Brendan Rodgers has been getting slated lately – some would argue deservedly. But with Christmas just a matter of days away, and with the press having been full of nothing but negative and depressing feedback on the current state of affairs at Anfield, let’s have a go at being positive for a minute shall we?
Whilst the 2014-15 campaign has been an absolute nightmare so far, Wednesday night’s victory over Bournemouth left Reds supporters with the unusual feeling of positivity.
Yes, it was only Championship opposition – even if they are the current leaders – and anything less than a win would have been viewed as a disaster.
But the performance of two summer signings in particular went a long way to suggesting that things may just turn out okay after all.
Whilst Raheem Sterling grabbed the predictable ‘crop star’ headlines for his two-goal display, the performances of two of the summer signings in Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana will perhaps be the most pleasing aspect of the win for Brendan Rodgers.
Markovic fired his first goal for the Reds with a superbly controlled finish, whilst he also played a major part in Sterling’s opener with a pinpoint cross.
Lallana meanwhile created the third goal for Sterling, and was a constant threat all evening. The former Southampton man had won over the majority of Liverpool fans prior to Wednesday’s game, yet it remains a mystery as to why he has not been used more often by Brendan Rodgers this season.
Hopefully, Lallana will get more opportunities in the new 3-4-3 formation being deployed by the Liverpool boss, which looks set to stay in place for Sunday’s game against Arsenal.
Kolo Toure said this week that he believes Lallana has been Liverpool’s best player in the matches he has played this season, and you could argue only Raheem Sterling deserves the title not many are fighting for ahead of the 26-year-old.
Rodgers was also keen to praise Markovic after the midweek win, insisting the 20-year-old is improving all the time.
The recent upturn in form from the Serb, and the fact Lallana looks as though he may finally be getting a deserved string of starts begs the question – is Rodgers summer transfer business as bad as everyone is making out?
I suggest the answer is no.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, and I think everyone would have liked to have seen some more established stars signed in the summer, the likes of Marco Reus, Alexis Sanchez and Loic Remy.
But when do Liverpool ever land their top targets?
Rodgers will admit privately if not publicly that he should have signed some more experienced and proven players in the summer, rather than a host of young prospects.
But the signs from Emre Can, Alberto Moreno, Javi Manquillo and most recently Markovic suggest that all these players – the oldest of which is 22 – can go on to become very good players for Liverpool in the future.
Granted, there have only been flashes of brilliance from all four. But with fitness issues and the struggles of more senior players around them, that is perhaps understandable.
These four players have cost a combined total of under £50million (Manquillo will cost £5million should his two-year-loan be made permanent).
I am willing to put my neck on the line and say that this time next year we will be saying that has turned out to be some fantastic business.
Lallana already looks a quality addition, and will hopefully be given the chance to prove that further with a run of matches in a system and position that looks designed to get the best out him.
That leaves Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli.
£20million for Lovren at the time looked a huge sum of money, and he has done very little to convince supporters otherwise with a series of poor displays. But let us not forget that none of Liverpool’s defenders have covered themselves in glory.
Martin Skrtel seems to have had the wool pulled over everyone’s eyes since 2010, and now his threat from set pieces going forward seems to have disappeared – the question remains as to what exactly he brings to this Liverpool side?
Glen Johnson at right back has been atrocious for the best part of 12 months, whilst Alberto Moreno’s attacking instincts make him far better suited to a left wing back position. He has often left Lovren exposed during his bursts forward, whilst Simon Mignolet between the sticks does the opposite of inspire confidence.
It is no coincidence for me that Lovren’s best performances this season have come against Tottenham away, and Swansea at home in the Capital One Cup. On both occasions Martin Skrtel wasn’t playing, which could go some way to suggesting the pair simply don’t work as a partnership.
Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho have pedigree as centre halves – although Sakho is yet to repeat his international form at Anfield – and in my opinion would be a better partner for Lovren.
Jamie Carragher has been perhaps the Croat’s most vocal critic this season, yet it was less than 12 months ago both he and Gary Neville were practically drooling over Lovren’s performances in a Southampton shirt, going as far as to call him the most in form defender in the country.
Lovren has not become a bad player overnight, and can yet come good for Liverpool.
Mario Balotelli has perhaps been the main reason behind Rodgers summer business being labelled a disaster. The Italian is yet to fire a Premier League goal as we all know, but playing as a lone striker simply does not suit him.
Balotelli’s best performances in a Liverpool shirt came in the win at Tottenham, the final 25 minutes of the Ludogorets game at Anfield, his cameo against Swansea in the Capital One Cup, and the second half at Old Trafford last week.
The common factor in all of those is that he was playing with a partner on each occasion – Sturridge at Tottenham, Borini against Ludogorets and Swansea (where both his goals came) and alongside Raheem Sterling on Sunday, where on another day he could have easily scored a hat-trick.
Balotelli still has plenty to prove, but let’s wait until we see him play alongside Daniel Sturridge for more than 65 minutes before we label him an Anfield failure shall we?
Like Lovren, Balotelli hasn’t become a bad player overnight. His goal record over his career shows he still has plenty to offer.
Finally, we come onto Rickie Lambert. I don’t think Lambert is good enough to be a first choice for Liverpool week in week out by quite some distance. But when he was signed, I saw him as an upgrade on Iago Aspas. A third choice striker we could bring off the bench to provide something a bit different, and hopefully take a corner that goes beyond – and preferably over – the first man at the near post, unlike his Spanish predecessor.
Lambert has been called upon more often than even he would have imagined this season due to injuries, but his goal in Ludogorets and his assist in the late win over Stoke showed he can offer something to this Liverpool side.
As a local lad and a Liverpool supporter, everyone wants to see him do well. If the team start playing a bit better and picking up results, I can see Rickie scoring an important goal or two from the bench before the end of the season and earning himself cult hero status at Anfield.
So there you have it – something positive on each and every one of Liverpool’s summer signings – a Christmas miracle to some no doubt. Amidst all the criticism of late, let’s try and get behind Rodgers and his signings, starting with Arsenal on Sunday. And who knows, the win at Bournemouth could well have been the start of a major turnaround. YNWA.