Luis Garcia Interview: Liverpool need Steven Gerrard-like leader, can't rely only on talent
Luis Garcia on Liverpool's season, Jurgen Klopp as a manager and what the Reds need to do to challenge for trophies and regain their glory next season.
Twenty-six years, 275 days... that's a long time. It's a hell lot of a time if you are a Liverpool supporter, as it's been precisely that long since the club won the English league title.
And though the Reds have tasted some success in cup football – most notably in 2005, when they won the Champions League in dramatic fashion and their cup treble in 2001, when they won the FA Cup, English League Cup and the Uefa Cup (now Europa League) under Gerard Houllier – those fairytale stories have become a rarity in the last decade.
Since becoming the European champions in 2005, Liverpool have won just two trophies – the FA Cup in 2006 and the League Cup in 2012. Since 2010, Liverpool have played in the Champions League just once and their objective, by and large, has been achieving qualification for Europe's premier club competition.
While their obsession to win the title in the Premier League era for the first time is what drives the club, the strength (or lack of it) of their teams have meant that the Reds have had to put those ambitions on the back burner.
Things seemed to be progressing in that direction under new manager Jurgen Klopp earlier this season when they enjoyed a brief stay at the top of the table, but a mid-season slump in form has pegged back the Reds' aspirations of achieving a top-four finish.
However, under the German manager, the team has shown signs of progress. This season, the Reds went unbeaten against the other members of the top seven in the Premier League and have enjoyed wins over the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
But, what has hurt them the most are the games against teams lower down the table. Liverpool have lost to Bournemouth, Swansea, Burnley, Hull City, Leicester City and most recently to Crystal Palace. These teams are either in the bottom half of the league table or at the lower end of the top half. It's a habit that has left Liverpool fans scratching their heads.
"The difficult part is to break the notion that playing against the small teams is difficult. It shouldn’t be like that, but for some reason, it has been the case that they struggle a little bit in some of these games," former Liverpool midfielder Luis Garcia told Firstpost, on the sidelines of the unveiling ceremony of the Uefa Champions League Trophy in Mumbai last month, that was organised by Heineken India.
Liverpool have an abundance of talent going forward. The likes of Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana have all left fans of the Premier League awestruck at times with their attacking prowess this season. The contrasting results against teams from the top and bottom of the table suggest that their attacking quartet, or for that matter the entire team, has fared well in a technical battle, which the top teams have afforded them. However, when teams, especially from the lower end of the table have stopped them from playing, and thrown a physical challenge, the Reds, they have struggled to match up.
"By playing a technical game, there is a lot of pressure on Coutinho for example to produce those special moments where he comes from nowhere and scores a beautiful goal from 35 yards or Firmino who has scored a few of those goals. But what Liverpool need are players who in the bad moments can make a good tackle, show that character," analysed Garcia.
"I think there is a lack of players with the Liverpool character, like they had Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher for example during my time, or before with (Kenny) Dalglish or all those players with a lot of personality and character on the pitch. We don’t see that kind of leaders now. All the concentration is on talent," pointed out Garcia, who played in a team full of leaders like Gerrard, Dietmar Hamann, Sami Hyppia, Xabi Alonso and Carragher during his stint from 2004 to 2007.
"I feel a Steven Gerrard-like character would be amazing to lead the team when things are not going well. It is important to have someone like him in moments where they struggle," Garcia added.
Speaking of the ability in the current Liverpool team, the Spaniard said there aren't many players who would be an upgrade on the current lot, and a couple of physically imposing players in midfield or defence would be good additions to the squad for next season.
"Liverpool have got amazing talent with (Philippe) Coutinho, (Roberto) Firmino, (Adam) Lallana, (Daniel) Sturridge. There’s so much talent that can decide any game. We’ve seen them team play together as a unit, we have seen an amazing team," the Spaniard exclaimed.
"If they add a couple of good players in defence or in attack, what are you looking for? They have got amazing players. I think (Joel) Matip is a good player, (Dejan) Lovren is a good player, he’s done great. Klavan also I think is doing a good job. We’ve got Sturridge on the bench, Origi on the bench, so where do they strengthen? Maybe a couple of imposing players in midfield or defence," Garcia suggested.
The Reds came closest to winning the Premier League in 2014, when they lost the title by just two points. That run and the team was built around Luis Suarez and his goals, and ever since the Uruguayan left for Barcelona, Liverpool have failed to mount a title challenge.
Garcia felt it was never going to be possible to replace Suarez man-to-man and required an entirely new attack to cause a similar kind of impact.
"I think all the teams in world would love to have Suarez. But when you don’t have a player in your squad who can score 25-30 goals, you need 3-4 players who will score 15," he said.
Liverpool have done a good job on that front and their attacking players have done well to score their share of goals. The Reds have scored 71 goals in the Premier League this season, just one shy of Chelsea's tally, who are the league's top scorers.
But the Spaniard feels that the club can do well with each of their attacking players taking responsibility of scoring 10-15 goals individually.
"So, if the likes of Coutinho, Firmino, Mane can understand that if they score 10-15 goals every season, then Liverpool don’t need a striker who scores 25-30 goals every season," Garcia said.
"It is important to have those players because you can see Chelsea, they are that kind of team. Hazard, Willian, Costa, Pedro, they have got so many talented players, but they are not going to score 30 (goals). Hazard won’t score 30, Costa maybe will score 15-20, but no one is going to score 30 goals, but they have so many players who can give them goals. Hence, it is very important that the top four up front, need to score more," he added.
The former Liverpool man threw his weight behind Klopp, claiming he's the right man to lead Liverpool's revival. He felt the team has already shown signs of progress under the German, and is hopeful that under him the glory days will return to Anfield.
"Klopp has shown change in Liverpool. If you look at those important moments Klopp gave us against Manchester United, against Chelsea and winning those games with an amazing passion and an amazing performance, I think he is the right manager," opined the Spaniard.
"I think the personality (he has)... the people love him, we all love him because he shows how passionate he is about the club. Hopefully, the good times will come back again to Anfield under him and we will enjoy, once again, the Champions League nights soon," he said, while signing off.
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