Monday, 2 September 2013

Liverpool v Manchester United: Anfield club remain a work in progress under ... -

First, I like the formation – and how fluid it is. They practise lots of rotation, with players popping up all over the place, but they also have a firm structure at the back, with Lucas sitting in front of the back four.

They look secure. I have been impressed also with the new goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, who looks a safe pair of hands. The way they are trying to play is very forward thinking.

Rodgers looks a shrewd judge of a player. Bringing in Daniel Sturridge was a masterstroke. The inevitable question followed him to Anfield: if he was so good, why were Chelsea letting him go – and why was he sent to Bolton on loan – but he has been a resounding success. Every time I have watched him I have been impressed.

Sturridge would doubtless prefer to play straight through the middle. But with Philippe Coutinho and Iago Aspas also there he is also encouraged to go wider when necessary and swap positions. It comes back to that fluidity. These players find pockets here and there and I wonder how much defenders dislike having to play against them. The first-half performance against Stoke was as good as I have seen from Liverpool in a long time. They could have scored a dozen times.

My reservation is that they have dominated teams in first halves and gone in at the break 1-0 up. Against Stoke they played some fabulous stuff but relied on a penalty save in the last few minutes to get the three points.

That cannot happen every week. We saw it as well against Aston Villa, where they scraped through 1-0. They need a bit more of a killer instinct. They need to score more goals. Although it looks pretty they need to convert more chances than they currently do.

Coutinho is another in the bargain bracket. Again, there is scepticism when Inter Milan let a player go – and not for huge money, in this case £8.5? million. You wonder why Liverpool are buying in that price range.

Surely they should be spending £20 million or £30 million on the top players around Europe? Aspas, from Celta Vigo for £9?million, is another with that kind of valuation. Yet Rodgers has clearly spotted something in these players and now we have seen it too.

On the subject of fluidity, the first Liverpool side I played in was built around Steve McManaman. Wherever there was a weakness in the opposing team, Macca had that free role to go and hurt them, with Robbie Fowler and me to complete the damage.

When Gerard Houllier arrived we were a lot more structured, playing 3-5-2 under Roy Evans, and then everyone knowing their specific jobs under Gerard, with a largely fixed shape. The game has changed. The top teams are now very fluid in the forward areas, with players arriving from all angles and areas. Often you struggle to write down the precise formation.

Liverpool do have one mega-valuable player to add to the mix, of course. Luis Suárez is probably grateful that Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney have taken the transfer spotlight off him in recent days. There is a confidence, a stubbornness about Suárez, that enables him to block out distractions and jog out on to that pitch with only the game in his mind. I would expect him to return to the side without any problems.

Then the question becomes Liverpool's forward line, and whether Suárez will go back to playing straight down the centre, with Sturridge alongside him, and Aspas perhaps dropping out. They will certainly have to tweak it when he returns.

So there is progress in plenty of areas at Liverpool, but if they are going to step up and beat Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United then something will need to change. The owners will have to dig deep again.

Everyone has the right to be the best they can
Going out in Manchester I would not expect to encounter any hostility. In Liverpool I could not be sure that a trip to the shops or a restaurant would end without someone having a go at me. But I have been to Anfield three times this season and heard only one comment along the lines of: 'I bet you wish you hadn't left.' Otherwise it has been mostly handshakes and autographs.

The mentality changes when people are in groups. Individually they tend to be fine, but if you find yourself standing in front of one of the stands and one person shouts something then others tend to join in. Liverpool people in the inner sanctum – the stewards and club officials – have all been great with me, very welcoming.

I would never have moved from one of these great clubs straight to the other, but when you then move abroad, as I did, to Real Madrid, the tribalism fades in your head.

You look more at your own career and no longer see it through the eyes of a supporter. Growing up, I wanted to play for Everton, and would never have imagined myself playing for both Liverpool and Man United.

But football takes you along some unexpected paths. Everyone has the right to make the best of their career and play for the best clubs.

No comments:

Post a Comment