Liverpool: Home to severe mood swings in the event of an unsatisfactory result.
The 1-3 loss away at Southampton on Saturday was one such event—an event where, despite the excellent run of form that Liverpool had been on prior to the game, doubts about Brendan Rodgers and the direction he is leading the Reds once again resurfaced.
Where, despite this being a season of low expectation and supposed transition, hopes of a late top-four or top-five run were dashed to seemingly huge disappointment.
But, all the hyperbole and hysteria aside, there were several individual performances at St. Mary’s Stadium that didn’t quite meet the high standards set at Anfield over the years.
Let the debate begin.
Liverpool fans like a scapegoat. Just as Lucas and Jordan Henderson were considered not good enough for Liverpool in seasons gone by, it is now Joe Allen who has assumed the current role.
In hindsight, perhaps an early-season run of great form served only to heighten expectations that he might prove the Reds’ first real replacement for Xabi Alonso and an impressive buy from ex-club Swansea City.
But here’s the thing: Allen’s abysmal form has been going on for a few months now, and it practically demands that Brendan Rodgers not play him.
His recent performance against Southampton, which lasted only 45 minutes given the extent to which he was overrun by the Saints midfield, was a whole world apart from the encouraging passing and movement he showed in the opening few months of the season.
Yet there is something curious that drives the Liverpool manager to continue playing him despite the player himself confirming that he is suffering from a shoulder injury and requires surgery (ESPN).
Which makes this not just a case of overrating a player; this is just downright confusing.
At least the latest news that he will indeed go under the knife means that his season will end early (Guardian), which will give him time to recover the confidence he badly needs.
Liverpool’s last great center-back partnership was Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia, a defensive duo that provided a platform for Rafa Benitez to build one of the most exciting counterattacking sides in Europe with a midfield that Reds fans can only dream of now.
Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger might have earned rave reviews for their performances in a Liverpool defence that conceded the third-least number of goals last season, but given their alarming decline this season, the current Liverpool defensive setup doesn’t even come close to the great Reds defences of the past.
Skrtel’s decline has been particularly worrying.
Pushed out of the side by a resurgent Jamie Carragher, perhaps enjoying an Indian summer before his projected summer retirement, Skrtel’s dramatic collapse in form was perhaps started and highlighted by an embarrassing afternoon at Oldham Athletic, when he was practically bullied by an incessant League One strikeforce featuring a Didier Drogba-impersonator in Matt Smith.
This was, of course, all too reminiscent of an uncomfortable debut against Havant and Waterlooville back in 2007.
Skrtel has now logged an alarming five defensive errors this season, committing one every 375 minutes (via EPLIndex).
Perhaps—whisper it quietly—Skrtel was never that good in the first place.
Unlike Carragher, Skrtel doesn’t possess a steely determination to win headers, the game-saving passion and the ability to go that extra mile. He also doesn’t have the pace and acceleration, and for a center-back of his size and physical stature, Skrtel simply isn’t physically imposing enough.
What used to be the strongest area for Liverpool, the defence, is now their weakest.
Liverpool fans all know the Brad Jones story, which in itself is a fantastic triumph over adversity: His son Luca, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, passed away in late 2011, and an emotional Jones pointed to the sky in celebration after a pivotal penalty save having come on as a substitute for Alexander Doni in a league game against Blackburn Rovers in April 2012.
A late run in the Liverpool side, highlighted by an appearance at Wembley in the FA Cup semifinal last year, saw Jones establish himself as Pepe Reina’s backup goalkeeper, and he has filled in as No. 2 when Reina has been sidelined with injury this season.
There’s no denying that Jones has always shown himself to be a decent family man and a great teammate, but when it comes to footballing ability, it is clear that Jones’ reputation as a person has come before his reputation as a goalkeeper.
Simply put, Jones does not have the aerial command that a decent Premier League keeper does. He is nervous when it comes to balls crossed into the penalty area, and is not assertive at punching clearances. His reactions are not up-to-speed, and he simply doesn’t seem to possess the innate self-belief that all good goalkeepers should.
Newcastle United’s Steve Harper, Aston Villa’s Shay Given and Manchester United’s Anders Lindegaard are fine examples of good backup goalkeepers, which, given Pepe Reina’s error-prone form this season, will be an important issue for Brendan Rodgers to address this summer.
Now it’s time to step into the more controversial choices.
Jonjo Shelvey, signed from Charlton in 2010 as one of the most promising young midfielders in England, came back from a prolific loan spell with Blackpool last year and established himself as a decent squad option for both Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers. He enjoyed a fine scoring run in the Europa League and even won his first England cap last October.
But in recent months he has found himself on the sidelines and in the stands, especially since the January acquisitions of Philippe Coutinho, who has established himself in the first XI; and Daniel Sturridge, who has allowed Luis Suarez to take up Shelvey’s favored No. 10 role.
This is the Jonjo Shelvey who has long been considered as Steven Gerrard’s long-term replacement, but whose current predicament perhaps more accurately reflects where his true ability lies.
He may possess decent physical strength and a temper to match, but Shelvey does not offer pace, acceleration, shooting or passing and is thus a liability in the current Liverpool attack.
Rodgers’ ill-fated experiment with Shelvey in the “false nine” role failed due to the lack of technical and tactical awareness, and perhaps it is this reality that has elevated Jordan Henderson above Shelvey in the pecking order after appearing to be out of favor at the start of the season.
And then there’s Lucas.
The Lucas who failed to instantly impress and settle into the English game when he arrived from Gremio as one of Brazil’s best young attacking midfielders, but won his way into Liverpool hearts with whole-hearted performances in the center of midfield.
The Lucas who, after the departures of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, was given chances to establish himself as Liverpool’s first-choice defensive midfielder and even forced his way into the Brazil national team following his improvement.
The Lucas who, after years of being maligned and criticized, was finally recognized with the Standard Chartered Fans Player of the Year for the 2010-2011 season after a year of mature and calm performances in the Liverpool midfield.
Such is his rise from Liverpool outcast to Kop hero that he is now acclaimed by sections of the Reds support to be the premier defensive midfielder in the English Premier League, and one of the finest in European football.
Which, as decent and humble he might be as a person, he is not.
Lucas does not possess the pace and power that is a hallmark of true world-class players in his position, and while a specialist defensive anchorman is a shield in front of his defence, Lucas has contributed a depressing lack of goals from midfield.
A fully-fit Lucas isn’t near world-class status, and a Lucas coming back from long-term injury certainly isn’t close to the level many Liverpool fans have pegged him at simply because of his renaissance. His non-appearance in his area during Jay Rodriguez’s stroll through the Liverpool midfield only showed how out of position he can be.
If Liverpool aspire to return to the upper echelons of English and European football, the harsh reality is that they will need someone better than Lucas to start week in, week out.