Liverpool did something on Monday that they rarely have looked capable of doing in 2010 — dominating their opponents. Now, what if I told you that the team that they dominated was the best side that Liverpool will face in December?
That's arguably the case, as the Liverpool fixtures list follows Aston Villa with manager-less Newcastle on Saturday, a meaningless Europa League match with FC Utrecht on the following Thursday and then league ties with Fulham, at Blackpool and with Wolves.
After defeating Villa, the Reds are in eighth place in the table — their best spot thus far — and they are just a point behind sixth-place Bolton. If they can manage to hold serve against some of the league's weaker sides, they could legitimately be threatening for the top-four by the New Year. With Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all playing each other in December, and having already dropped uncharacteristic quantities of points, Liverpool could even be within reach of the very top of the league as well.
That may be a little on the optimistic side, but Liverpool's performance on Monday was a reason for encouragement — with an easy upcoming schedule or not. The most striking trend seen both at White Hart Lane and against Villa has been the emergence of the pairing of Lucas and Raul Meireles in central midfield. In short, the duo have gone from looking hapless, negative, and lost at the beginning of the year, to dictating the shape of play of late.
Lucas and Meireles controlled 50-50 balls, made clean passes, tackled well and prevented Villa from ever establishing any presence in midfield. Stephen Ireland and company were relegated to longballs, passes back to the defense and — more often than not — turnovers to the point that the side was visibly discouraged. Villa could move forward only through Stewart Downing, which proved predictable enough for Liverpool's defense to cope with.
In terms of offense, Lucas and Raul Meireles were able to provide support and presence in establishing attacking possession, and they were also creative and classy in technique. Meireles' set pieces could have created many more goals than were scored, and Lucas' ball to Babel for the game's second goal was exceptional.
It also must be noted how the play of the holding midfielders is affecting that of Maxi Rodriguez. Rodriguez was able to play closer to attackers in a freer role, and he looked far more dangerous as a result. Being able to play near the forward line allowed him to score his goal off a David Ngog layoff.
Ngog, of course, also notched his eighth goal of the year, and Ryan Babel scored his first league goal as well. Each tally may have provided a boost of confidence for a team missing Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres going forward. There had been a sense in watching Liverpool this season that if Gerrard or Torres didn't score, nobody would. Monday's action did well to dispel such notions.
Much too has been made of Liverpool's depth at defense after Jamie Carragher's injury and Paul Konchesky's lack of form at Tottenham, but the team answered those questions with by far their best defensive performance of the year. Sure, Villa were hapless, but Liverpool couldn't have been more comfortable at the back. Some of that can be attributed to Lucas and Meireles as well, but Pepe Reina's 100th Liverpool clean sheet never seemed in doubt.
Liverpool did not look like an eighth-place side on Monday — let alone an 18th-place side as they were not so long ago. In fact, we may even have to look much higher in the league table to find the Reds just a few weeks from now.
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