The last 3 months has been nothing short of a turbulent ride for Brendan Rodgers and his men. TheHardTackle looks at how the Reds can replicate the direct free flowing football of last season and stop this season from turning into a disaster.
The international breaks this term have not been very kind for Liverpool. The August break which came just after the impressive win against Tottenham at White Hart Lane saw their talisman Daniel Sturridge damage his hamstring while playing for England and it has been downhill from there with Liverpool winning just 3 games out of 12 in the Premiership and Champions League combined. The most worrying aspect is their lack of goals with just 10 being scored in the past 12 games. (League cup excluded)
Return of Sturridge-Much needed shot in the arm for Liverpool
So, how can Rodgers turn it around? For starters, his best striker has returned to training and is expected to start against Palace next Sunday. That in itself should give a massive boost to his beleaguered side who have looked toothless without the prolific Englishman. Another person who would be rubbing his palms with excitement should be the much maligned Mario Balotelli. The Italian did show a promising work ethic in the disappointing defeat at Chelsea by making early runs like Suarez did, and Sturridge`s presence should give him the space and freedom to wreak havoc. The last time these two played together was the 3-0 win at White Hart Lane where Balotelli missed a flurry of opportunities.
The ineffectiveness of Mario Balotelli as a lone striker can be seen in the graphic above (Number 45). The Italian had no time on the ball and cut a sorry figure after being constantly harried by Matic, Ramires and Fabregas. The fullbacks and the likes of Can, Allen and Henderson tried to support the Italian by moving forward but the Reds were always vulnerable on the counter attack.
This graphic shows how potent Liverpool are with Sturridge (Number 15) upfront. The Reds` second top scorer last season forms a formidable attacking threat with Sterling and their mobility upfront widens the opposition defence and the likes of Balotelli, Henderson and Allen would be duly rewarded if they make their way to the box. Playing the diamond with Balotelli and Sturridge should be the obvious choice against Palace but it remains to be seen if the two play upfront considering the bizarre decisions made by Rodgers this season.
Glen Johnson- Surely a passenger in Liverpool`s side
Glen Johnson has been a huge let down, especially in the last 12 to 14 months. From a buccaneering fullback in his Portsmouth days, the England international has become an unfit, bundle of nerves on the right hand side. The Liverpool fans must wonder how Johnson is the first choice full back ahead of Javi Manquillo despite a cluster of poor performances under his belt. He was out of position when Azpilicueta outmuscled Coutinho to set up Costa`s goal, and Liverpool`s right hand side, especially in Johnson`s presence has become a sort of pilgrimage for opposition teams. Jon Flanagan has been a big miss and should provide more solidity when he returns but at the moment Manquillo is way ahead of Johnson in terms of form and fitness and should be an automatic choice in the game against Palace.
Liverpool`s pressing game and lightning starts- non existent
Luis Suarez`s departure notwithstanding, you`d still expect Liverpool to continue their pressing game from last season. The Reds just put teams to sword with their lightning quick starts and energetic pressing. According to Opta stats, Liverpool have dropped to 10th with a PPDA (Passes Allowed Per Defensive Actiion) metric of 12.38 as opposed to 10.79 last season. Lower the PPDA, higher the pressing. Apart from their last game against Chelsea, Liverpool`s pressing has been poor. They have let teams to take their time on the ball and pick out passes. With Sturridge`s return, one can expect the pressing to get better and we might get to see the quick starts like last season.
Dejan Lovren Lack of positioning and communication hurting the Croat
The signing of Dejan Lovren for a fee £20 million from Southampton in the summer was to fix Liverpool`s shaky defence, but it has
actuallygotten worse with the Croat struggling to establish himself as a part of the back four. Lovren`s positioning has been poor and he has been caught out of his position to cover for Moreno who likes to venture forward most of the time. Lovren has made 4 defensive mistakes which have lead to direct goals while Moreno has 3 to his name. Rodgers must get these two to communicate better to sort out the left hand side of his defence. As for the right hand side, it should get better when Manquillo starts ahead of Johnson.
Despite the poor start, one major positive for Liverpool is they are just four points off the top four. Three of the next four fixtures are against teams who are below them in the table and the Reds should be looking to get atleast 10 points from these games. A win against Palace at Selhurst Park presents the perfect opportunity to kick-start their season again and also ease the pain of last season`s capitulation, where they threw away a 3-0 lead.