Liverpool 2011: 10 Takeaways from Anfield in August
What a start to the season it has been.
It is hard to remember (mainly due to the extensive hypnotherapy) just how tumultuous things were at the start of last season.
August 2010 saw Liverpool floundering with some unconvincing displays—Roy Hodgson seemed to like a hoof more than your average collier—and a similarly inconsistent set of results. After three games Hodgson's team had four points and had conceded four goals, scoring just twice. These performances included a hammering away at Manchester City.
In August 2011, King Kenny's men have seven points after scoring six times and have conceded just twice. In the process of achieving this early third place position in the league, the Reds have played with style and purpose.
The philosophy of pass and move has returned to Anfield.
Having enjoyed such an auspicious start, here are 10 observations from Liverpool's first four weeks of the season.
10. Lucas Leiva: The Debate Is at an End
Initially some of the Anfield faithful were unsure of Lucas Leiva (I was one of them).
Any sensible observer of the game can now have no doubt about the value of Lucas to Liverpool.
Tenacious yet calculated, Lucas' habit of arriving at the right time to break up opposition moves is uncanny. Not only is Lucas a destroyer, he keeps Liverpool's resurgent passing style ticking along, picking out astute passes to link defense and attack.
Always mindful of the team, he makes the players around him better through his support.
Watch Lucas as he takes up positions without the ball, if either full back is under pressure he will soon arrive, making himself available for a pass or simply to assist in any tackle.
Intelligent, driven and incredibly consistent, Lucas Leiva is simply one of the best defensive midfielders in the league.
9. We Miss Stevie, but Not Desperately
Any side would miss the drive, incisiveness and leadership of Steven Gerrard. When fully fit he will improve the side, but his omission is no longer cause for panic.
In recent years, Steven Gerrard's absence on a team sheet was a catastrophe, without his creativity from midfield our hopes of a result were heavily undermined. Who would provide through-balls to Señor Voldemort (the Spaniard who shall not be named)?
Now with Charlie Adam pinging the ball around with the accuracy of an Exocet, Lucas tackling through brick walls and Jordan Henderson efficiently tearing around the pitch, we have a much better pattern of play through the midfield.
For the first time in what feels like an age, our center midfield builds with patience, control and movement. We look for the killer pass when it's available, but we don't have to force the issue because our retention of the ball is good enough to make another opening if one closes.
The players exude confidence in each other and the system they are playing in.
I have no doubt Gerrard will return and add an extra dimension to the team, but he will finally have the support around him to make him less indispensable but perhaps even more effective.
8. Andy Carroll Needs Time and Patience
Murmurs have already started about Andy Carroll's suitability for the Liverpool side.
Which is ridiculous.
Andy needs to work on his fitness and sharpness certainly, as well as picking up the rhythm of the team.
But as much as Carroll needs to work on his game, so the rest of the team needs to learn how to best exploit his productivity.
Too many times his imposing figure is seen as a lightning rod for long, high bolts from the blue. Carroll has found himself attempting to deal with the ball at head height, which is pointless because there is no one advanced of him to receive a flick-on.
Carroll should nearly always be receiving the ball from the wings or form central midfield, not from our own penalty area.
Without Suarez flitting around him—which hasn't happened often so far—Carroll has to hold up the ball to lay off to oncoming midfielders such as Dirk, Downing or Henderson. To best facilitate this he needs to receive the ball to feet, or at chest height, and not from 65 yards away.
The accusation has been that, when Carroll is on the field, Liverpool play more directly.
This is true.
But how much of this is due to Carroll?
Andy has to improve his movement along the line to make space between defenders to receive the ball and create areas behind for the midfield to progress into. This will come with time on the training field and being fully match fit.
However, he needs to be receiving balls played mainly from 30 yards away or less to have a chance to control the ball and use it. Carroll's first touch hasn't been perfect, but too often the ball to him would be challenging for anyone.
Again, this will come with time on the training field and, as King Kenny said, we bought Andy for five years, not for a few months.
7. Jose Enrique Has Solved the Left Back Problem
Left back has been a problem position for some time. There have been several attempts to rectify the situation and to ensure civility I won't mention any of the less successful occupants of the number three slot.
Thankfully those days are behind us, now we can admire our newly acquired Rolls Royce at left back.
Resilient and unhurried in defense, with the pace to cruise past midfielders and the technique to prosper in advanced positions, Enrique is a superb all-round player.
The next time some mouth-piece guffaws and claims Liverpool overpay on transfers, answer with the following two words:
6. Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher Are an Excellent Combination
Perhaps one of the most annoying examples of dismissive fatalism was the declaration over the summer by many newspapers that Jamie Carragher was finished.
Of course Carra isn't quite as athletic as in seasons of yore, but he is still a phenomenal reader of the game and—with the right defensive partner—an extremely effective central defender.
Enter Daniel Agger.
Like Enrique, Agger is a fantastic all-round player who does a wonderful job of making the difficult look easy. Powerful and decisive, Agger is a natural athlete who can use the ball better than most central defenders in the league.
Together, Carra and Agger make a two-piece jigsaw, slotting in for each other when most needed, filling in the flaws in each others' game.
With Skrtel and Coates (another absolute bargain), we have tremendous cover when either of the first choice pair run out of steam, which is something we haven't had in recent times.
If Agger can steer clear of injury, we have a world class center back for some time to come.
5. Downing Makes a Big Difference
Apparently two million pounds is the difference between a bargain and extortion.
When Manchester United paid two million less for Ashley Young than Stewart Downing, Liverpool had paid way over the odds while the residents of Old Trafford had got a steal.
This is of course if you don't take into account their very comparable stats, the fact that Downing was Player of the Season the previous year at Villa in the same side as Young, and how much Liverpool needed to buy a player that provided width, consistency and delivery.
Downing has started his career at Anfield with displays that have already made him an integral part of the side. Not only does he have genuine pace and an excellent cross, his movement is first class and he rivals Kuyt for application.
When moving inside, Downing creates space for Suarez to attack and for Enrique to overlap. When he goes outside, Downing crosses the ball as well as anyone in the league and opens up the space in the middle final third for runners from deep.
Liverpool paid a lot of money for Stewart Downing, but they received a player who is already proving his value.
4. Charlie Adam: Big Fish in a Big Pond
Those who doubted Charlie Adam felt that he would fail to be as influential at Liverpool as he was at Blackpool.
What I have found most impressive about Adam's start for Liverpool is the obvious desire he has to prove himself. He is fully committed to every tackle he throws himself into (slightly over-committed at times) and his willingness to take some of the destructive duties from Lucas has been surprising.
Adam's range of passing is his most lauded attribute—and deservedly so—but he contributes greatly to the defensive part of the team and wins a large percentage of tackles in the middle of the pitch.
Charlie Adam brings incisive passing, work rate, steely determination and he'll contribute his fair share of goals this season.
In other words he's a natural fit for the Liverpool midfield.
3. Damien Comolli Knows What He's Doing
To close Liverpool's dealings in the transfer window, Damien Comolli oversaw the purchase of Sebastian Coates, procured the services of Craig Bellamy and helped a variety of players out of the club.
He arranged the sales of Christian Poulsen and Philip Degen, for actual money.
The wage bill was cut by an estimated 30 million pounds.
That's simply astonishing.
And, as David Hendrick astutely reported, he is actively implementing plans to expand Liverpool's presence across the world—thereby ensuring future growth on the field and off.
Comparing how the business was run just a short while ago to the great strides being made under Comolli's stewardship is startling.
2. The Future Is Bright, the Future Is Red
Do you remember Hicks and Gillett?
Me neither (I refer you to the previously mentioned hypnotherapy).
Our new ownership has shown obvious respect for the Liverpool's traditions, a willingness to engage with the fans when appropriate (as all twitter followers know) and an absolute vision for our club's direction.
In the transfer market we moved early and decisively while others dithered.
Instead of spending the whole summer trying to haggle on transfer fees (ask Arsenal how well that works out), John Henry's Fenway Sports Group has been willing to supply funds to back our manager's design for the team and do it in a timely manner. This ensured the majority of new players could spend the preseason bedding in.
The extra million or so for one or two players is paying dividends by how well the team is already gelling on the pitch.
While some clubs were scrambling for players, Liverpool was performing good housekeeping and adding a few finishing touches.
Expanding Liverpool's brand across the globe, investing in the team for this season and beyond, improving scouting and academy infrastructure, setting up new youth training facilities in foreign climes— and doing it all with aplomb.
Good business is providing good football now and for the future.
1. King Kenny: So Much More Than Nostalgia
A step backwards. A vain attempt to recapture lost glory. No longer relevant.
Those were some of the phrases used by "those in the know" when the writing was on the wall for Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish was proffered as the obvious choice to retake the throne.
What the naysayers had forgotten in their dismissive responses was that Kenny Dalglish didn't win trophies as a manager on his name, or because he happened to be in the right place at the right time. He won honors because he was an extremely intelligent, focused and disciplined man who knew what he wanted and the correct way to get it.
After taking over and seeing an immediate upturn in Liverpool's performances, some claimed "The Dalglish Factor" was a honeymoon period, a strange mass hysteria caused by a mixture of nostalgia and positivity.
It was also noted that Liverpool had faded a little at the end of last season and this could be attributed to the end of Kenny's honeymoon period. The beginning of this season would prove whether King Kenny was the real deal.
"The Dalglish Factor" can be explained very simply and without the need for psychoanalysis:
Kenny Dalglish is an extremely intelligent, focused and disciplined man who knows the game and his club down to the molecular level.
Watching Liverpool has been a distinct pleasure so far this season and whether we are in Champions League positions or not, the style of play that is distinctively Liverpool's is once more on display, and that in itself is invigorating.
A Lot Can Happen in the Space of a Month
The keen observer will note this article on Liverpool's start of the season does not include a section on the unmitigated genius of Luis Suarez.
That is an indication of how fascinating recent times have been at Anfield.
Long may it continue.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!