Liverpool had posted an emphatic 5-3 win at Stoke on 12th January, 2014. Having scored 29 goals in all matches at Anfield this season, it was expected that Liverpool would stroll past Aston Villa. Villa, who have been very good on the road, but shambolic at Villa Park this season, were expected to bear the wrath of the rejuvenated SAS partnership. The game at Anfield on 18th January 2014 witnessed a twist in the tale though.
Principal owner John W. Henry watched the game as Liverpool named Daniel Sturridge in the match-day squad, in place of Lucas Leiva. The decision by manager Brendan Rodgers, to sacrifice a holding midfielder for a striker, was bold enough. But this decision might have been made on the basis of the previous match, for Steven Gerrard played magnificently at Stoke in the holding position, while Sturridge was back to fitness and had to be included in the squad.
The Liverpool defence has conceded a total of 28 goals this season so far; every defender needs to take a look at this, not to forget Simon Mignolet’s role too. He was responsible for Christian Benteke’s goal because of mis-communication between Glen Johnson and himself. Although there was nothing that he could do for the first goal, the second goal put up a monumental task for Liverpool to avoid the blushes.
There has to be a special mention of Aston Villa. They dominated the entire game. They deserved all three points for their sheer attacking pace, epitomised by strong defending throughout the game. They were winning headers, passing accurately and tackling hard. They were too strong for Liverpool this time around. But Suárez’s antics have to be mentioned: the good part was that he was a strong part in Liverpool’s first goal. However, Suárez, who has been famous for diving, probably showed a glimpse of what he was during his earlier times at Liverpool. A dubious penalty decision snatched three points off Villa. The game finished 2-2.
Rodgers’ decision to play the traditional 4-4-2 formation backfired tremendously. When Villa went 2-0 ahead, it was but obvious that the scrappy Liverpool defence was not able to cope up with the formidable Villa attack. Gabriel Agbonlahor was terrific, and the Liverpool defence was terrorised. Every time he made a run, there was a huge hole at the back. The defensive mechanism tilted, with Johnson bearing the brunt. Of the Liverpool attack, where Johnson always played a key role down the flanks, he was not given any opportunity in the game by Villa. While Villa kept attacking, Johnson had to play as an additional centre back.
The question is, why play Gerrard as the holding midfielder at such a crucial stage of the season? No doubt he performed astonishingly well against Stoke, but that is not his regular position. When Lucas has already proved his worth at the centre, why experiment? For the returning Sturridge, he could have benched Coutinho, who has been under-performing all season. Henderson has improved, but he cannot shoulder responsibility of the midfield. For the part Lucas played in the second half, Liverpool dominated the game, but when he was forced to withdraw, their game became wobbly yet again.
And it is not just the midfield which has problems. The midfielders have a role to play in the defence when needed. But the Liverpool defence has become so weak that it looks like a 7-2-1 formation. The defence is conceding too many goals. Kolo Toure, with loads of experience, is not putting it to use. Martin Skrtel has been inconsistent: sometimes he makes tackles which save the game, but sometimes he scores headers which the opponents are proud of.
Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho, currently injured, are missed. They have never been played together in the defence; it is hard to know why Rodgers is reluctant to play two left-sided centre backs in the squad, when two right-sided centre backs are scaring Liverpool fans. Liverpool have been ever so close to the title, when they topped the table at Christmas. But with 8 points off the pace now, the title glory seems distant. With Merseyside rivals Everton up next at Anfield, it is time to step up and play as if every game is a title decider.Published 19 Jan 2014, 17:28 IST