Saturday, August 23, 2008

Liverpool Not Firing On All Cylinders at Start Of Season. Is The Title a Dream?

Despite getting off to the best possible start with two wins from two games, Liverpool have laboured to defeat North East rivals Sunderland and Middlesbrough respectively.

Last week after a lacklustre performance, it took a moment of magic late on by Fernando Torres to secure the win over Roy Keane's unlucky Sunderland. The Wearsiders had dominated most of the match but unless you take your chances against a team containing players like Torres, Gerrard and Robbie Keane 0-0 is never a safe scoreline. Liverpool came away with the three points, but in a game they were expected to win they barely got out of jail.

This week, Liverpool had their first home game of the season against Gareth Southgate's well organised Middlesbrough. Hot off their victory over Spurs last week they fancied their chances of going to Anfield and causing an upset. They came within four minutes of achieving a well deserved win over a lacklustre Liverpool.

Middlesbrough under Southgate have become a decent side, they work very hard for each other, have a very young squad and are dotted with quality, power and pace throughout. They have some excellent players such as Sanli Tuncay and Alfonso Alves up front, Stewart Downing in midfield and have just replaced Luke Young (Aston Villa) with the outstanding young talent of Justin Hoyte who came through the famed Arsenal academy.

Although they won The Champions League under Benitez, Liverpool have flattered to deceive during his management reign. They haven't challenged the top three's supremacy (Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal) and their fans have been praying for a title challenge to arrive.

With the signing of Robbie Keane from Spurs this year and the on/off chase of Gareth Barry. Liverpool seem to be signalling that this season could be their season to challenge for the title, especially as Man Utd are on the verge of equalling Liverpool's record of 18 League titles. A bitter pill for most Liverpool fan's.

With a team containing both Robbie Keane and Fernando Torres you would expect goals but not so. While the two players are top class, their partnership is in it's infancy but both players are so good you know they will gel sooner rather than later.

Liverpool's problems arise in midfield, Gerrard is carrying an injury and needs a rest and over the last two games has not created much even though he scored a dramatic winner four minutes into injury time against Middlesbrough. Xabi Alonso seems to have lost confidence in not only himself but his manager as well after Benitez openly admitted to be chasing Gareth Barry as his replacement.

This is an unusual move by Benitez because Alonso is Liverpool's play-maker and most creative player. Barry is best as a battling up and down midfielder with a great engine something Alonso does not possess. But with him out of the side the creativity falls upon the shoulders of Gerrard, who while a great player is not really a creative player, he's more reminiscent of Chelsea's Frank Lampard who arrives late and weighs in with at least 20 goals a season.

Liverpool's other problems in a lack of creativity in midfield relating directly to the wings where Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt have found themselves recently. Neither player has the much needed quality for a team to win the title. Would either player get into the Chelsea or Man Utd teams?

Today against Middlesbrough they were out fought by a spirited and well organised 'Boro side. And after Mido had put them ahead it took a deflected own goal (86) and a Steven Gerrard special (94) to rescue the game for Liverpool.

Playing poorly and winning is often a sign of a good team and over the last two weeks Liverpool have hardly gotten out of second gear. The clock is ticking for Benitez, during his reign as manager Liverpool haven't come close to challenging for the title.

And now he's at the stage where virtually all the players in his squad were brought in by him. If they're going to challenge it has to be now. But judging by the way Liverpool have played over the last month, winning the title looks to be as far away as ever.