Heading into last week’s fixtures against both Manchester clubs in the FA and League cups, Kenny Dalglish and his men would have been understandably apprehensive about their chances of coming out the other side with a cup run left to pursue. They were helped by the first leg victory against City in the League Cup, but nonetheless knew they would be hard-pushed to fend off the league leaders second time around. Not only did they secure a place in the final against Cardiff, but went on to defeat Manchester United in the FA Cup three days later, all in front of the kop. But how does this shift the emphasis of Liverpool’s season, should the fans now be focusing on winning their first major trophy in six years?
Liverpool’s league form recently has been questionable at best, with a 3-1 victory over Newcastle at Anfield being their only win in six games in the Premier League. They obviously miss Luis Suarez as he serves his eight game ban, and appear to be struggling to match the top teams in the forward department. In a way it may be a blessing in disguise that cup games count towards Suarez’s ban because this means that he can get back into action in the League more quickly and assert his efforts into putting a consistent run of results together. He was the main man in giving the team energy and injecting life into the performances since the start of the season, and although his goal tally isn’t up there with the best in the league, you could tell that he had the skill and confidence to lift the team and create chances.
In Suarez’s absence, another light has begun to shine through, in the form of 32 year old Craig Bellamy. Whether you like or loathe his attitude and confrontational nature both on and off the pitch, you have to admit that Bellamy’s influence on the team has been unquestionable. Gerrard said it himself after the City match that Craig has had a big impact at the club; not letting opponents settle on the ball, running in behind defences and working hard off the field. He doesn’t necessarily fit in with the new ethos of the club owners wanting to bring in young talent that fit the bill perfectly on paper, but Bellamy delivers in the form of goals and big performances when it counts.
The point has been repeatedly made in recent weeks of the fact the Andy Carroll hasn’t done enough at Liverpool and cannot be relied on to score the goals at the moment. His apparent loss of ‘physical presence’ has also been brought into question. However, against United on the weekend he had a pretty big part to play in both of Liverpool’s goals. Fair enough, he didn’t put the ball in the net, but he hassled de Gea from the corner for the first goal, and again used his strength to win the header and knock the ball on to Kuyt who scored the winner.
Liverpool need something extra though, because in the league you cannot play like they did against United every week. Kenny set them up pretty defensively and played with three recognised centre-backs on the pitch. Man United won the midfield battle and for the majority of the game they controlled that area of the pitch. Although Liverpool based a lot of their decent results early on in the season on a solid back line, once with the best defensive record in the league, there is often a painstakingly obvious lack of penetration in the final third which needs to be addressed.
Their results in the cup could become a poisoned chalice and mask the fact that they need a defined consistent formation which they can rely upon to produce goals, particularly against the weaker sides that they should be killing off. Suarez needs to come back and provide the extra edge that Bellamy cannot give every week through injury worries. If this doesn’t work, then Liverpool may well shift focus to cup success after slotting into a comfortable Europa League spot in the table but not being able to push on and challenge the top four or five.
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