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Going Forward: Ways Liverpool can improve in the final 10 games

Steven Gerrard’s hat-trick Tuesday night against Everton was special, and Liverpool picked up a much needed and very deserved three points over their Merseyside rivals. But, to be perfectly frank, Liverpool’s form in league play has been nothing short of disappointing.

Given the way the team played under Kenny Dalglish last season, the results this campaign have left a lot to be desired from the Reds – despite putting in a number of good performances. Whether it be the lack of goals, lack of effort in some games, or questionable team selections, there are a lot of issues with the first team.

Here are my suggestions for the rest of the season.

Play Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez together for the rest of the season

The Suarez-Carroll partnership was supposed to be at the forefront of the new-look Liverpool under Dalglish, but a combination of injuries, poor form, and suspensions hampered the development of this £58 million strike force.

Part of the problem has been a lack of understanding between the two strikers, but recent performances together have shown that there is a small glimmer of hope for the supporters.

Some in the fanbase have already given up on Carroll, but I think now’s the time to play the partnership together for the rest of the season. No more playing matchups or dropping Carroll after he’s had a handful of decent games. Play these two together for the rest of the season no matter the opposition or competition. That way the club will be able to better gauge if Carroll is the No. 9 of the future or a player that won’t cut it in a Red shirt.

Playing these two together for the last 10 league fixtures and in the FA Cup will give everyone a better judgment of where the partnership stands.

Gerrard, Suarez, and Carroll

An offshoot of the Suarez-Carroll partnership is the necessity to play Gerrard with them. The three have only been on the same pitch for a handful of minutes due to injuries, but having these three on the same pitch should work wonders for Liverpool.

Consider this: In the three games Gerrard, Suarez, and Carroll have started together, Liverpool have scored 11 goals – 3 from Gerrard, 1 from Suarez, and 1 from Carroll – but the overall attack is head-and-shoulders better.

Beyond that, when Gerrard is on the pitch, Carroll looks a much better player, and there’s no reason to not start all three at the same time when all are available for selection. In the win over Everton, the link-up play between the three was excellent – not to mention it kept the Toffees on their heels trying to defend a powerful Liverpool attack.

Dirk Kuyt on the Right

Similarly, Kuyt should be starting every game. Going into the season, I was disappointed Dalglish’s starting XI didn’t have Kuyt and Suarez up top, but I understood as Carroll is supposed to be the player of the future.

But there’s no reason to not play Kuyt on the right. Playing Jordan Henderson out there is a disaster – as a number of performances have shown – and Kuyt earned the hearts of fans with his gritty performances out wide. Sure, he lacks pace and touch, but his workrate will enable Glen Johnson to have more freedom going forward. Kuyt has a nose for goal, and in his short cameo against Everton, he didn’t miss a beat combining well with Suarez and Gerrard.

Meanwhile, if Henderson is on the pitch, he must be played in the middle, not on the right.

Left Wing

While Kuyt is occupying the right wing, a rotation between Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez should be Dalglish’s go-to on the left, with Stewart Downing rotating in-between.

I’d actually have Maxi starting most games on the left, with Bellamy coming on in the later stages. Maxi is an intelligent player, and his understanding of runs into space and good movement make him ideal for Dalglish’s “pass and move” style of play.

Bellamy’s pace is exceptional at the age of 32, although his well-documented knee problems prevent him from being in the starting XI every week. But, as an impact player, Bellers has been fantastic this season. His pace combined with tired defenders could provide the Reds with some late goals during the final part of the season.

Downing, meanwhile, played very well against Everton, but his performances at times this season have left many questioning his £20 million transfer fee. Until he puts in more consistently good performances, his selection shouldn’t be definite.

Back Line

With Daniel Agger out, Sebastian Coates should fill in for every fixture. No disrespect to Jamie Carragher – the man is a legend and has been a terrific servant to the club – but Carra might be done for. The Reds kept a clean sheet against Everton with Carragher in the side, but generally speaking playing Carragher means playing with a deeper back line, and that’s something that hampers Liverpool’s attack and invites the other team push forward. When the team comes against a side with an in-form, clinical striker (cough Arsenal cough) the result is not a good one for the Reds.

Coates on the other hand is the CB of the future. The Uruguayan is still raw, yes. He’s going to make mistakes and make questionable decisions defensively, yes, but his performances have shown that he has a lot of upside to his game. Good vision, interceptions, ball skill, headers to teammates, and passing to the holding mid – linking play from back line to midfield – are part of Coates’ positive side.

Formations

Finding the right formation for Liverpool is tricky. The team is adaptable for almost any situation, yet doesn’t seem to have a perfectly strong way to play – especially without injured DM Lucas Leiva. But there are some tactics that should be tried by Dalglish before the end of the season.

Note: Bellamy and Maxi are interchangeable, and Johnson is included for once he returns from a minor knock.

4-3-2-1

4-3-2-1

The 4-3-2-1 formation, sometimes called the “Christmas Tree” given its shape, would be the formation that might get the most of Carroll as a target man. Carroll in this formation would serve as a beacon, knocking down balls into the box for Suarez and Gerrard to latch on to. Also, with Suarez’s knack to drop deep and Gerrard’s preferred advanced role, this formation would enable both players to run with the ball at their feet, pass to Carroll, and then get played through by the big Geordie.

The formation would also fit with Liverpool’s style of play. Instead of launching balls up to Carroll, a pass from Kuyt to Suarez, for example, could take Suarez wide, move Kuyt towards the box, and create some nifty combination play with Gerrard just outside the area.

4-2-3-1

4-2-3-1

Playing a 4-2-3-1 would be similar to the Christmas Tree, but would require Gerrard to occupy a deeper role with Suarez playing as a faux No. 10. Gerrard has been forced to play a deeper role a handful of times this season, particularly in bigger matches, such as against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Playing Gerrard in this role should be used sparingly, however, as he’s much better higher up the pitch in an advanced role.

4-3-3

4-3-3

This formation is a bit more experimental, utilizing Suarez as a wide forward with Gerrard playing just off Carroll. Suarez’s role in this formation would be more like David Silva’s role at Manchester City, giving the Uruguayan freedom to float around the pitch.

A couple reasons factor into this selection. First is some of Suarez’s best plays in a Red shirt have come from a wide area taking on one of the outside backs. Being played out wide would also give Suarez more time on the ball and more room to work with as well, allowing him to get a better view of his teammates and taking pressure off of him to be a one-man attacking machine.

With a 4-3-3, Henderson would come back in the side. While not the most adept at tackling, Henderson has shown in games this season that he can play good throughballs to the wide players from a deep position (e.g., against City in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi). At times Henderson has been played as a No. 10, but his performances this season have shown that he’s closer to being a No. 6 than an attacking mid. Henderson’s future at LFC might just revolve around his ability as a deep-lying playmaker.

Final Thoughts

Steven Gerrard is the key to the remainder of Liverpool’s season – probably to no one’s surprise. Liverpool are a different team with Captain Fantastic in the side, and his presence has drastically improved the performances of Carroll and Downing.

As Gerrard’s form goes, so too does Liverpool’s. The 3-0 win over Everton proved this, and getting the best out of Gerrard will in turn get the best out of Liverpool.

With 10 fixtures remaining, the Reds sit 10 points outside of fourth and 11 points out of third – including match-ups with Chelsea (fifth) and Newcastle (sixth). Liverpool’s Premier League campaign essentially begins March 21 when they travel to QPR, with the task requiring the Reds to nearly win out the remaining fixtures in the league.

Virtually impossible? Maybe. But as the adidas slogan says, “Impossible is Nothing.” Grabbing fourth might seem impossible, but grabbing that Champions League qualification spot is still possible nonetheless.

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