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Monday, 18 October 2010

Can Hodgson Ride The Merseyslide?

Roy Hodgson leans towards his deputy Sammy Lee, his face creased with tension, brow sticky, stomach uneasy: “Sammy, what the fuck do we do? How do we change it? Who can we bring on?” Lee, a man who has spent his life in the game, is nonplussed. “I don’t know boss. We have nothing. We can’t change it.” Hodgson, growing increasingly worried, darts a look left and then right. He eyes up those sat on the benches next to him. He is trying to get the measure of the situation, while trying frantically to calm his nerves. It wasn’t like this at the Cottage, he thinks. “David, get stripped lad,” he says. Hodgson exchanges glances with Lee. His side are 2-0 down to their local rivals and his only chance at changing the game is by throwing on David Ngog. Hodgson, resigned to his fate, shrinks back into his chair, eyes wide, face creased with tension, brow sticky, stomach uneasy.

After the 214th Merseyside derby had ended in a deserved victory for Everton, Hodgson tried, in vain I might add, to reassure his fans. “From what I saw I thought we dominated the second half totally,” he said. Statistically speaking, Liverpool did. They had the lion’s share of possession. But this certainly does not account for the fact that Liverpool didn’t look like scoring. Counter-attacks were so slow that Everton had time to regroup and fall back into two banks of four, every time. It was easy. Lucas didn’t pass it forward all game. Gerrard sat too deep. Meirelles was completely ineffective. So because Liverpool essentially had these three doing the same job, Torres once again cut a forlorn figure up front, isolated to such a degree that every single time he got the ball, his back was to goal and he was outnumbered. Maxi and Joe Cole are not wingers and this chronic lack of width just adds to Liverpool’s problems, especially when the full backs are Jamie Carragher and Paul Konchesky – neither famous for their pace. Furthermore, throw the painfully average back four into the mix and Liverpool become a painfully average side full stop. More worrying was Hodgson’s next assertion: “I watched the performance and the second half was as good as I saw a Liverpool team play under my management that is for sure." Liverpool are in trouble, if this be the case. Big trouble.

Talk before the game in the Sky studio had hinged on a discussion that Liverpool are too good to go down. After all, the season was only seven games old and like Jamie Redknapp said, the Spurs side his dad inherited had only two points after eight the season before last. Liverpool would be fine. Gerrard. Torres. Cole. Reina. Everything would be fine, of that there was no doubt. Well if ever a 90-minute period could shatter opinion, this was it. That is the eighth league game of the season and the eighth time Liverpool have looked nothing short of woeful. If there are three teams in the Premier League that are playing worse than that, week in, week out, then I have yet to see them. And when Robbie Fowler announced starkly at the end of the match that the Leeds side that went down six years ago were better than this current Liverpool side, you’d have to be the most blinkered of Liverpool fan to disagree. That Leeds squad had Paul Robinson, Gary Kelly, Ian Harte, Lucas Radebe, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, David Batty, Nick Barmby, Mark Viduka, Alan Smith… cash-strapped they may have been but Roque Junior aside, there was still some serious talent at Elland Road that season.

Regardless of Hodgson’s words to the contrary and the reputations of his squad members, a relegation scrap now faces Liverpool. Judging by Torres’ fabled body language, and the fact the only thing he is sharing with Wayne Rooney right now is a baffling lack of form, he will be leaving Anfield in the January window. The new owners at Liverpool supposedly heralded a new dawn but Sunday’s timid performance represented same old, same old. A huge decision now faces the Yanks: should they break a Liverpool habit of a lifetime and replace a manager early in the season – albeit one who looks completely out of his depth – or stick with the status quo and hope Hodgson gets it right in January, funds permitting. Liverpool’s season and indeed Premier League survival could rest on this vital judgment. Adam Bushby

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