6 Liverpool Players Who Must Step Up in Second Half of Premier League Season
The first half of Brendan Rodgers' debut season as Liverpool manager has been one of mixed fortunes; some excellent performances and a few exciting matches have been tempered by not enough signings and too few victories.
Certain players have certainly made a name for themselves—especially youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom—but others have perhaps let themselves down a little, or a lot, with their performances thus far.
If Liverpool are to have any kind of success, there are still several players who will need to have a big second half of the campaign who have not yet been able to have a big contribution until now, for a variety of reasons.
Here are six Reds who need to give some big performances from the new year onward to help Liverpool push on for a high Premier League placing.
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We'll begin with Liverpool's captain, Steven Gerrard.
The veteran midfielder has been forced into a deeper, more controlled role than usual this season because of changes in formation and style of play, and availability of fellow midfielders.
He has come in for criticism amongst some fans for some low-key performances, and although it's true that he has been actively poor in some matches, in all fairness, he has had to balance his attacking abilities with defensive responsibility.
Needless to say, this has resulted in him not having a match-winning impact on games too regularly.
Criticism has been justified at times where Gerrard has been lax in tracking runners, making challenges in midfield on the odd occasion and—more than anything—misplacing passes that have led to goalscoring chances for the opposition.
At other times, though, he has fought well for the team, helped Joe Allen in midfield and supplied good switched passes to help change the tempo.
Over the second half of the season, Liverpool will hopefully be able to use him in a more advanced role, as he can have a greater effect in helping the Reds score goals and win games.
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Liverpool started this season with just one recognised left-back on their books, Spanish defender Jose Enrique.
The former Newcastle United man got his Liverpool career off to a good start last season, but his form dipped from the end of 2011 onward and he started off this campaign with similarly poor levels of play and an injury.
That saw him lose his place, though he has recently found favour again as a left-sided forward.
Jose Enrique is not a great defender. He is strong, fast and confident on the ball, but if out of form, this lends itself to a strangely error-prone defender who becomes as much of a liability to his team as he is a protector of his goalkeeper.
Lacking in agility, too slow in distribution and poor with his decision-making, Jose Enrique is at times more of a danger to his own goal than that of the opposition.
His recent improved displays in the final third hint at him having some sort of role to play in the new year as Rodgers continues his rebuilding. But he will have to show far more end product and, more importantly, consistency if he is to regain not only his place but also trust—from the dugout and from the stands.
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Liverpool's undisputed No. 1 goalkeeper since signing from Villarreal in 2005, Pepe Reina has endured two seasons of disappointing form since the recent managerial changes at the club.
The Reds' goalkeeper suffered terribly at the beginning of this term, making a series of goal-costing mistakes. Since recovering from injury though, he has kept three clean sheets in four games, hinting at a return to his best form.
With his team having aspirations of a return to the top half, the top six and, in time, the top four, Reina needs to be an integral member of the team who finds his best form sooner rather than later.
His organisational skills, distribution and overall command of his penalty area is up with the best in the world (never mind the league), and Reina at his best gives Liverpool a firm block from which to build.
Brendan Rodgers has spoken, via the BBC, about his wish to see his 'keeper back to his best:
Pepe Reina is clearly our number one goalkeeper, one of the best goalkeepers in the league. He had a difficult couple of years but for me his best years are ahead of him and his commitment to the cause and what we are trying to achieve is 150 percent. Pepe has taken on board himself to do a lot of work to get in the best possible state he can be in physically and mentally and I am so happy with him. But what is worth putting on record is that I'm not looking for another goalkeeper. Any areas we look to improve will be elsewhere.
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Brendan Rodgers knew coming into the job that Liverpool needed reinforcements in the final third.
Unfortunately, he was ultimately only able to add one player to his list of available names—Fabio Borini.
Just 11 games into his Liverpool career, however, the former Roma forward suffered a foot injury that will keep him out until the new year.
Liverpool's attacking options have been severely depleted through sales and injuries and when he returns, Borini will have a big part to play—and he must do everything possible to ensure that he returns not only fit but confident and in form.
The Reds need more goals, and Borini has to be capable of supplying at least half a dozen of them in the second half of the season.
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Considering Lucas Leiva has barely featured for the Reds so far this season, it might seem overly critical to place him on a list of players who need to "step up." But the point is, there are a lot of expectations resting on his shoulders.
Lucas is the man in the middle who makes the team tick, gives the Reds balance and lets the better offensive players flourish to their best potential.
Put simply, Liverpool desperately need Lucas to be on top form and to remain fit.
Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen, Nuri Sahin et al can cause problems for teams with their combined passing, but Lucas is the man who holds them all together.
Nothing can be said about the Brazilian's form; he was playing superbly before his injury a little over a year ago and even in preseason this summer he showed signs of his technical and tactical ability.
The one league game he has played since returning most recently, at home to Southampton, highlighted his quality, even if some of his passes were understandably inaccurate.
Liverpool need Lucas to step up.
A Brand-Spanking New Signing
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There are more players in Liverpool's squad who need to improve their level of performance.
Some, however, might not get the chance to continue trying to improve at Anfield; they could be offloaded in January at the earliest possible chance.
Somewhere along the line though, the Reds are going to be adding to their squad as well.
Above all else, at this stage, even above planning merely for the future or bringing in players who can have a big impact over the next two years, Liverpool need players who can have an impact now.
Someone to score goals, create chances in the final third, support Luis Suarez.
Whoever it is that Liverpool sign, and there have certainly been a lot of names mentioned, Brendan Rodgers desperately needs that player to come in and hit the ground running.
It could yet be a very good season for the Reds, and getting the right targets in when the January window opens could make a big difference.