There’s no magic formula to winning championships. It’s never just about having a defense that rarely conceded and keeps clean sheets. It’s never just about scoring enough that no matter how bad your defense is, teams will never catch up to you. Each season brings a different set of stories, intangibles and deciding factors. Sometimes it’s just luck, as some like to see that day on April 27, when Liverpool lost 2-0 to Chelsea at home and the first place they gained two weeks earlier by beating Manchester City.
When trying to analyze an entire season, it’s not just the three points Liverpool lost that day when Steven Gerrard slipped and Brendan Rodgers, along with the players on the pitch, couldn’t find the right sort of combination to unlock Mourinho’s parking the bus tactics, which makes him feel like a football genius. It’s losing to Southampton early in the season when Rodgers used a lineup with four centre backs. It’s lost at Arsenal, and drawing at home against Aston Villa, and away to Newcastle, and losing to Hull City. Lots of pieces coming together into one picture.
Is there one common thread that links those defeats? In my opinion it was mostly about putting on a side, formation or selection, that wasn’t good enough to win that day. Tactical mistakes, which Rodgers does make from time to time and usually fixes in the next match. Still, those mistakes happen and prove costly, as it showed in the loss to Manchester City, which at one point saw Liverpool fall behind by three goals.
At this stage of the season, playing with just one striker is a huge mistake. This team still hasn’t found the right combination to make it work with five midfielders. Maybe it never will. Liverpool’s best football has come through two forwards – late minutes with Rickie Lambert on the pitch next to Daniel Sturridge, and the win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane with Mario Balotelli up front.
Maybe Rodgers will find a way to make Sterling or Markovic play a second striker that doesn’t restrict Sturridge (who will need some rest from time to time) or Balotelli to just one role. However, at the moment, it seems like one of the two players will always have to be on the field, and any other choice but to play with two forwards is going to hurt Liverpool’s attack badly, relying on all the space it creates for them.
Defense is another issue. Glen Johnson might have a good match every five he plays, but often he is an irresponsible player who leaves huge holes on his flank by making selfish mistakes when he has the ball. The combination of Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno seemed so much better. There’s also Flannagan to think of, and Jose Enrique isn’t going to give up on playing, making a cameo appearance late in the win over Spurs.
Defense might be the key to this season. Right now there’s the trio of Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho fighting for two spots after the departure of Daniel Agger, who is probably better than all three of them when healthy. Skrtel is limited with the ball, has iffy decision making at times but is great in the air on set pieces, offensively. Sakho is the best tackler of the three and Lovren showed he learned a lot after being torched against Manchester City.
Championship team? There’s the potential. Liverpool are deeper than they were last season, but don’t have a super player like Luis Suarez who can make up for certain deficiencies. The answer isn’t given from the first three matches, showing evidence that points to either way. However, unlike other clubs not too far from Anfield, there’s a clear direction of where this is going, and those fearing something of being a one-hit wonder due to Suarez should probably feel a bit more encouraged.