By Jonathan Carroll
Are the current Liverpool squad lacking a physical edge? In every game this season Brendan Rodgers’ men have fallen off the pace quite drastically in the second half of each game. Jonathan Carroll examines what may be behind the apparent lack of match prepardness.
Recently Raymond Verheijen tweeted “Liverpool has clearly faded away in last phase of most games this season and have picked up multiple injuries already. Training methods?“. Aly Cissokho, Glen Johnson, Kolo Toure, Sebastian Coates, Joe Allen have all been injured or are currently injured this season. Five players injured within pre-season and the first five league games does highlight a possible need to examine the training methods at least. Lets hope it’s not a Graeme Souness like fitness blunder of years ago. Some managers are too closed-minded when it comes to training methods, lets say more like pre-historic in their approach and they refuse to change with modern adaptations to strength and conditioning. Take Souness for example, “He clashed with anyone who questioned his tough-training methods, despite the resultant upsurge in muscle injuries, and Ian Rush was one of a number of senior players put in their place when they spoke up”. Souness incorporated brutal hill sprints on sand dunes as part of his way to get his team in better shape. Unfortunately for the players this lead to a higher rate of injuries, especially achilles injuries. Lets hope Brendan Rodgers and his strength and conditioning team are more open to adapting their style if need be.
A worrying aspect for Liverpool supporters about the apparent lack of fitness in the squad is how Rodgers’ men have dropped way off the pace in the second half all their games this season. Games against Stoke, Aston Villa, Notts County, Man United, Swansea and Southampton have all seen Liverpool decline in performance and fitness levels in the second half. This drop off was very apparent in the games away to Villa and Swansea and it took some backs to the wall defending to come out with a result. Liverpool have also failed to score a goal in the second half of a game so far this season. Another statistic that highlights how poor the team has performed in the second forty-five. In the league cup the reds surrendered a comfortable 2-0 half-time lead only to be pegged back and forced into extra-time against lowly Notts County. The head of strength and conditioning at Liverpool is Ryland Morgans. The Welshman previously worked at Swansea City and with the Welsh national team. Morgans, like a lot of current coaches prefer his pre-season routine to incorporate of fitness in a football setting instead of running cross-country like Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland. Here is how he describes it on Liverpool’s official website.
“The footballs are out on the very first day,” said Morgans. “There’s a physical emphasis to all of our training – all the way through the season not just in pre-season – but there is a larger percentage of conditioning-type work through the pre-season period.”
Steven Gerrard was one high-profile member of the first-team squad eager to praise Morgans’ influence on pre-season training in the summer of 2013, stating: “He’s a really good fitness coach who gets as much as he can out of the lads but does it in the right way.”
Looking at the situation as a whole and considering Verheijen’s comments on twitter, it is apparent that injuries are quite high for this time of year. Fitness levels arew currently being questioned on many fronts. However, players will not be hitting peak fitness levels until later in the season. Games are required to do so this early in the season and this also plays into enabling modern day players to last the entire season which can include cup competitions, internationals etc. Even so, how can Liverpool find the balance of increasing and maintaining fitness levels while still winning consecutive games? Is the current squad lacking personnel? Yes, in my opinion the squad is far too thin to field a regular starting eleven in the League Cup and then four days later ask the same players to compete in a Premier League game and come away with all three points. Rafa Benitez was highly criticized for his chopping and changing but he was way ahead of everyone else as it turns out, but he had a better squad to work with except in 2005.
Whether the current Liverpool players don’t quite have a full energy system to call upon yet or not, they may see a drop in performances towards the end of the season if such a small squad is continually asked to play week in and week out. There is no reason why a professional team should see such a drop in physical performance on such a regular occurrence so early in the season. The January transfer window will likely see very few additions to the Liverpool squad and that leaves Rodgers and his preferred starting eleven in a very difficult position. Tough times ahead for Liverpool if the results are negative more often than not. If the players can bounce back with a few wins and hit some consistent form then nothing will be mentioned about fitness.
The signs evident right now suggest otherwise and it is something Rodgers and his backroom staff will need to keep a close eye on over the course of the coming months. The reds head to Old Trafford Wednesday night ahead of a big League Cup match against Manchester United. Another chance to assess the second half performance against what will most likely be a strong United team following their derby humiliation to Manchester City.