When a win over a relegation bound team gets people at Liverpool so pleased with their match and the result, you know the expectations and descriptions of success at Anfield have changed. When Lucas Leiva is the defensive midfielder everyone has been waiting for, what should that mean and say about Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard?
Not taking away anything from Lucas. For a couple of years, he was the easiest bloke to blame everything on, for the sole fact that he wasn’t Xabi Alonso and later Javier Mascherano. The truth is that he’s the only reliable defensive midfielder on Brendan Rodgers’ squad, the only one naturally fit to play in the position. His return seems to make all the puzzle pieces fall in place, and give Liverpool the look and growing style that Rodgers wants to see from them.
The offense still mostly falls on the shoulders of Luis Suarez, but the 1-0 win over Southampton did show a potential for change. Playing with Lucas in the lineup means Joe Allen can move a bit forward a not constantly worry about being the last man in a line of three midfielders who don’t want to defend. Suddenly Steven Gerrard looks a bit more free to show his offensive skills. It only resulted in one goal, but Liverpool deserved a much more impressive scoreline.
Jose Enrique was back at left back, but feels very comfortable with surging forward after a few matches in a more advanced position. He gets in the box and creates chances all the time, but he still doesn’t really know what to do with the ball when given the opportunity. Jonjo Shelvey is another case: A player who has never shown any form of shyness or refraining from taking an ambitious attempt at goal. He has a cannon for a leg, but his passing and tactical discipline needs to be improved before he’ll see the pitch more often as a starter.
Raheem Sterling is in some sort of slump. Rodgers can’t afford to let go of one of his few option to create some width and spacing, but Sterling seems to know that, and it is affecting his play in a negative way. Trying to do everything complicated instead of keeping it simple, and using his speed to create chances instead of squander them. His finishing and last touch are just above poor most of the time, which keeps him from becoming a true menacing goal threat.
And than there’s Luis Suarez, who was very close to adding to his fantastic scoring record. His shattering of the crossbar led to Daniel Agger’s goal, and as usual, most of the good stuff came from him. His passing is borderline genius at times, but there’s a problem finding another finisher with his qualities. His negative antics of trying to fool referees won’t disappear anytime soon as well, trying to score a goal with his hand.
Brendan Rodgers has gotten the hang of things. Liverpool keep talking about thinking they can finish in the top 4, which seems quite ambitious and out of touch at the moment. But the slide has stopped, and as long as no injuries continue to haunt this team, they’ve found their balance and direction. It’s funny that a 30 year old Brazilian midfielder who rarely impresses was so important to the achievement of that balance.