Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Viola expose Liverpool's deficiencies
Fernando Torres' baby faced smile was replaced with a scowl as Liverpool failed to score for the first time in two and half years in the Champions League.
• Jovetic stars for Viola
• Champions League Gallery
Rafa Benitez looked suitably furious with the performance against Fiorentina as a Reds team that has looked so full of goals came to a grinding halt. Sorry to say this. But I did see it coming. Nevertheless, it's time for a deeper analytical assessment of Liverpool as their season is already reaching a critical point.
Despite Torres' failure to score, following his impressive hat-trick against Hull, the Spaniard remains the best centre-forward in Europe at the moment, but Liverpool's problem is that they might not be able to cope without him.
The same might apply to Chelsea with regards to Didier Drogba, but the west London club do have Nicholas Anelka, by no means as powerful as the Ivory Coast colossus, but still a proven goalscorer at the highest level with some of the best clubs in Europe, from Arsenal to Real Madrid.
Manchester City have an array of goalscoring alternatives and have hardly missed the suspended Emmanuel Adebayor. Manchester United have a couple of options, even having lost Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, but the fear for Liverpool is a long term absence for their No.9.
The Champions League shocker in Tuscany can be taken in isolation, but looking at the broader picture, it highlighted the glaring deficiencies that have been glossed over by a run of six successive wins in all competitions, including the Carling Cup.
Personally, I am one of Liverpool's greatest admirers. That has been the case for decades, for a variety of personal reasons. I have written Steve McMahon's autobiography and have a deep affection for the club having had the misfortune to be present at Hillsborough.
So, don't get me wrong. It gives me no pleasure to look at the team's deficiencies in much greater detail. And those shortcomings were there long before their unexpected demise against a sprightly Fiorentina.
I have seen this coming for a little while, though. Two defeats in the Premier League at the start of the season was too obvious to ignore.
Liverpool have been averaging three goals in English football. But the Champions League merely underlines the fact that, in the Premier League, teams are attacking more against relatively average defences, certainly defences inferior to their European counterparts.
Regrettably, Liverpool count among the Premier League clubs with inferior defences, judged of course, purely on the highest possible level, against teams with designs on winning the Champions League and indeed the Premier League.
Glen Johnson is a formidable athlete, a wonderful attacking full-back with a tremendous long range shot, but like Ashley Cole in his early Arsenal days, he has a lot to learn about defending.
Full-backs are vital for defensive strategy and with Johnson so attack-minded he offers Liverpool's opponents an area to exploit. Jamie Carragher is still one of my favourite club defenders, so influential and infectious in his desire to win for Liverpool. But time can catch up on players when they hit 30, especially in such vital areas of the pitch.
However, the main problem is the one to which I attempted to address right from the start. If Torres continues to score, then that can paper over a multitude of cracks. But no team can rely on one player. Liverpool need a second goalscorer of quality. Benitez knews this when he tried and failed with a gamble on Robbie Keane.
With such a limited transfer budget, the American owners know the club need an influx of new investment, and that might be Liverpool's long term salvation.
For now Liverpool's season hinges on their confrontation with Lyon in the Champions League and at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Benitez and his players will need their extra day in the Florence sunshine to get their heads around the problems that lie ahead.