Friday, November 11, 2011 by Paul Grech
Back in the nineties teams would travel to Anfield with one plan in mind: that of stopping Steve McManaman. The thinking was that if they managed this then they were well on their way to getting something out of the game. It wasn't a tactic that worked as much as its reputation suggested yet it worked often enough for it to continue being used.
That tactic seems to be back in fashion. It would be incorrect to say that the last three teams to have come to Anfield all did so with the aim of going away with a point but all three paid particular attention to Luis Suarez. The belief that by limiting him you limit Liverpool is growing.
Yet at its core it is a false belief. Last season Stewart Downing was often Aston Villa's match winner whilst Blackpool's valiant fight against relegation was largely down to Charlie Adam. These two players have the potential to turn a game in Liverpool's favour. Only they haven't been doing it.
Nor has anyone else.
Liverpool's problem isn't the over-reliance on Suarez but rather the deficiencies of other players. Just as players used to stand back and let Steve McManaman and, later, Steven Gerrard try to save games, so too it seems that the current batch are abdicating their responsibility and hoping that Suarez comes up with an invention that wins the game. But, as we've seen in recent weeks, it cannot work that way.
That this is happening is partly down to the number of new players that there are. These are still getting used to playing in a different environment that has new (and greater) pressures to what they were used to. They are also still trying to fit into a system the workings of which are still new to them with team-mates whom they don't know and who don't know them. And rather than letting their instincts take over they let fear rule. It is much safer to try to get the ball to Suarez then try something yourself.
This was increasingly apparent against Swansea when preying at the back of the minds of most players was the thought of dropping more points like they did against Norwich. As the game wore on and the fear grew, so did the misplaced passes which resulted in Liverpool ceeding control of the game.
Over the course of the season, only rarely have Liverpool's midfield players really taken control and been dangerous. Rarely has anyone other than Suarez really shown the mental strength and determination to push up a notch. When that happened - Henderson's cameo appearance against Manchester United springs to mind - then we saw midfielders really in with a chance to score.
Suarez, being Liverpool's best player, will inevitably always feature prominently in attacking moves; it would be foolish to structure the team otherwise. But he cannot and, with the talent that there is in the squad, he need not be the only focus.
Yet if the other players keep deferring to him then it is only natural that other teams start reacting to that. The problem, then, isn't that Liverpool's main threat is Luis Suarez it is that the other players are acting as if that they believe that he is the only one.