Liverpool woes down to lack of width

“We have got a problem winning games in the league. We have to educate ourselves and maybe we have to not play the lovely football that we have been.”

It was a strange thing to say – for a start, you could take a frivolous approach. What lovely football? In fairness though, Liverpool have played some great stuff at times this season. They have players, such as the now injured Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard, who can play some great one touch football – and have. Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez have been entertaining in spurts up front as well, and there is truth that Dalglish has made this Liverpool side a more attractive one to watch.

And amid their defeats recently, have been evidence of that. The 3-2 loss to QPR was as one sided a match as you’re going to find in which the team dominating managed to lose. Usually a comeback from 2-0 down involves a team who were always in the game but were unlucky to be behind. Liverpool fully deserved their lead, and QPR were appallingly bad. They then went to sleep for 15 minutes and lost.

Against Arsenal, Liverpool left bemused as to how they’d been beaten in the last minute, and come away with nothing from a game they dominated. Undoubtedly the better team that day, yet another defeat.

This has been the story of Liverpool though this season. Statistically they take twice as many shots to score a goal than Man Utd. Yet they have a similar number of chances, and possession. And the number of times they’ve hit the post or bar this season…or come up against a goalkeeper in inspired form.

Yet there is an element of their own making in their troubles. That is that they have consistently failed to stretch teams, often weaker teams, particularly at home. This is a theme of Liverpool over the last decade, and is not something unique to Dalglish. Liverpool lack width. It is no coincidence that they have suffered home defeats to Barnsley, Watford and Wigan among others in the last decade. This is a team who, more than any other of the top sides, come unstuck against minnows at Anfield.

It all comes down to that lack of width. Liverpool have no trouble keeping the ball, and passing it. They have players who can score too. But all too often they can get the ball out wide. They have bafflingly played Stewart Downing on the right at times this year, but he is their only real winger. So this means they are congested going forward. It is something they can deal with when playing away to a team who attack, like they did with Chelsea earlier this season. Chelsea lost twice to Liverpool at home, as they did last season, because Dalglish knew that they’d attack, give them space on the counter, and Liverpool’s pace would win the match. Yet that doesn’t work at home to a team like Wigan, who will play narrow football. Or Swansea. Or Norwich. Or Blackburn. All of these teams have known it is easy for them, all they do is they play narrowly in defence and Liverpool lack the width to get out wide. Against Wigan on Saturday, there was masses of space down both flanks when Liverpool attacked, yet no players attacking that space.

It is a similar problem to one Arsenal have had often in recent times when playing with two wingers who cut inside, like Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri or Aleksandr Hleb. Now Arsenal have Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Gervinho, they have players who like to attack that space down the wings. And Arsenal are winning more games at home to small teams as a result. Liverpool need to follow that blueprint, and bring in the wide players necessary to stretch small teams at home. If not, they will continue to struggle.