Liverpool FC: 7 Things to Take Away from Liverpool's Loss to Aston Villa
Liverpool slumped to a surprise home defeat to a resurgent Aston Villa today. The Reds played host to the Villains as they looked to add to victories against Southampton and West Ham in their attempt to push for a top four spot.
Defeat left most Liverpool fans scratching their heads in disbelief as the Anfield club once again dominated the match but failed to make the most of their chances. Is the Brend nigh for Rodgers, or did the match hold more secrets than might appear at first glance?
I take a look at the seven key things we learned from the match and ask the big question—where do Liverpool go from here?
Liverpool's Reinforcements Can't Come Quickly Enough
Raheem Sterling. Suso. Jonjo Shelvey. Andre Wisdom. The list goes on.
It's hardly new information to suggest that Liverpool's squad is a little bit thin on the ground. Depending on who you ask, they've either wasted their money or not spent enough. The truth probably sits somewhere in the middle, and the simple fact is that things have to change.
Raheem Sterling has done a...sterling job since his promotion to the first team under Brendan Rodgers. Such a good job, in fact, that it's easy to forget he only just turned 18. But as the season progresses and he isn't given a rest, he's starting to look less like Man Friday and more like Little Boy Lost.
The future looks incredibly bright for the team on the red half of Merseyside, as its young superstars continue to impress at every level of the club. But in a perfect world, they would be used as supporting artists to the main cast. Instead, they have taken on the roles of understudies who have been thrust into the limelight when the leading man has taken ill.
The whippet-esque Sterling would be an excellent player to bring on in the last 20 minutes of a match—when opposition legs are tiring and his intelligence could do some real damage.
He's good. There's no question. So are all of the other young players Liverpool have been reliant upon so far this season. The more he plays, however, the more likely it is that he'll run himself into the ground and mistakes will be made.
We all know Suarez needs support up front, but other areas of the pitch are in just as dire need of reinforcements.
Jordan Henderson Needs to Start More Games for Liverpool
A large section of Liverpool supporters seem to have selective amnesia when it comes to supporting their youth.
Lucas Leiva was lambasted by all and sundry during his first few years at LFC. Yet now he's widely considered to be one of the most important players in the team.
So the notion that Jordan Henderson is somehow a "waste of space" or "not good enough to wear the shirt" doesn't tend to sit too well with me.
Liverpool have looked more balanced when the former Sunderland player is in the team, and it's time Brendan Rodgers gave him a longer run in the side.
Rodgers's love of Jonjo Shelvey is both understandable and seemingly limitless. The 20-year-old appears to be first choice for the Liverpool manager in a number of different positions. But for all of his dynamism and forward thinking, he does tend to be somewhat hit-or-miss.
Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, hasn't really been at the races this season—no matter what Brendan Rodgers might say to the contrary. He can, though, stick the ball in the back of the net, as he proved today against Villa.
So as Liverpool wait for the aforementioned reinforcements to arrive, I would like to see Henderson start alongside Lucas and Allen, with Gerrard pushed up into the front 3. The sad fact is that the Liverpool captain doesn't have the legs to boss the midfield anymore. But he still has the vision to score goals when it matters.
Liverpool Will Never Again Be Awarded a Penalty
Seventeen matches into the campaign and Liverpool remain one of the only Premier League teams not to be given a penalty kick.
There's no planet on which that makes any sense whatsoever. Especially when you consider some of the penalties given against the Reds.
Last week, Joe Allen was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area against West Ham United. It was an incredibly harsh decision given by a referee who didn't appear to want to make any correct decisions in the entirety of the match.
Today, Luis Suarez's shot struck the arm of an Aston Villa defender inside the box. Yes, it would have been a harsh penalty. But consistency suggests it should have been given anyway.
Of far more worth, though, was a shout early in the second half when Ciaran Clark clearly pulled Daniel Agger over right in the middle of the box. The only way it could have been more of a penalty was if the Villa defender had decapitated him. The referee waved away the protests.
I'm not one for conspiracy theories and I don't believe for one second that there's anything untoward about Liverpool's lack of penalties this season. But if decisions really do even themselves out, expect Liverpool to be awarded free kicks and penalties when an opposition player so much as sneezes in the second half of the season.
Liverpool Look Vulnerable on the Counterattack
Brendan Rodgers wants Liverpool to play with an attacking verve and swagger. That's admirable. But it's leaving them wide open to counterattacking football from their opponents.
By encouraging Glen Johnson and (insert interchangeable left-back here) to get forward down the flanks, Rodgers has enabled Liverpool to look very threatening going forward. However, it's leaving huge gaps at the back should someone gift possession to the opposition.
Joe Cole—who was once again put in the shop window today, only to stick a sign on himself saying "defective"—did exactly that in the build-up to Aston Villa's third goal. The defense should have done better with what followed, yes, but they were left out of shape because of the marauding figure of their right-back disappearing up the wing.
Lucas is a remarkable player, and the freedom he gives both the defense and his fellow midfielders is a joy to watch. He can't, though, be everywhere at once. Especially when you consider he's barely back from injury.
With the defense often sitting deep and the midfield spread too thinly, teams like Aston Villa know they can come to Anfield planning to hit Liverpool on the counter and feel confident they'll probably succeed.
Stewart Downing Is Starting to Look Comfortable at Left-Back
Whisper it. Don't say it in front of the wrong person. But Stewart Downing is starting to look like he might be a half-decent player after all.
OK, so saying he's "comfortable" at left-back might be a slight exaggeration. It's hardly time for him to grab his slippers and light up the pipe.
Against his former club, though, he was arguably Liverpool's best player for vast periods of the match.
He was pinging Hollywood-style balls cross-field, rampaging down the wing and whipping in tantalising balls that no one was on the end of.
Admittedly, he looks shaky defensively from time to time, but then again, it's difficult to decide who in this Liverpool lineup doesn't.
If Rodgers wants to continue with his attacking full-back setup, he'd do worse than continue to put his faith in Downing.
I'm not a big fan of the Middlesborough lad. Too often he's been found wanting when wearing a Liverpool shirt. Maybe, just maybe, though, he's found his place and he's realising what he needs to do.
Liverpool Still Need to Win the Mind Games
Aside from improved aerodynamics on their bikes and...you know...peddling really quickly, one of the main reasons behind Team GB's medal haul in the cycling at the Olympics was Dr. Steve Peters.
Credited with helping the cyclists win their mind games, the renowned sports psychiatrist has recently joined the backroom staff at Anfield. And boy, does he have a job on his hands.
It's difficult to remember the last time Liverpool FC went through a prolonged period of self-belief. Some might say the six-month period when Kenny Dalglish took over from Roy Hodgson was one. For my money, though, it's easy to be relaxed when the pressure's off.
You would probably have to look back to the run-in of the 2008-2009 season for a time when the players in red had belief that they could beat anybody.
This current team seems to second guess itself far too often—they make the wrong choice too many times when it matters.
Hopefully Dr. Peters—author of the excellent book The Chimp Paradox—can get inside the minds of the players and apply a few tweaks to make them run as smoothly as a well-oiled bike. At the moment, there's too much rust clogging up the mechanism, and one step forward is followed by two steps back.
Brendan Rodgers Needs Time
Brendan Rodgers has been in charge of Liverpool FC for less than half a season.
Yet if you are stupid enough to read some of the comments on Twitter any time LFC fail to win, you'd be forgiven for thinking he had been there for years and had gone stale.
It's easy to forget how far Liverpool have fallen since the heady days of Rafa Benitez's pomp. Many—too many—Liverpool fans think the Anfield club has a divine right to finish in the top four, happily ignoring the fact that the Reds haven't achieved that distinction since 2009.
Indeed, heading into the game today, plenty of Liverpool supporters felt that the three points were a formality and had already moved on to the game against Fulham in their heads.
Never mind that Villa have been somewhat resurgent in recent weeks. Irrelevant is the fact that they have only lost once in the last six and sit eighth in Premier League form guide. No, they're a poor team that Liverpool should swat aside on their endless march up the table.
There are some fans who feel—quite rightly, in my opinion—that Kenny Dalglish was sacked too soon. There are others who wanted Rafael Benitez to be re-appointed in the summer. More still are happier mocking the passing statistics than bothering to support the team.
But Kenny is gone. Rafa has sold his soul to the дьявол. And the passing is statistically likely to lead to victory.
So it's time to move on from what's already taken place and start to look forward to where the team is going.
Liverpool FC have fallen a lot further than most Reds are willing to admit. It's a long climb back to the top. A climb that will have setbacks and dark days. The only way forward is to walk through the storm with your head held high. And support the man who is actually in the dugout.