by Bill’s grandson Christopher William Shankly Carline
On the eve of yesterday’s game with Sunderland, I have to admit, I felt good again.
The way in which we ground our results against Stoke and then Leicester had left a nice feeling in my stomach that had been absent for the past few weeks, if not months. Call it overly optimistic if you like (and believe me Im usually the pessimist), wins against a mid table Stoke side at home and against a rock bottom Leicester are hardly the cue to state we’re on our way back to the form of last season, but based on previous months where it looked like we couldn’t buy a win, let alone a clean sheet, meant I was feeling good.
Tuesday night’s trip to Leicester was especially pleasing. An early dart from work at half 3 and driving down to the King Power isn’t usually my away day modus operandi but needs must! On a cold evening in the midlands, the way in which we fought back from one down deserves credit. The game was notable for a few things for me in addition to the steely resolve we showed.
Mignolet’s increasing persistence to give Liverpool fan’s heart failure was again at the fore. Whilst he was unfortunate with the own goal, his pass that presented Leicester with an open goal that they failed to convert was quite inexplicable. I said it 18 months ago when he was signed; that we shouldn’t have gotten rid of Pepe Reina and that it if he didn’t show command and dominance of his penalty area like Pepe it would upset the back four. I was bang right. The goalkeeper is for me, the majority reason as to why we have been so poor defensively. Simple as that. His nervousness, limitations in the air and inability to command have made the back four nervous. How else do you account for international defenders all of a sudden being incapable of keeping a clean sheet against even the poorest forward lines. There isn’t an anomaly, you can clearly chart the situation on a timeline with the keeper’s arrival. The problem we have is that there is no competition for him and he knows it!
A second point from the game was the role of the captain. I’ve long said that Liverpool wrote him off in an attacking midfielders role too early. It was like he hit 30/31 and he had to go to the sitting midfield role. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200; or rather do not pass the halfway line and do not collect any goals. All of a sudden we have woken up to this and he is being deployed further forward; with us reaping rewards. We saw flashes of it at Ludogorets, for 20 minutes against Stoke and against Leicester. Whilst Steven may not quite have the legs for the lung busting runs beyond the striker, he does still possess his exquisite passing range, touch and ability to shoot and hold the ball. With players like Lallana , Henderson and Lucas doing some of his running for him; he can thrive in the number 10 role. His goal against Leicester with the late run into the penalty area was typical Gerrard and his celebration coupled with our celebration as fans as he ran towards us felt like group therapy for what we all knew. The captain is far from finished. What Liverpool must ensure however is if he plays there, he needs runners ahead of him, with pace. At Leicester, Sterling was the only out ball in that effect; as Lambert offers much more of an aerial, operating on the line presence rather than beyond it. Surely Sturridge’s return in that respect can’t come soon enough.
I mentioned momentarily the role of Sterling above. I thought at Leicester, his selfless running showed how his game has matured; but much more so; the way he dealt with the over physical treatment from Leicester and the lack of protection from the referee was a sign of his evolution into a complete footballer both physically and mentally. The fact that he left the field on Tuesday heavily limping was exacerbated by the poor performance of the referee and officials.
The FA this week released their ‘DNA’ blueprint for England being World Champions in 2022. They want to go about turning their attention to addressing the sub standard performance of officials in this country and the processes behind being unable to address it. Lee Mason’s performance was extremely poor against Leicester. He allowed Sterling to be kicked from pillar to post with no protection. And before people say it; I know it is a contact sport and I personally relish the physical side of the game and applaud good hard tackles, but a foul is a foul, and when it constantly isn’t picked up it becomes a joke. None the least, the blatant penalty on Steven Gerrard following Schmeichel’s foul, which clearly wasn’t given because Mason felt he would have to send him off and clearly wasn’t prepared to having already dismissed Morgan. It is these discrepancies and inconsistencies that have dogged officials in this country for years. The 4th Official clearly saw it was a penalty, but did nothing as he looked to the referee first; saw he was giving nothing and shirked the responsibility. It happens like that every week. It is therefore even more galling that in addition to not addressing the woeful standard of officiating; managers and players are unable to speak out about it for fear of fine or sanction; and that referees are not made to be held accountable for their actions. The FA clearly don’t connect the dots between the impact these decisions have and other issues in the game. Is it any wonder trouble breaks out between fans at times when they are constantly on the receiving end of these poor decisions. Manager’s lose jobs, and players suffer in their careers all as knock on effects, yet the FA throw a shroud over the situation year on year and ban people from talking about it. When a player messes up on the pitch or a manager messes up tactically, he is made to answer to fans and the press and/or governing bodies based on what they have perpetrated. Why aren’t referees? The FA invests so much money in campaigns and projects. It is about time they addressed the elephant in the room and did something to encourage and bring through officials of a good standard rather than those who ruin our beautiful game week in week out.
So it all brings me back full circle to feeling good on the eve of the Sunderland game. The 0-0 draw left me in a bad mood so my pre match feel good factor was soon replaced by frustration mote than anything. A chance to notch 3 wins from 3 for the first since April gone. The game itself was a non entity you feel. We huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow the house down. An observation I am keen to make however is the style of play around Lambert. Rickie is our only real choice up front at the moment (Borini seems to be in exile!) We al know what his weaknesses are and we all know his strengths. He has no pace and isn’t going to run in behind, but he is good in the air and can bring others into the game. At Liverpool last year, the front three was all made up of quick players who liked to run in behind and could play on the shoulder. As a result, Liverpool’s build up play meant patience and working the ball into positions around the penalty area wherby looking to create an opening. That won’t work for Lambert. We will be playing round the edge of the penalty area all day as he isn’t going to run in behind or between centre halves.
That is however how it felt yesterday. Like we were waiting for something that wasn’t going to happen. We had so many occasions when we could have thrown a decent ball into him from wide areas, but instead overplayed it waiting for something else. That has got to stop. If he is going to play, we have to work the ball into decent areas where we can then fathom a decent crossing chance; and look to react to knock downs if nothing else.
Whilst a 0-0 draw was a frustrating result, we go into the must win with Basel on Tuesday unbeaten in 3 and with a positive air in camp.