61% possession is an impressive statistic. But a more impressive statistic, and the one one that counts, and the one that hurts is 25% of the goals. Those are the key statistics from the recent poor defeat in front of the home crowd against an unfancied Aston Villa. The press had stories of Liverpool possibly pushing on for the elusive 4th Champions League spot. Liverpool still might dependant on what the transfer window brings.
Brendan Rodgers was also quoted as seeing the turn around against West Ham as a "defining moment" in the season so far. And it may yet still turn out to be. But if those watching that game were honest with themselves, was the defining moment of that match that swung the game in the favour of the Anfield side actually the injury to Mohamed Diame? Up until the point he had to leave the pitch with a hamstring pull, he was bossing the midfield in a way that we hope we will see Lucas Leiva do once more.
The misgivings felt when Andy Carroll was so lightly allowed to go on loan persist. We do not have the player with the consistent attacking vision to carve open defences. Gerrard for Torres. Alonso for anyone. They made chance after chance. But even the kindest follower of Liverpool must admit that our captain is beyond his peak. Taking games by the scruff of the neck and dominating the midfield is not a characteristic of the current Steven Gerrard or the current LFC midfield.We do not have the creative skill that the much missed Xabi Alonso brought. And despite an excellent goal return that has seen Luis Suarez top of the shop for premiere league goal scorers, he still does not score enough of his chances. This is compounded when he is Liverpool's sole striker. Fabio Borini won't be in the frame until at least the new year. His foot injury isn't the only barrier to him creating the right impact at Liverpool. He showed some ability to get into the box but didn't show the determination to get into the danger areas for crosses quick enough. Nor did he display the level of understanding with the other forward players to cause a threat. I am sure he is one for the future but Liverpool won't be anchoring their hopes to him. He scored 10 in 26 for Roma but only has 1 in 11 for the Reds. Benteke. Michu. Ba.Cisse. Even Pogrebnyak. All of these players were new names to the premiership who hit the ground running. Admittedly Pogrebnyak only has only 2 goals in 9 starts since joining the Royals on a Bosman having had a successful spell at Fulham.
Liverpool v Villa: Reds off the pace
Liverpool's next opponent at Anfield couldn't come to terms to keep the powerful Russian striker, but certainly in his loan spell he showed the determination and flare that we have yet to see Borini display. It could be said that the Villa game was a bad day at the office and it certainly seemed to be. The familiar story of pressure that is not capitalised upon was present. But also a few other causes for concern reared their ugly head. Pepe reina being beaten at his near post with a shot from distance from Benteke. Gerrard and Shelvey being bypassed by a quicker to the ball midfield in the build up to the second Villa goal. Rodgers decision to persevere with Stewart Downing at left back was highlighted as he was woefully off the pace to allow Benteke to run in behind. Benteke's presence of mind to back heel the ball into the 6 yard box for Weimann was admirable. Weiman being untracked into the area was not. Joe Allen giving the ball to Joe Cole with his back to play with no warning of the onrushing Villa player about to dispossess him. And Allen continued to show he is far from a game dominating midfield general, effecting a weak challenge on the admittedly powerful Benteke as he carved through the Liverpool defence to add the coup de grace to what was a virtuoso striking performance. Yes Liverpool should have had a penalty for Villa's Clark showing intent to rip Daniel Agger's shirt off his back in the area. But the Reds were off the pace, slower to the second ball and lacked options when Luis Suarez wasnt firing. So Liverpool must overcome Fulham to get back on track. Red's fans can dream of a much more successful January transfer window than in the summer, but we have Fulham, Stoke and QPR before the window opens. 9 points has to be the aim from those games.
Liverpool v Fulham: Must win game
In terms of confidence and of continuing to progress forward Liverpool must take the fight to Fulham at Anfield. Fortress Anfield has been a somewhat inappropriate epithet recently and The Reds need to bring the fear factor back. Brendan Rodgers may have re instated the original' This is Anfield' sign back to the players tunnel, but no longer does it inspire the dread in the opposition it was designed to do. Instead beating Liverpool is seen more as a sign of a lesser club arresting their decline, Post match comments by Paul Lambert suggested that the performance against the Reds had been coming. "He said: "I knew what I was getting, it just needed a little bit of time to get adjusted.".
Liverpool were, again, seen as a significant early season scalp for West Bromwich Albion. It may have been the season opener, but this was the last time Liverpool disappointed so much with a result this season. Pace and commitment were lacking and we didn't seem at it. But on to Fulham. On the face of it Fulham attacking wise have had a very similar season in terms of results, both teams with a win percentage of 29.41%. However Fulham's loss percentage at over 41% says its own story. Having let in 29 goals this season compared to Liverpool's 23. Last season saw Fulham do the double over the Reds, including a win at Anfield which was their first. Fulham and Liverpool are separated by a single league position, a single goal in goal difference and 2 points. These are the games Liverpool have to win.
Fulham made a shrewd but risky purchase in Dimitar Berbatov. With 5 goals and 3 assists he has been Fulham's most threatening player. But as always with Berbatov, there is the rider that he seems to have to be in the mood. Unfortunately for Liverpool he is often in the mood against the Reds. It's a long time since September 2010 when Berbatov got a hat trick to finish Liverpool off at Old Trafford. That day he popped an over head kicked goal in for good measure and he certainly will be one of the most naturally skillful players on the pitch against Liverpool. He has shown glimpses of that devastating form this season. He is not a player who is going to chase down every ball, but he is a player who takes his chances, with 53% shooting accuracy and 50% clear cut chance conversion. But he has plenty of off days and Reds will be hoping he has another one today at Anfield in the rain.
Stats wise Mladen Petric is one of Fulham's most dangerous players taken over the season as a whole. But in their recent win against Newcastle, he was only a late used used sub for goalscorer Rodallega. In fact his pitch time has been limited and his 2 goals in the season opening debut against Norwich have contributed to his goal every 112 minutes of play. But Martin Jol has only started him in 7 games. He did score in their recent defeat to QPR. In fact every other time he has scored this season Fulham have lost (Man City, Sunderland and QPR). Undoubtedly being the team that broke the unenviable losing record that QPR had will rankle with Jol and I'd expect a spirited, hard working display from the Londoners at Anfield. Steve Sidwell is also banned for the visit to Anfield so it may be that we see Petric as Jol shuffles his pack.
Next Page: Liverpool's Biggest Threats to Fulham, Negate Suarez, Raheem Sterling & Joe Cole (click on page 2 below)
It goes without saying that Luis Suarez is Liverpool's biggest threat. This season he has shown that he has taken on the lessons of a very tough season last term. Even in his frustrating display against Villa, he showed touches of pure brilliance, laying off a ball to the right to continue the attack, wrong footing three Villa defenders in the process. That he terrifies defences is not up for debate. His finishing needs to improve. To get the most out of the effort he makes he must convert more. This has been debated ad infinitum but remains true. With 72 shots he leads the league in attempts to score. And yet he is over 20 shots behind Robin Van Persie and 30 shots behind Michu who have each scored 2 more goals than he has. He is the clear fulcrum of a developing Liverpool side.
If opposition managers are not going to use the 'Negate Suarez, negate Liverpool' tactic, the goal scoring load needs to be spread. Glen Johnson has shown some excellent attacking endeavour in recent games down the right and I would be pleased if Enqrique was back to allow Rodgers to adjust his formation to allow both forward thinking defenders to play, as Liverpool look a more potent force going forward with them both on the pitch.
Now we move to the much touted Raheem Sterling. With the maelstrom of paper talk flying round this past week it is good to go into this home fixture with that debate put to bed. For an 18 year old to have been so assured in possession and more importantly when under physical pressure, has been a revelation. For a player who seemed so slight playing in the youth ranks he has stepped up to the physical challenge of the premiere league admirably. What he has now to do is weigh in with the goals he provided in the junior ranks. The touch and awareness displayed to rattle the bar against Swansea has not been seen enough from the young Red. But the talent is there and hopefully the undoubted boost a lucrative new contract will bring will inspire a performance in front of the home fans.
I'll add another cautious but optimistic note. Joe Cole has been the butt of much derision for his reported huge salary and his less than huge contribution on the pitch. But the finish he provided against West Ham shows that he still does have the eye for goal. If Rodgers has been working on his fitness I see him as an impact sub to perhaps provide that short sharp injection of class in the final third when the ball squirms free. How many chances have we seen go to Jonjo Shelvey this season where his technique and timing have let him down, that Cole would have buried? Now Shelvey has managed to get himself into those positions which is the part of Cole's game that needs working on but I still have a glimmer of hope that Cole is not quite the busted flush that some think .The jury remains out though.
So again in an ever more tight Premiere League where no one is pulling away with any drive from the chasing pack, we have a closely contested battle for points at Anfield. If Rodgers is going to come good on his stated aim for top 4 these are games that Liverpool must devour and put to bed in no uncertain terms. Suarez will be smarting from the recent loss. Enrique will hopefully feature after a frustrating absence. Lucas will be one game further on his on pitch recuperation. And an 18 year old winger will be thinking about a very good Christmas present he has just signed up for. It will be tight. And Liverpool with have lots of possession. But Hopefully Rodgers will be tempering his possession is everything mantra with some other stats. We had 61% possession in a game we were beaten 3-1. Goals are what counts. As a great Scot and adopted scouser once said:
[quote]First is first, second is nowhere.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com - Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.