QPR vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned in Reds 3-0 Win
Having suffered two poor defeats in their last matches, the Reds were desperate to pick up three more points this time around as they searched for some consistency. Pre-match plans were hit by illness as manager Brendan Rodgers, head of performance Glen Driscoll and reserve goalkeeper Brad Jones were all struck down by a virus.
Even so, Liverpool got off to a great start and hit two goals in the opening quarter of an hour to really deflate the home side and their noisy supporters.
The game was effectively over by the half-hour mark when the Reds scored their third. The second half saw a much more conservative performance to close out the game and the all-important points, and Rodgers will be happy to see his team put in a mature display in either half.
Here are six things we learned in Liverpool's final game of the year.
Suarez Back in Scoring Form
Having not scored over a run of seven Liverpool games from November to December, Luis Suarez is well and truly back amongst the goals after hitting an early brace against QPR.
January transfers will hopefully add more firepower to the Liverpool attack but they certainly still need their main man to keep up his scoring form from the first half of the season. He made it three goals in three games at Loftus Road.
Suarez now has 16 goals for the season in all competitions, just one shy of his tally for the whole of last season—and has 13 of them in the Premier League, which already eclipses last term's total.
Liverpool need the Uruguayan to keep up this form over the next month to ensure a strong start to 2013, as well as hope he gels seamlessly with whichever forwards come in to play alongside him.
Such a Difference for Liverpool When They Make a Fast Start to Games
Despite winning a penalty against Stoke City after just 30 seconds and scoring it a few moments later, Liverpool certainly didn't get into their stride early on against the Potters.
Had they kept the home side out for a little longer the game might have panned out differently, but it was Stoke who were the brighter team and hit Liverpool with a constant stream of high balls towards the front line which the Reds couldn't cope with.
At QPR it was a different story. Liverpool came forward quickly from the first few minutes, committed men in the final third and were rewarded, albeit with the help of some extremely shoddy defending, by three goals in the opening half hour.
Suarez, Suarez, Agger—Liverpool blitzed QPR and the game was really over by that point.
The Reds could have had more in that half and certainly might have done better on the counter in the second half, but the damage had already been done.
Intensity, energy and enthusiasm in Liverpool's play was the trick. Doing it a bit more often from kickoff might just have a profound effect on how easy the Reds find it to break down teams at home, rather than having to try and up the tempo after fruitless spells of domination which don't yield clear chances on goal.
Injury to Jose Enrique May Force Additional Move in the Market
As well as illness to Brad Jones, Liverpool suffered a blow in the second half when left-back Jose Enrique had to be substituted with a hamstring injury.
Assistant manager Colin Pascoe revealed after the match that the Spaniard had suffered a tear, meaning he is likely to be absent from anywhere from three to 12 weeks, depending on how bad the injury is.
Given that he was able to walk off and did not look to be in too much distress, the Reds will be hoping for something on the lower end of the scale. If it is a significant tear, though, it may be that Brendan Rodgers is forced to look for another option in January.
Andre Wisdom will provide the likely immediate cover in defence on the right, with Glen Johnson switching to the left. Jack Robinson and Stewart Downing can also both cover there.
However Jose Enrique's indifferent form this season—the QPR game had actually been one of his better ones this term—might only speed up a decision that the manager could have taken at the end of the campaign anyway.
Steven Gerrard Given Plenty of Space to Play the Box to Box Role
Steven Gerrard was pleasingly influential for Liverpool at QPR, bossing the middle of the pitch in the first half and making his presence known at both ends during the second.
The Reds captain was afforded an incredible amount of space in a deep midfield position early on as the QPR duo Stephane Mbia and Samba Diakite sat well back, letting the No. 8 pass the ball all over the pitch.
His fine delivery for Daniel Agger's header claimed an assist and he was generally the always-available option for his team-mates. Gerrard had the most touches of the ball in the team, played the most passes and made six tackles and three interceptions—both team highs.
It was noticeable after the break with QPR switching systems and playing higher up the pitch that he did not dictate play as much. But Gerrard was still a force and had a good impact on the game. In his own half he harassed better than he has in previous games and supported Joe Allen well in defence, and at the other end he also made good tackles to keep the pressure high up the pitch.
Supporting the counter attack, Gerrard once or twice could have either shot or set up a team-mate, while he also nearly scored a brilliant team goal with a close range header—but was just beaten to the ball by Nedum Onuoha.
Foot off the Pedal in the Second Half Shows Importance of Points
QPR obviously had to come out fighting after the break as they were three goals down at home, so the sight of Liverpool sitting back somewhat more was not unexpected.
Of course, the Reds would have wanted to add a couple more goals if they could. But the home side were more resilient after the break, though Liverpool spurned a few good chances on the counter.
Even so, the willingness of the team to soak up some pressure and play the ball around at the back highlights the importance of the result and the three points above chasing further goals at the other end.
Liverpool needed to get back to winning ways, they needed a confident performance at both ends of the pitch—and they already had the three goals which moved them up one place in the league table.
Further goals would have been a bonus, but were perhaps not more important on this occasion than keeping a clean sheet, remaining focussed and seeing out the win professionally—especially with last season's late Loftus Road collapse still fresh in the mind.
Consistency the Watchword for 2013, Starting at Anfield
December comes to a close now for Liverpool who, despite some poor results of late, end the month with an impressive-at-first-glance five wins out of seven matches.
Liverpool also kept four clean sheets in those five victories.
It is unfortunate that the two defeats against Stoke and Aston Villa should come in the midst of what were some good results; while a loss at the Britannia Stadium is no great shame, the performance itself certainly was at times.
The Villa result was a horrid one at Anfield but, in contrast, Liverpool was actually attacking and looking strong...until Villa showed the Reds just what "clinical" meant. Of course their own form since that match has been horrendous, scoring none and conceding 15 in three games, two of which were at home.
For Liverpool, what they absolutely must do now is begin 2013 with the same kind of form and aggression they showed against Queens Park Rangers.
First up is struggling Sunderland at Anfield on Jan. 2; reinforcements in the transfer window should follow shortly afterwards. Liverpool simply have to win that home league match and it would be expected that they beat Mansfield in the FA Cup straight afterwards as well.
Should they accomplish those two results then the Reds head into the fixture against Manchester United on the back of a run comprising seven wins from nine games, and optimism should be once again flooding through the veins of those wearing the Liver Bird.
Liverpool have performed well in several games this term where they haven't won the points they merited. The one and only new year's resolution the squad should be making is to make consistency their watch-word and mantra.
Statistical data from WhoScored.com