Brendan Rodgers Right to Urge Improvement as Liverpool Go Top of Premier League

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Brendan Rodgers Right to Urge Improvement as Liverpool Go Top of Premier League
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool returned to winning ways at Anfield on Saturday as they swept aside Crystal Palace by a 3-1 scoreline, but it wasn't enough to please manager Brendan Rodgers.

After the game he spoke to the official club website about his dissatisfaction with certain areas of play from his team, and the Northern Irishman was completely correct to highlight these inadequacies despite his obvious pleasure at seeing his team move to the top of the Premier League table.

As per LiverpoolFC.com:

I worry about how the team plays and how we can control a game. I felt today that in the final third of the pitch, it was hard to argue with the fact that we were outstanding - the movement, the combination play to arrive in there. But we've still got a lot of work to do behind that because the lack of control in the game was disappointing.

Second half was nowhere near what we want it to be, but without playing great, we won the game and that was something that in the first season we were guilty of - playing ever so well but not getting the result. Today in patches, some of the performances were good. But we've won the game having not played great. You've got to give credit to the players. It wasn't the best performance, but we won and we've got the three points.

Despite Liverpool having won five of their opening seven matches, there has been an underlying and noticeable inclination to sit back during the second half of games, and letting the opposition control far too much of the play has forced the Reds to sit deep.

Once again, this was apparent against Crystal Palace even with what should have been a game-ending 3-0 halftime scoreline.

Ultimately it was more than enough, with Palace only registering a consolation goal in the final quarter of an hour, but it was still a more nervy and subservient performance from Liverpool in the second half than it needed to be.

Prior to the match, Palace were registering only nine shots per match on average, with a goal scored every 135 minutes. Controlling the game at the break and clearly a far better technical unit than Palace, Liverpool should have shut the away side out entirely instead of letting them create a clutch of chances which eventually led to Dwight Gayle's goal.

Eleven shots over the course of the game for Palace, albeit with around half of them from outside the box, was indicative of this lack of dominance by the Reds despite the scoreline.

Palace shots vs. Liverpool, via Squawka

It has been a similar story against other teams this season, and the Reds are now the side who concede the fourth-highest number of shots per game in the top flight.

Premier League clubs, shots conceded per game average. Via WhoScored?

This lack of control has previously been in part due to the midfield dropping deep, sitting in front of the back four and failing to have the ability or mobility to get forward quick enough. Whatever the reason, be it a lack of composure or concentration on the ball or lack of support going from middle to final thirds of the pitch, the Reds certainly haven't dominated entire matches this season yet the way they did last year.

Of course, the big trade-off seems to be a far better start, points- and position-wise, compared to last season.

Fans will take results over performances at this stage, but the worry from the management is surely that once Liverpool come up against the better sides—better than what was a relatively woeful Palace—for example Arsenal and Everton in November, the Reds must be able to control matches far better for their talented attack to have the chance to win games.

2013-14 Premier League table, after seven games played. via Statto.com

Liverpool remain a work in progress, far from the finished article, and their current first-place in the table is as much a false position as their 14th place standing was one year ago at this point.

2012-13 Premier League table, after seven matches. Via Statto.com

Rodgers' allusion to midfield improvements being needed—But we've still got a lot of work to do behind that because the lack of control in the game was disappointing—is both correct and concerning.

Correct, because of the reasons above, and concerning, because there are hardly too many more options to choose from to better the situation right now.

Joe Allen is on his way back from injury, Lucas has not performed well this term, and that's about it for Liverpool's central midfielders.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Jordan Henderson performed excellently in central midfield in the absence of Lucas Leiva

Bring back Aly Cissokho and Glen Johnson, and the ball retention, decision-making in the final third and defensive support will likely improve as well. However, there has to be an overall group improvement in not ceding possession too easily and dropping back as a unit.

Especially with a three-man defence, there is no need for it. Not too many teams will be able to play straight through the likes of Kolo Toure and the superb-once-again Mamadou Sakho, and putting aerial balls into the box should be defendable too, in the main.

If Liverpool can get back to dominating matches for long spells as they did last season, and match that impressive retention and control of games with the attacking flair, ingenuity and prolific approach which has been apparent with the Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge combination, then a good challenge for the season is certainly on the cards.

But for now, over the international break and beyond while the Reds sit top of the Premier League table, Brendan Rodgers' great challenge is to help his side find that dominant streak once again.

 

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