One of the Webster definition’s for Catch-22 goes like this ‘a difficult situation for which there is no easy or possible solution’. Does it sound vague? Let’s just make that simple by invoking Liverpool FC 2014/15. After all, the team this season is riddled with Catch-22 situations.
Let’s start with the building block of the team.
When Simon Mignolet was bought, he was coming off a pretty decent season with Sunderland and had built up a reputation as a solid shot stopper. Mignolet, as a replacement to Pepe Reina, evoked mixed emotions from the fan base as they had differing strengths and weakness and thus replicating the same style desired by Rodgers with Mignolet in the team was seen as a challenge straight away.
Mignolet’s first season with Liverpool had multiple peaks and troughs in terms of form, with the highlight being his penalty save in the opening game (and the celebration with Kolo and Stevie, you might add).
A common trait seen during last season was his insistence in staying rooted to his goal and trusting his defence to swat away any aerial deliveries in the six yard box. Depending on one’s preference, it might be for good or bad, but one thing that cannot be disputed was the consistency of his policy, which succinctly put was ‘anything on goal is mine, everything else is yours’. Fair enough.
Then slowly, but more frequently we started hearing sound bites from the manager about wanting his goalkeeper to be more ‘commanding’. For me there started the problems. Asking a goalkeeper to change his core strength and belief is no mean feat. But due credit to Mignolet, he started stepping out a bit more often, to mixed end results.
Coming into the current season, Liverpool purchased Dejan Lovren, supposedly the panacea to all defensive issues, as he was seen as the leader that the defense desperately needed.
With the hindsight of quite a number of games, we can safely say now that the problems have just been magnified, or to put it correctly, shown up in face of duress.
So where is the Catch-22?
The Catch-22 is in the relationship between the centre-backs and the goalkeeper. The centre-backs not being aware whether the keeper will step up or not is a big issue. To compound the issue, they also don’t seemingly know when the keeper will step up. With no clear pattern in Mignolet stepping off his line, there seems to be an absolute lack of communication in that aspect, leading to the team conceding some hilariously bad goals.
Mignolet has problems that I would term as the asynchronous behavior of his centre-backs. Dejan Lovren is reputed to be a front footed defender and prefers stepping up to the opposition striker, but what we have consistently seen is that he seems to lose that duel, thus leaving a yawning gap right where his starting position is.
Martin Skrtel is someone who is a ‘neither here, nor there’ type of defender, sometimes he prefers to retreat until there is no more scope for retreating, which leads to the now infamous last ditch slide tackles. At other times he prefers to step up to the attacker to nip out the prospective attack.
This asynchronous behavior between the centre-backs ensures that offside traps aren’t that easily executable, and that through balls also seemingly look easier to penetrate the defense.
Thus the keeper does not seem to know whether the centre-backs will handle the balls in the 6 yard box, and the centre-backs do not seem to know if the keeper will sweep it up. Meltdown.
Where do we start with the midfield, the shape? Personnel? Form of the individuals? I would say it is a mix of everything.
In Steven Gerrard, you have arguably the greatest player the club has had. The number of exhilarating moments provided by him are innumerable and will be cherished always. But what about the current Steven Gerrard? Where does he actually fit? If it is indeed the deep controlling position, then what is his role exactly? Is it to be an auxiliary third centre-back, is it for him to cut down on swift attacks by the opposition by a combination of interceptions and tackles, or is his primary role actually to swiftly transition defence into attack with his range of passing?
If the last role is indeed what his game role is , then that should not be his primary role in that position, or he should not be left alone in that position doing it. But with Rodgers seemingly very clear in using a 1-2 triangle in the midfield, there does not seem to be a probable solution which Rodgers prefers executing.
The most worrying aspect is that solutions seemingly exist; just that Rodgers is choosing not to execute them. Sticking to a philosophy is admirable, but the lack of a flexible approach with respect to usage of players available is worrisome.
With Gerrard playing as controller, one of the other midfielders often needs to support him by tracking the runs of the opposition midfield, as Gerrard does not seem capable of doing it on his own. This additional midfielder often happens to be Henderson. But we are also in need of midfielders making late runs into the box as our current available strikers do not seem to understand the word called ‘goal’. The catch-22 is that the player who has the best ability for making such runs also seems to be Henderson. Poor Sod. Though with his sheer ability to keep running, he can do both roles, it’s just not practical in the long run, and also is definitely not using his capabilities to the fullest. So what is the solution?
- Is it playing a double pivot?
- Is it not playing Gerrard at all?
- Is it not playing Gerrard in that role?
In recent weeks, we have seen option 1 and option 3 being executed to mixed results. It is time we give option 2 a fair go. It would be beneficial for both Gerrard and the club. Gerrard can be fresher and thus have the legs to control the game a bit more, it also gives the chance for the club to identify a man for the role and try out all possible options.
There is a serious temptation these days to talk about Mario Balotelli, and this article, fortunately or unfortunately will fall prey to that temptation.
Mario Balotelli is lazy. Mario Balotelli is selfish. Mario Balotelli shoots unnecessarily. Mario Balotelli cares only for Mario Balotelli.
The interesting thing about these commonly mentioned opinions, is that these aren’t new. Some of his playing strengths/styles have been well known and discussed quite often, one recent case being the Anfield Index pod . His long distance shooting, his profligate conversion ratios aren’t new and were seen during his time at Manchester City and AC Milan. So this expectation of a radical transformation from Balotelli, just because he happens to play for Liverpool is like asking for the stars. Mario Balotelli needs time to adapt to Liverpool’s players and their style. Liverpool’s players also need time to adjust to Mario Balotelli and his strengths. The common factor is time, which unfortunately we do not seem to have and hence the call for his head. Catch-22.
The pressure is truly upon Rodgers to resolve these issues, but also continue to produce results during that time. We can only think of the cardiologist vs mechanic joke at this time and smile wistfully at the relevance of that joke here.
Srikanth is an Anfield Index Podcaster and you can hear his excellent views on the Indian Anfield Index Podcast below: