A Tale of Two Liverpools: When Will Liverpool Mount a Serious Title Challenge?

sayonara sammyCorrespondent IApril 10, 2008

Liverpool booked their place in the UEFA Champions League semi-final on Tuesday, further underlining their credentials as a top European side. But as they progress to the latter stages of the European game for yet another season, they haven’t even come close to mounting a serious challenge for the Premiership. Arsenal Goalkeeper, Manuel Almunia, called Liverpool ‘something of a Jeckyll and Hyde team’ before the second-leg quarter-final at Anfield and I think it was an apt description.

So, what does Liverpool need to be competitive in the EPL? Why is there such a difference in the two Liverpools? And is Rafael Benitez the right man to bring the Premier League title to Anfield?

Let’s take a look at the Liverpool Squad.

In defence, Liverpool seems to have brought in a fantastic young talent by the name of Martin Skrtel to compliment the skills of Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia. With Daniel Agger still to come back from injury there looks to be enough cover there for the moment. However, Hyypia is 34 and by his own admission is slowing down. Skrtel was a great buy and I think he can learn a lot from Hyypia before he hangs up his boots but another top-class centre-half wouldn’t go astray if Liverpool hopes to be competitive in all competitions next year.

Out wide, I’m not really sold on Arbeloa. The kid has a great touch but doesn’t have the speed of thought to get things moving on the counter. Riise has had his day and I reckon is over-rated by a long way and Steve Finnan is solid but not explosive.

In the midfield there is Javier Mascherano, a massive talent who just needs to keep his mouth shut and he’ll fulfil his promise: definitely one of Benitez’s best signings behind only, perhaps, Torres.

With Gerrard, Alonso, and young Lucas in the mix, there seems to be no dearth of talent on paper. Ryan Babel is another promising recruit who is looking more and more like playing a super-sub role for his time at Liverpool. The mercurial winger shows flashes of brilliance but struggles to perform for the full ninety minutes.

Of the regular starters in midfield, I would say that Alonso is the weak link. Largely anonymous in the 3-0 defeat to Man Utd last month, he leaves his best form in the dressing room on too many occasions. He doesn’t seem to link up well at all with Gerrard and loses possession too cheaply.

It’s probably best to mention Kuyt here as he has been playing as a winger of late, and doing a bang-up job. He isn’t strong enough to play up forward in the EPL but seems well suited to a running role. The most obvious addition to the squad would be a flair midfielder. Man Utd lead the way in this department with Ronaldo, Nani and Anderson. Liverpool has Kewell, who hasn’t played a full-season in a Liverpool shirt. And he’s really a winger! Benayoun does alright given his chance as does Pennant but neither performs consistently.

Up front, Liverpool has many options. Of course lately the favoured combo has been Torres supported by Gerrard and Kuyt but what’s the plan B if that doesn’t work. Torres was closed down against United and Gerrard was ineffective. The only option off the bench was Peter Crouch. Crouch is a hard-worker and I’m a fan but he is not a game breaker, although his support of Torres against Arsenal made me think of him in a new light.

And let’s not to forget the goalkeeping department. Jose Reina is a great goalkeeper but he gets the wobbles on occasion. Diaby beat him at the near post on Tuesday and his confidence dealing with high-balls has taken a battering recently. Wes Brown’s goal last month was a clanger from the David James school of goalkeeping. Unfortunately it looks like we’ll lose Scott Carson to Villa permanently in the off season as I reckon he could give Reina a serious run for the top job.

So, is the fact that the Liverpool midfielders are inconsistent a fault of management or are they just not good enough? Rafa’s rotations have slowed lately but was it his tinkering early in the season that led to the ridiculous amount of draws against Birmingham, Blackburn, Wigan, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa or was it just the lack of a killer instinct. Torres is a champion but who else in the Liverpool forward-line can be considered in the same bracket? Has Benitez had enough time and money to build a squad capable of challenging for the Holy Grail?

I reckon Liverpool is short on flair in the midfield as well as in the wing-back department. Torres and Babel have added some genuine pace to the squad but the depth still isn’t there. However, the main reason Liverpool aren’t strong challengers in the league is because they lack a Patrick Viera/Roy Keane style enforcer, a man who can direct the play and distribute the ball consistently and accurately. Mascherano is good but as a fifth defender. What is needed is a Simone Perrotta or even a Paul Scholes. A bit of mongrel in the middle and some flash up the wings and Liverpool could be a genuine contender. A bit more entertaining attack-minded football would be welcome too. So come on Rafa, forget Europe for once and give the fans what they want?