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Liverpool FC midseason ratings

With Liverpool’s FA Cup draw against Oldham taking place on Friday at Anfield, it’s time to assess the club’s progress this season.

The Premier League is slightly over the halfway mark with all clubs bar Everton and Tottenham having played 20 fixtures thus far. Liverpool currently sit in sixth place with 34 points – 3 points behind Chelsea for the crucial fourth spot. Broken down, Liverpool have played 20 matches, won 9, drew 7, and lost 4, with a goal differential of +6. In cup competitions, Liverpool have qualified for the semi-finals of the Carling Cup.

Although the numbers might be disappointing for a club playing to get back into Champions League qualification, one must consider where the club was last season under Roy Hodgson. After 20 games, Liverpool were sitting in 12th place with just 25 points and a goal differential of -3. The club was eliminated from the Carling Cup in just the third round last season with a defeat to Northampton Town on penalties.

There’s no denying that progress for the Reds has been made, and Liverpool are just two legs away from reaching a cup final for the first time since the 2007 Champions League final.

Progress has been made not just based on results, but on the brand of football being played. Under Hodgson, Liverpool played defensive, longball tactics, hoping to beat teams on the counter. Under club legend Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool play a possession-based pass-and-move style more reminiscent to the Liverpool sides Dalglish played on and managed in the 80s. You can count on one hand when Liverpool wasn’t the better side this season, and the league’s second best defensive record (second only to league-leaders Manchester City) is testament to the progress that has been made at L4.

But still, for all the progress, there are still some major problems with the team this season. First and foremost is the lack of goals. It’s been strange that Liverpool can’t hit the back of the net, especially considering Dalglish’s standing as one of the best strikers ever produced in the UK.

Some might call it unlucky (having hit the post 18 times and counting), but it’s not just luck. There is a glaring problem of a lack of clinical finishing – Blackburn Rovers, currently sitting dead last in the league, have scored 5 more goals than Liverpool. Having spent £35 million on Andy Carroll and £22 million on Luis Suarez last January, the lack of goals scored by the club is a major concern.  With Suarez banned for 8 matches (I can write volumes about that!) and Carroll misfiring, Liverpool are starting to look the most toothless side in the Premier League.

Ratings

 

Coaching Staff

Kenny Dalglish, Steve Clarke, and Kevin Keen – 7.5/10

The coaching staff has done a great job this season. Steve Clarke has brought very steady defending to the club, and it’s largely because of his coaching (and a healthy Daniel Agger) that club have only conceded 18 goals. Only twice this season has Liverpool conceded more than one goal a game (4-0 at Tottenham, and 3-0 at Manchester City).

For Dalglish, his tactics have generally been very good, and the type of football he has the club playing has been excellent. But sometimes, the man dubbed the “King” makes questionable lineup decisions, including continually playing his buys to justify their respective prices, and rarely does he make the correct substitutions at the correct times. Yet, what Dalglish has done since coming in last January has been a transformative period for the club. If a handful of results had gone Liverool’s way, we’d be talking about how Dalglish’s men are title contenders. That alone is testament to the King.

Keepers

GK Pepe Reina – 6.5/10

Reina is arguably the Premier League’s best keeper, but his performances this season have been a bit disappointing and surprising given his ability. Reina has made two noteworthy keeping mistakes this season that resulted in losses for the club, but there’s no doubting the Spaniard’s ability. I expect he can and will pick it up.

GK Doni – No rating

Doni came in in the summer to serve as Reina’s backup and has yet to make an appearance in a competitive fixture. He’s a solid backup, but can’t be accurately judged.

Defenders

Daniel Agger – 8.5/10

Agger has had an excellent season – and for the first time in his Liverpool career, a relatively injury free one! Agger is the club’s best defender, only his injury troubles have kept him sidelined for far too long in a red shirt. This season, his abilities are well displayed, from steady tackling, to his great ball skill, to his lunging runs forward from the CB position. No coincidence the defending has been the best aspect of Liverpool this season.

Fabio Aurelio – No rating

Aurelio is a glassy, er, classy player when fit. Key words being “when fit.” Worse than Agger’s injury problems are Aurelio’s. He’s one of the most talented LBs in the Premier League with his excellent set piece-taking ability, but Aurelio has been forced out of the side by more injuries and Jose Enrique.

Jamie Carragher – 6/10

Sadly, this season might see the curtain beginning to close on Carra’s career. At 33, he has lost the better parts of his skill set. His lack of pace forced the team to play with a deep line, causing the Reds to concede in games they shouldn’t have. A slight calf injury sidelined Carragher, and the CB pairing of Agger and Martin Skrtel haven’t looked back. And rightly so, with all due great respect to Carra.

Sebastian Coates – No rating

Coates came into this season after a great summer: winning Copa America with Uruguay, being the tournament’s best young player, and a £7 million move to Liverpool. Coates has only made a handful of appearances and has been a mixed bag. On the positive side of his game is his overall vision, interceptions, and heading ability – a defender in the mold of Sami Hyppia. But Coates makes the same mistakes most young defenders do: he’s rash and quickly lunges in in situations he shouldn’t, and he’s not the fleetest of foot back there. But what he has shown is strength in defending and confidence in his game. Next season should see the 6’6” CB getting more minutes.

Jose Enrique – 8/10

Finally, the LB position has been solved! A problem spot for many years, Liverpool finally have quality in the position. Enrique’s play has been top class this season. El Toro is very quick, strong, and good going forward. The only knock on Enrique is his tendency to give the ball away when the team needs to retain possession. But, really, can anybody realistically complain about him?

Glen Johnson – 7.5/10

Johnson since coming back from injury has been very solid. He’s currently playing the best football of his career since Dalglish came in, and his defensive ability – sometimes overly criticized by sections of the fan base – has greatly improved. He scored a clutch winner against Chelsea, and there isn’t a RB in England who looks more dangerous charging forward with the ball at his feet.

Martin Kelly – 7/10

Kelly has had limited action this season (most of his appearances have come in the Carling Cup), largely due to Johnson’s play. Kelly is a solid defender and a very reliable player to have in the squad. When he’s played this season he’s looked good, but he simply hasn’t played enough (not that it’s necessarily a bad thing).

Martin Skrtel – 7.5/10

The improvements Skrtel has made year-to-year have been outstanding. Last season he played every minute of every Premier League game. This season, however, he had to wait for his opportunity to get into the starting XI. He’s become a smart defender, good in the air, and dangerous on corners and free kicks. His partnership with Agger is, dare I say, among the best in the league.

Midfielders

Charlie Adam – 7/10

Adam was bought for around £7 million in the summer, and in terms of value for money, I’d say he’s lived up to reasonable expectations. The biggest criticisms on Adam were his defensive ability (or lack thereof) and his tendency to play the so-called “Hollywood” balls. He’s cut down on the latter, but the former still rears its head from time to time. Adam doesn’t possess the skills to play in a two-man midfield – unless Lucas Leiva is playing alongside. With Lucas out for the season, Adam is going to need to pick up his game. At the moment, he’s in the midst of a bad run of games. But right before that, he put in some excellent performances. His quality and performances are debatable, but one thing most will agree on are his set pieces this season. They’ve been nothing short of disappointing, especially considering the threat they were for Blackpool last season.

Stewart Downing – 5.5/10

Well, I don’t want to pick on Downing, but he has to be the most disappointing player this season. Forgetting his £20 million fee for a second, it’s hard to say he’s played good in a red shirt. In matches where he does play fairly decent, he still goes missing in games and fails to put in a defensive effort. His entire game consists of playing crosses into the box – even if no one is there – and when playing on the left he had virtually no understanding with Jose Enrique.  At the beginning of the season, I had high expectations for Downing and figured he would play a big part this season, but that has quickly changed. He plays a bit better when employed on the right, but still not at the level he should be. The most frustrating part is that he is very much capable of playing better – he just needs to show up.

Steven Gerrard – No rating (yet!)

Two injury blows for Captain Fantastic have severely limited his season. Basically, 2011 was a horror year for Gerrard. Gerrard is just starting to come back from infected ankle and has shown he hasn’t missed a beat. The good movement, intelligent play, and excellent delivery have been on display in his short cameos this season. A fully fit Gerrard could be exactly what Liverpool need to make a push for the top four.

Jordan Henderson – 7/10

There have been two Jordan Henderson’s this season: the one played on the right, and the one played in the middle. Despite starting his Sunderland career as a RM, a RM Henderson is not. He can play there, but he shouldn’t, and his performances out wide this season have been dire (and he faced a lot of – too much – criticism from fans). His play as CM, though, has been good for a 21-year-old with the pressures of playing at a big club. He’s cautious (sometimes to a fault), but he generally is an accurate passer and pretty smart footballer. Henderson’s issue this season is his overly cautious play. As a young player, he doesn’t want to make a mistake, which is understandable, but taking a risk can lead to 3 points instead of just 1. What Henderson really needs to work on are charging runs into the box (a la Steven Gerrard) because he has all the tools to be a major success in the coming years.

Lucas Leiva – 9/10

Lucas gets my vote as the best player in the first half. The Brazilian has come full circle from the early stages of his career at Anfield, and in my opinion is the best DM in the league. Smart play, solid tackling, and good passing have all been on display this season. Lucas is on the cusp of becoming a “world class player,” but the only thing he lacks is goals: 1 or 2 a season might just change the equation. Sadly, Lucas suffered a season-ending injury against Chelsea in the Carling Cup in November. Hopefully he comes back stronger because his play this season has been top shelf.

Jonjo Shelvey – No rating

Shelvey was loaned out to Blackpool (where he was playing very well) but recalled with Lucas’ injury. He hasn’t made many appearances for the Reds, but he’s an attacking mid Dalglish seems to really like. He had an excellent game against Aston Villa (his first career Prem start), and the only thing that rivals his potential are his bags of confidence. As far as young players go, Shelvey has as much potential as anyone else at the club.

Jay Spearing – 7/10

A 7 might seem a bit high for the wee man, but Spearing has silently played well in most of his outings this season. A very good tackler, I’ve been most impressed by his passing ability. The effort from Spearing is always there, and he’s one of those “would run through a brick wall for the club” types who gives the proverbial 110 percent. The worst thing that can be said about Spearing is that he can be a bit too aggressive at times. Not that being an aggressive player is bad, but it can lead to sending offs like the Fulham incident.

Maxi Rodriguez – 7/10

Maxi, Maxi Rodriguez runs down the wing for me, but not always for the King. Maxi has seen his playing time seriously limited for some unknown reason, but every time he plays, he shows why he should be in Dalglish’s plans more often. What Maxi offers is intelligent play, terrific movement, runs into space, and goals from midfield – things one Stewart Downing hasn’t shown this year. Why he doesn’t play more is a mystery, regardless of his age (31). He has an almost telepathic understanding with Suarez, and should be in the starting XI more times than he has this season.

Attackers

Craig Bellamy – 8/10

Craig Bellamy, welcome back to the show! Bellers had a short lived Anfield career in the 2006-2007 season, being sold by Rafa Benitez one season after being brought in. A life-long fan of the club, Bellamy jumped at the chance of joining Liverpool on a free transfer from Manchester City, which included a wage deduction. Even at 32, he still has gobs of pace and unlimited amounts of intensity (and a fiery temper to boot). Bellamy has been employed more as an impact sub this season, but all of his displays have been very good. His set pieces, while underrated, are always threatening. Quite possibly, the best bit of business done by the club this summer.

Andy Carroll – 6/10

Unfairly, Carroll has a £35 million price tag over his head. Let’s make something clear: he has never been worth that fee and is unlikely to live up to it. But that’s all in the past and this is a new season. Carroll at times looks lethargic with the touch of a donkey. At other times, he looks genuinely unlucky hitting the post, being called for phantom fouls, and not having any support from teammates. He’s got a rocket of a left foot and is good in the air, but Liverpool have yet been able to find the best way to play with the big Geordie. In fact, Liverpool play better when he’s not on the pitch. But having said that, Carroll is a different player when Gerrard is on the pitch, and it’s not a coincidence his service improved once Gerrard came on. He seems hungrier and more motivated, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll have a good second half of the season.

Dirk Kuyt – 6/10

Kuyt had a monster of a season last year, but unfortunately for the club, he doesn’t look to be the same player anymore. His usually steady play has been erratic this season, and he seems to have somehow gotten a step slower. Kuyt’s never had a great first touch, but this season it seems below his usual. The Dutchman is a player that needs a run of games to get embedded into a side, but hate to say, he might see the door in the summer if usually reliable performances don’t improve.

Luis Suarez – 7.5/10

Suarez lit a fire under the club after his January move, but this season, he hasn’t quite been as great. Suarez has been very good, but some of his shooting has been quite poor for a player of his caliber. He’s still a player to watch, but he definitely needs some help. A lot of the time, he’s left to do it all on his own, and that has hindered his play somewhat. Suarez needs to settle down on the pitch and not let opposing players and fans get under his skin. He’s going to miss the next 7 games having already missed the City game due to a suspension stemming from the race row with Patrice Evra. Epics could be written about the inconsistencies, unsubstantiated accusations, and double standards used to ban Suarez in a 115 page report, but not by the press or fans of opposing clubs who have failed to look at the incident objectively and from another person’s perspective. At this point, it might be best to just take it on the chin and have long memories. He could be back for the Feb. 11 clash against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Not that that would matter anyway…..

Half Season Awards

Best Player: Lucas Leiva

Worst Player: Stewart Downing

Needs to improve: Dirk Kuyt

Goal: Luis Suarez v Stoke City (Carling Cup)

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