These are heady times at Anfield. Top of the table at Christmas, and they’re partying like it’s 1986. Andrew McGoff looks at a season to date that no one saw coming.
We’re top of the league, we’re top of the leeeeague!! LIVERPOOL, WE’RE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!!
It would be easy to get carried away with Liverpool’s current league position, to shout it from the rooftops and rub it in the faces of all those smug Utd fans whose team have dominated the premier league era…but we must be realistic! Whilst it is fantastic that we are currently top of the league there is a long way to go in the season. With Man Citeh and Chelski away over the Xmas break two loses could put us back in 6th place.
The league has been strange this year with ‘top’ teams are dropping points against lesser teams. Whilst we did lose to Hull, Liverpool have been beating teams we struggled against last year; Spurs, Utd and West Brom, and convincingly beating teams that have been banana skins for us in previous seasons such as West Ham, Sunderland and Villa.
Mignolet has been amazing in between the sticks, Sturridge and now Suarez have been prolific in front of goal, and players such as Sterling, Henderson, Allen and of late Flanagan are blossoming with the confidence that winning brings.
Rodgers should be given a lot of credit too as the team has come a long way in 18 months. Shot accuracy and conversion rate have improved dramatically. Liverpool’s 42 goals for the season to date are only five away from our entire 2011/12 tally. We are on our way to better the 71 we scored last season. Rodgers spoke of wanting to average 2 points per game which he felt would give us a top 4 placing. With 36 points from 17 games we are on target. Adapting formations to suit the opposition was key to this.
Looking back at my Season Preview I had a few concerns over positions that needed filling and current personnel, namely Luis Suarez.
We had a few positions that still needed covering after our early signings (Mignolet, Aspas, Alberto and Toure) so Rodgers and his transfer committee were busy during August.
We bought in cover at Left Back by loaning Aly Cissokho from Valencia. He was considered a rough diamond that with a little bit of guidance and game time would turn into a first choice player. So far this has not proven to be true and it would come as no surprise if he returned to his parent club six months early in January.
Two Centre Backs were signed, a beast in Mamodou Sakho, and a ‘project’ in Tiago Ilori. The idea was to bring in a starting defender (Sakho) and a young player that would be a work in progress (Ilori) with one eye on the future. Sakho was signed from PSG and has shown fans what Rodgers saw in him; outstanding pace, aerial power and he is extremely comfortable carrying the ball out to prompt attacks. His passing accuracy has stood out, as well as his composure in defense.
Ilori signed from Sporting Lisbon after representing Portugal at the u19 Euro Championship. His claim to fame is that he holds the Sporting Lisbon sprint record over 30 metres (it should be noted that both Nani and Ronaldo are ex-Sporting players).However, he is yet to make a first team appearance for Liverpool and it looks like he may go on loan in January to get some game time.
We have had a few disappointments when searching for a goal scoring midfielder/winger and settled for a loan deal for Victor Moses from Chelsea. After a good end of last season and pre-season for Chelsea, and some encouraging displays for Nigeria, he has been quite disappointing for Liverpool, and very wasteful in front of goal when the opportunity has arisen. He has fallen below Raheem Sterling in the pecking order and with the January transfer window approaching I cannot see him making his way back into the 1st team for league games. His best chance at game time will be in the FA Cup.
One area we didn’t strengthen was centre midfield, specifically Defensive Midfield. We are fortunate that injuries to key midfield players did not affect us as much as anticipated. Coutinho missed a chunk of games early in the season which was worrying but not too costly. Gerrard is now injured and resting which could be a blessing in disguise given how many games he had been playing. Whilst the trio of Henderson, Allen and Lucas has played well over the last few games we should not be naïve enough to think we do not need a midfield boss.
So what can we expect in January?
Our squad is still quite thin in terms of depth, partly due to summer signings not having bedded in (Aspas, Cissokho, Moses, Alberto), but also due to players going out on loan to get game time (Suso, Borini).Rumblings suggest we will look to bring in a 1st choice Left Back, Defensive Midfielder, and a Goal Scoring Winger. Rodgers is known for trying to do his business early and if he can be given the funds to repeat the success of last January (Coutinho and Sturridge) then we should be well placed to continue our good form.
That man Suarez
I’m sure I speak for all Liverpool fans when I say that I’m now glad JW Henry stood his ground and refused to sell Suarez. 19 goals in 12 games, after missing the first 6 games is an amazing stat. He is the first Premier League player to score double figure goals in a calendar month with his 10 goals in December. He is simply on fire. His latest 2 goals against Cardiff were sublime, he really doesn’t do tap ins!
I must say, what has also really impressed me is his lack of chat in the media, his lack of histrionics on the pitch, and simply letting his feet do the talking. He is well on the way to surpassing his 23 goals of last season and should realistically be eyeing the record for goals in a season (34 for those of you who were asking). His newly signed contract and salary of upwards of £200k is a great reflection of how important he has been for our top 4 push and has been a statement of intent by FSG that they are prepared to splash the cash.
It’s a great time to be a football fan on Merseyside, both the blue and red halves of Liverpool are over-achieving against prediction. At the start of the season I predicted a 6th place finish unless we signed some key players which would then make the top 4 achievable. You could throw a blanket over the top 8, but with Sturridge and Gerrard due back from injury soon, a kind second half of the season fixture list (as far as top 8 teams go we have played all bar Utd away from home during the first half of the season), and some squad depth to come in January, I feel we are now in a good position to make the top 4.Winners? We can but dream!
Follow Andrew on Twitter