His Lesson?
A cracking start to Liverpool's season, at least results-wise, if not quite performance-wise. One thing that became clear last season and one which has carried on this season is that Liverpool is well nigh tough to beat. They have now lost only 2 of their last 30 games (to MU & Chelsea) and lost less games than eventual champions MU last season.
This is of course, no reason to cheer, for this does not mean that the team will win anything just yet. Being tough to beat may just indicate a defensive mindset that leads to too many draws, and a serious aversion to risk, catapulting the fear of defeat ahead of the search for glory. Nevertheless, there does seem to be reason for optimism.
First, the central spine of the team is as good as any in the premiership. 4 very good central defenders (Carragher, Agger, Skrtel, Hyppia) and two top notch defensive midfielders (Alonso, Mascherano) ably assiated by two promising youngsters (Lucas, Plessis) even if Lucas is a headless chicken at times. Defensively then, the squad is as well equipped as Chelsea, MU and Arsenal, if not more so. And if one does not concede goals, one always has a chance of winning matches.
Second, which I consider vitally important, the massive rotation seems to have stopped. No more 5 changes a match and no more resting the big name match winners. Gerrard and Torres play pretty much every match, and Agger and Hyppia have to bide their time. Really only Alonso and Mascherano swap around among the big names. Keane starts with Torres, and Riera and Kuyt play out-wide with Arbeloa at right back, while Dossena and Aurelio are battling it out for the left-back slot. So minimal changes. Whether Riera should be selected ahead of Babel/Benayoun, or whether Dossena should be allowed near a red shirt, or whether Pennant should be given a look-in are secondary to the fact that the team now plays with cohesion.
Third, we have depth now, as noted with the central spine of the team. But also up front where once he gets going, Keane will show he knows where the back of the net is. Ngog looks promising and Kuyt can play up-front as well, as can Babel. It's not great, and it is an attack which cannot compete with Arsenal and MU, but one which matches Chelsea for depth. Out-wide, as long as he has the full-backs overlapping our weakness is minimised but even then Pennant can't get a game and Babel makes cameo appearences, while Benayoun continues to flitter in and out of the side.
But they are troubles of course. In the centre of midfield we have only one attack minded player in the indefatigable Steven Gerrard but no one else. Babel can probably fit in there if need be, as can Benayoun (and at a stretch Keane) but really there is no concrete fall-back option. Compare that to Chelsea and Arsenal and the team falls flat.
The full-back positions are the most problematic. Aurelio has never really convinced and Dossena needs to start playing like a defender. Arbeloa I don't mind, but why oh why force Finnan away? Ok, to get Riera in but even then...Deggen I have no idea about, but we'll see when he is fit. The fullbacks do not even begin to approximate the quality possessed by MU, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Still, more reason to be optimistic than not. It's certainly not our year seeing we don't do too well going behind opposing defences and the fullback weakness will eventually come to the fore, but bloody hell, at least the team should be right up there with the best come the end of April!