Last season we saw the rise of the Mersey. This season the rivers banks are so low you probably can stand in it without soaking your ankles. Excuse my hyperbole but in a footballing sense the fall from grace that we’ve seen from the city of Liverpool’s two Premier League representatives has been startling.
Let’s begin with Everton. Roberto Martinez was hailed as the messiah after leading Everton to 6th place in the league, picking up some notable scalps along the way. Sound familiar? Of course it does because David Moyes did it time after time, even once achieving an elusive place in the top four. However, one major change that got even the biggest skeptics paying attention to Mr. Martinez was that Everton played swashbuckling football for once, instead of the Baines to Fellaini chest-trap tactic. They utilized a fluid and dynamic passing game. Yes, I said passing game. Teams who’d been used to Everton’s predictable heave-ho strategy for 12 years had no idea what hit them and Everton charmed the league. Supporters became akin to enamored señoritas lusting after Antonio Banderas in the mask of Zorro.
This season however, there are no surprises. Every one knows what’s going on and Roberto Martinez has proven why he’s been touted as the replacement for Arsene Wenger at the Emirates. Now that teams have figured them out, they all pull out their Plan B’s when facing the Toffees. Unfortunately for Lukaku and co., Roberto Martinez doesn’t have one of his own. Everton have not progressed as they should have. In fact, they’ve taken steps backwards and need to regroup. The biggest reason for this is flawed transfer activity. Take a look at the list of players who have come in at Goodison Park this and last season.
Last season Martinez banked on a good squad assembled by his predecessor David Moyes. He made his own additions including Robles, Alcaraz and McCarthy all from Wigan, who, except for the brilliant Irishman McCarthy have been non-events so far. He also brought in Aiden McGeady who flatters to deceive. It was the loan moves of Lukaku, Deulofeu and Barry that really added some class to the team. For this Martinez deserves credit. Looking at the 2014/2015 season all Martinez really did was consolidate his current position. This is a man who promised to bring Champions League football to Everton. Paying money for players you already had on loan as well as Muhamed Besic and an old timer is not the way to go. Martinez needed to be a little more creative. There isn’t much progress here. Distin is too old and yes John Stones is a good young player but a steady presence at centre-back would have been very helpful. Martinez has stood still as if he didn’t think opposing managers would figure his team out. The squad is too thin. What he needed was options. Options that would allow him to change the game if needed. We can see this isn’t Roberto’s style. Last season at this time, Everton had 24 points having lost only one game! Currently they are on 18 points, 11th in the league with four losses and six draws. The decline is clear. They need to figure things out or those who were chastising David Moyes may just eat humble pie.
On the red side of the Mersey things are even worse. Sure, Liverpool are two points ahead of their blue neighbors but last year they greatly lifted the expectations of their fan-base. Expectation is a double-edged sword. The following are the two main reasons those expectations have not and will not be met. You’ll see below how the two are interconnected.
1. Tactical confusion
2. All that money spent
Since Luis Suarez left it is very clear that Brendan Rodgers had no idea what he intended to do. You don’t sell your best player unless you have a plan. Tactically Luis Suarez allowed Liverpool to play a 4-4-2 diamond. The oft-injured Sturridge and Suarez could roam around and make runs allowing Gerrard to use his passing range to launch attacks from deep into the space they could run on to. It was a flexible and fluid system for which Rodgers was hailed. This season Rodgers has played with almost every formation there is with little success. It’s like the man thinks he’s Pep Guardiola or something. His signing of Balotelli means they need to play to a focal point and not a roaming forward. Liverpool do not possess the quality of service to make that happen.
Defensively, Liverpool were all over the place last season and their attack bailed them out all too often. In the absence of a potent attack the defense is exposed greatly. Gerrard can’t protect a back four and when your defence has a shoddy goal keeper, a confused Martin Skrtel, the disastrous Dejan Lovren and young home-sick Spaniards at full-back, what do you expect? Rodgers spent a lot of money but the wrong way. In midfield Steven Gerrard’s age is starting to show and on the flip side so is Raheem Sterling’s. Big fees were spent on Lallana and Markovic giving them a surplus of attacking midfielders who are not even better than Philip Coutinho. It begs the question: WHAT WAS THE POINT?
I wonder if Brendan wishes he didn’t take that dig at Tottenham after the way they spent the Gareth Bale money. Right now, Rodgers has himself a band of misfits that more closely resemble the Pirates of the Carribbean than a serious football club.
Last season’s surprise packages are looking like old gifts, repacked and sent to the Salvation Army. The silver lining here is that except for Chelsea, all the big teams look unconvincing. Man United are recovering but are always an injury crisis away from implosion. Arsenal are being held back by a senile old man. Man City are clearly bored of winning things and Tottenham are just awful. This means that the Merseyside clubs can still rise up the table if they can put a string of results together. The Premier League this season is unpredictable and that could be the city of Liverpool’s saving grace. There’s still time for both clubs to get it together but they had better act quickly if they are really going to turn the tide.