Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Liverpool's February Agenda

A few quick observations on Liverpool's February schedule with two league games and a two-legged European tie to round off February after a fantastic, dominant performance against Man City at the Etihad Stadium. Another silly mistake saw a potential victory end in a heartening/deflating (delete as desired) draw. Noel C at The Liverpool Offside intelligently looked at whether it was just mistakes that have resulted in dropped points this season. If anyone actually wants to get a closer look at how good Liverpool actually were, Nate at ohyoubeauty constructed a fantastic visualisation full of stats, images and analysis as per usual.

Anfield. Whether Liverpool's home form has truly turned a corner after playing West Brom & Swansea at home. They have proved to be good top 10 sides this season and beating both in succession could signal real progress before our final serious tests at Anfield against Tottenham (March), Chelsea (April) and Everton (May). The notion that beating West Brom and Swansea should be routine is a misguided one. Swansea have already journeyed to Anfield, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge in domestic competitions and returned to Wales with two-goal victories hanging. Since beating QPR on Boxing Day last year, West Brom remain without a win in eight games in domestic competitions, losing six out of eight in domestic competitions. Clarke's men remain tied with Swansea on 34 points and this dismal run shouldn't detract from the fantastic start that West Brom made this season. Lukaku and Long will trouble Liverpool's defence while Osaze Odemwingie will trouble the youth defenders in training. Can Rodgers' Reds follow a creditable draw with successive home wins against top ten opposition?

"Spalletti has impressed at Udinese, Roma and now Zenit."
Europe. Some fans might call Zenit Saint Petersburg a club that harbours bigots and mercenaries in unspecific numbers but Zenit pose a significant challenge worthy of the Champions League group stages or the last 16. Brendan Rodgers' boys remain in seventh place in the league table but players such as Agger, Johnson, Gerrard and Suarez provide undoubted quality. Do the players want Champions League football next season? I'm sure they'll try to make sure that happens but finishing ahead of Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal will prove to be extremely difficult with 13 games remaining. Not impossible but the aforementioned five league games at Anfield would have to be nothing less than shiny wins. Liverpool's players will most certainly have a European tie against an opponent of that quality. Yes, it's still the Europa league and sure, Sturridge and Coutinho won't be able to play but this month will see a big European night at Anfield. Zenit won't resume domestic football until early March and perhaps that will be significant. Zenit can call on Hulk, Witsel, Kerzhakov, Danny, Denisov, Criscito and Bruno Alves in addition to any players signed in the remaining 21 days of the Russian transfer window. Liverpool have already faced Anzhi Makhachkala this season but can Rodgers outwit Luciano Spalletti over two legs in Europe?

Sturridge and Coutinho. At some point this month Liverpool fans will get to see both players on the field. Sturridge has shown early promise. He's young, talented, intelligent, technically capable but did not get the sustained playing time required to develop at Chelsea. However, Sturridge went on loan to Bolton and excelled with regular game time to such an extent that he was the focal point for the side’s attack. Now playing regularly, he's looking like a vital and quality  player. Sound familiar? Swap Sturridge for Coutinho, Chelsea for Inter Milan and Bolton for Espanyol and the tale would be virtually identical except for the ending part. The high level of defending in England will surely strike fear to all who visit these shores. Back to reality, the man previously known as "the future of Inter" should become a major star in English football. The Vasco da Gama youth product, football is a business unfortunately, is nearly three years younger than Sturridge and will need time to adapt physically and tactically to the club and English football. The kid has superb technique out of both feet and loves a dribble as much as Luis Suarez. Nutmegging ability is currently unknown. Liverpool's playing style and tactical arrangement should suit Lucas' new best friend and he will appreciate the movement of Sturridge and Suarez, the fullback support from Johnson and Enrique, the energy and availability of Henderson and the passing range of Gerrard.

"Coutinho linking up with these three could be a treat."
Signing young and talented players from other big clubs can be difficult. Often there's a contractual issue (Pogba), a disciplinary one (Balotelli and Ravel Morrison) or just a lack of game time that pushes young talent out of the arms of a big club. Maybe Chelsea and Internazionale should have given both players more opportunities to play. It is logical to assume that Rodgers' January additions weren't good enough or proven enough at that stage to start games regularly. What both players currently have is a platform not too dissimilar to the ones they've left behind but what will be different is the opportunities they'll get under Rodgers. Could this be an advantage in the summer when trying to attract prospective young talents? The guarantee of an opportunity to display their respective skills at a big club that has fallen somewhat but still relevant enough to prick the ears of international managers across the globe. Perhaps. Signed for a combined fee of one Stewart Downing, could Coutinho and Sturridge be the game-changers needed in addition to Gerrard and Suarez?

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