The Second-Half Conundrum

John Cullinane takes a look at The Reds’ inconsistent performances, more specifically their second half efforts.

Is there a reason why Liverpool seem to canter in the final 45 minutes or is it mere coincidence?

Liverpool are now into the middle of October sitting joint first in the Premier League. Every Kopite would have bitten your hand off for this position at the beginning of the season (excuse the pun).  But is this a false position? Most would argue that it isn’t and that you deserve to be wherever you find yourself. This probably is the case, however even being at the top of the table, there are still massive improvements to be made on the Liverpool team.  It is also refreshing to see most fans taking Liverpool’s position in the table with a pinch of salt and not getting too carried away as the general consensus is that winning the title is a distant dream, for this season at least. With six teams (Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool) arguably vying for four positions, reaching that 4th spot would be a commendable feat.

There are things to be improved upon for Liverpool’s chances of reaching the holy grail of Champions League football to increase, most notably the Reds’ disappointing second-half performances.

It may be the fans fault.

That may sound erratic and ridiculous but let’s explore it. Liverpool fans unlike any other are obsessed beyond belief about their football team. Their wanting for their team to succeed is unparalleled. Once the final whistle blows on a Saturday afternoon, fans are already pondering team selection for seven days later. It’s phenomenal. The build-up to a Liverpool game is incomparable, all through the week the excitement grows day-by-day. The players feel this euphoria and train as hard as physically possible during the week to impress their fans at the weekend. The players become desperate to make an impression on them and want to feed off the pressure of what being a Liverpool player demands. This is probably why you see a swash-buckling 100% explosive energy from every Liverpool player in the first-half of games, and also why you see a flattering to deceive performance in the second-half of games. The Liverpool players become so wound up about making an impact that by the half-time whistle they are mentally drained and the stoppage in play deters them from their flow of play. To use an apt cliché, most of Liverpool’s matches have become “games of two halves”.

This was evidently apparent in nearly every game so far this season, particularly against Crystal Palace. The Reds dominated the Londoners with three goals in the first-half and were clearly the superior side, but slacked in the second ultimately conceding a late goal and became complacent because the game was all but over. You could see once Steven Gerrard scored that penalty his lukewarm celebration told the fans, ‘we are going to ease up now’. There was almost a refusal to be ruthless. It may be a hypothetical argument but goal-difference could be the decider in qualifying for the Champions League or not. Liverpool won’t have many greater opportunities to increase it than against Palace.

This can also be brought back to a lack of stamina situation.

However, professional athletes lacking stamina sounds ridiculous, right? The centre of midfield is where energy is most necessitated and Gerrard simply doesn’t have it anymore – understandable given his age. Lucas also seems to peter out of games towards the 70th minute, losing concentration and positional awareness on a regular basis. Therefore, Liverpool as a whole sit much deeper and invite pressure. Some might say this is a tactic employed by Rodgers, for the team to contain. Although this was proved to be incorrect when the manager admitted he was displeased with the lack of ball retention his team have been displaying in recent games. Leaving the Northern Irishman himself baffled as to why his team can’t keep up the same level of intensity for 90 minutes. Counter-attacking is simply not in Rodgers’ DNA. He has emphasised the possession game from day one and will continue to do so, whatever the system. If this means moving Jordan Henderson aka ‘Forrest Gump’ into midfield to add the fortitude, then so be it, if it means Liverpool plays higher up the pitch. For a team that is only in one competitive competition at the moment, the excuse of ‘tiredness’ is surely fruitless.

There are many possible hypothesises for why Liverpool drop-off in the second-half of games and it may be as simple as Rodgers motivating the players at half-time, even if they are three goals up. How sickening would it be for the Reds to miss out on a top European place because of laziness? Bar Manchester United, they have played relatively mediocre sides. The defensive/goalkeeping heroics and adrenaline kept the Reds going in that one but what happens when they are chasing shadows at the Emirates? Whether the problem be mental or physical it must be identified soon before they hit a slump that is hard to get out of. The slog of the upcoming winter months are going to be a real test of the muscle and grit of both the players and the manager.

The second-half complacency must be eradicated if this Liverpool team wants to reach its full potential. Let’s just hope the fans won’t be contemplating “what if” come next May.

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