Saturday, 20 December 2014

Liverpool Vs Arsenal - A Preview to the Crucial Festive Tie

It has been a seesaw two weeks for Liverpool Football Club with fluctuating results ranging from a poor loss to Manchester United to a promising win against Bournemouth in the League Cup. There was also a heartbreaking draw to FC Basel in the Champions League subsequently knocking the Reds out. As has been the trend in Liverpool's season, the Basel game offered the same frustration with no incision or cutting edge and players running down cul-de-sacs. Despite a typical Steven Gerrard free-kick, the Swiss team was able to hold out. Against perennial foes Manchester United, Brendan Rodgers experimented with something different by playing three defenders at the back. Even though the Reds played with more guile, the end result was not much different. The Red Devils were ruthless in finishing their few chances whereas the Reds were toothless when presented with their myriad chances. While credit will definitely go to opposing goalkeeper David De Gea, the bottomline is that Reds' players did not make him work much by shooting straight at him. Raheem Sterling, playing as a false nine, was particularly guilty of spurning glorious chances. This two week period culminated in a Capital One Cup quarterfinal tie against high flying Championship leaders Bournemouth at the Goldstands Stadium. What was touted as a potential bananaskin game for the Reds turned out to be contradictory to the reality with the Reds easing to a 3-1 victory. Raheem Sterling broke his 17 game goal drought whereas Lazar Markovic got his maiden Liverpool goal. All in all, this was a positive performance albeit against a Championship Team.

Despite the varying degrees of results, there were some underlying flaws in all three games. The first and most major problem was that of the midfield. Players like Joe Allen and Jordan Hendrson were easily outmuscled and bypassed by the opposition teams. What was telling was the appalling lack of skill exhibited by the midfielders. When put under pressure, they easily capitulated leading to a wide open middle third. This was particularly exhibited by Wayne Rooney's first goal where the lack of midfield cover was shocking. Players like Marouane Fellaini and Fabian Frei of FC Basel had a very easy run and constantly attacked the Reds' penalty box. When there is no midfield cover, the job of the defense becomes  infinitely harder and with the Reds' already error-prone and suspect defense, it is a recipe for disaster. Even in the Bournemouth game, the Cherries' players took multiple shots from outside the box because of the lack of protection. For this, the blame solely lies with Brendan Rodgers. While Lucas Leiva was shielding the back four, the Reds defense looked the most solid it had in two years. But in the past two weeks, Rodgers inexplicably tweaked this lineup by either putting Joe Allen or Steven Gerrard along with Lucas. This was a recipe for disaster as the players had no idea of their roles and were vulnerable due to their palpable lack of pace.

The problem as has been with the Liverpool season is the team selection. Brendan Rodgers has mobile and strong players on the bench like Emre Can but he always persists with Joe Allen who has no skill on the ball. Steven Gerrard is not a Defensive Midfielder but even after this was obvious, Brendan Rodgers persisted with it. Against United, the captain was just a passenger. He simply does not have the awareness or the pace to shield the defense effectively. When put under pressure, he just falters. If Rodgers does not realise this, he should not be at the club. Gerrard showed his obvious class when he was deployed in the attacking position and even scored some goals but Rodgers just reverted back to what was not working.

Another is that of the goalkeeping position. Simon Mignolet was indefinitely dropped for the game against United and the ironic part was that this was when Mignolet was starting to look better. Needless to say, this choice did not work out with Jones at some fault for the first and third goals. He was even more suspect in the Bournemouth game where he fluffed a simple shot into the net. This is simply not good enough. Goalkeepers have the ability to win you games as David De Gea has shown repeatedly this season. In the January Transfer window, the Reds have to go for a proven goalkeeper like Petr Cech or Hugo Lloris. Nothing short of the best is acceptable if Liverpool is to compete with the top teams in the world. If Jones or Mignolet do not cut the bill, there is a plethora of good goalkeepers available in various European clubs.

This leads to the game against Arsenal. As most Reds fans will pleasantly remember, the Reds thrashed the Gunners 5-1 last season in one of the most thrilling displays Anfield has ever seen. On that day, Arsenal were just second best in every department and could not cope with the energy and enthusiasm of the Reds. Needless to say, a result resembling that would be amazing. But, even the most ardent Liverpool fans will admit that is not likely. However, this is an Arsenal team that has proven vulnerable to physicality and aggression. Their only shining light has been former Liverpool target Alexis Sanchez. If the Reds can preclude Sanchez from his normal game and continue with the endless pressing from last season, they can cause Arsenal numerous problems. Arsenal are in the same boat as Liverpool as they have endured a very mediocre season. A win for either team can lift the spirits and morale. If Liverpool can win this, it can lead to a resurgence but that is another discussion. For now, Liverpool have to focus on the task at hand. Arsenal will not be as easy as their form has suggested. If memories go back, Arsenal dominated Liverpool last season even with Suarez and Sturridge at the helm in a 2-0 win at the Emirates Stadium. They have mobile and strong midfielders in Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere and physical strikers in Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck. It promises to be an enthralling encounter. However, the teams selection has to be right and there are no excuses for picking the wrong team. Assuming that Rodgers goes with three at the back

                                                                           Brad Jones

                                 Kolo Toure------------Martin Skrtel-----------Mamadou Sakho

Javier Manquillo -------------------------Lucas Leiva -----------------------Alberto Moreno  

                                     Emre Can-----------------------------Adam Lallana 

Raheem Sterling-------------------Lazar Markovic 

This team has the most composed defenders in Mamadou Sakho, Kolo Toure and Martin Skrel. Toure will help organize the defence better and this will lead to more stability. The two Spanish full back Moreno and Manquillo have been woefully out of favour and it is time for them to come back and prove their worth. Emre Can has also been out of favour but he is the most complete out of all the midfielders and he deserves to get a chance. Raheem Sterling and Lazar Markovic provide the required pace up top and they will provide the most incision. Adam Lallana was really accurate with his passing and decisions and he deserves to keep his place. 

Prediction - 2-1 to Liverpool - The Reds seemed to be more incisive in their play against Man Utd and Bournemouth and I think they have enough to threaten and expose the Arsenal defence. But, as usual, the Reds defense will inevitably concede a goal and will not be able to keep a clean sheet. But, I do think the Reds have enough. 

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