Reds’ scoring frustrations hit home again

WITH each passing week, any association Liverpool have been keen to promote with Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s, which inspired the book ‘Moneyball’, only seem more ridiculous.

There are plenty that doubt that successful statistical analysis in baseball has any comparison in football but Liverpool’s director of football, Damien Comolli, is said to be a major believer in the system that allowed Oakland to evaluate players in a different way and over-achieve on a fraction of the budget of their competitors.

John Henry adopted the system with the Boston Red Sox with so much success that the team won its first world series in 86 years.

But after yet another listless home performance against Stoke, anyone flicking through the pages of ‘Moneyball’ could have been forgiven for confusing Liverpool with the overspending, underperforming New York Yankees teams.

Even when Liverpool were pushing for the league title three years ago they were scuppered by their inability to break down weaker teams at home and so it continues despite incredible investment over the past 12 months.

But the current crop have now failed to beat Sunderland, Norwich, Swansea, Blackburn and Stoke, as well as the Manchester clubs, and if that run continues, there is no prospect of them avoiding spending a third straight year outside the Champions League.

In so many ways, this is a squad, a club, still groping for some identity but the over-riding feeling is that for all of the money spent, they are nowhere near good enough.

The lack of investment in the final months under Tom Hicks and George Gillett forced the breakdown of the team that went so close in 2009 but the change in the starting 11s from then to now is remarkable and, other than possibly right back, it is hard to think of a position that has been improved despite the huge transfer fees involved for the likes of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson. Not having Luis Suarez could partly describe the utter lack of dynamism against Stoke but that would be to forget the Uruguayan started in each of Liverpool’s six previous draws.

Dalglish’s formation was unfathomable, with Charlie Adam now struggling and Steven Gerrard failing to maintain the performance from the 1-0 win at Manchester City. Henderson and Downing were unable to make any impact on the flanks, playing behind Dirk Kuyt, who has not scored a Premier League goal all season. Their only clear cut chance was a header missed by Kuyt, who glanced wide from Jose Enrique’s deflected cross.

Predictably Stoke were forced deeper in the second period and the introduction of Andy Carroll changed the dynamic but the visitors were organised enough to be untroubled and Dalglish was left making the same old statements.

“We looked a lot more threatening in the second half and, on another day, we could have walked away with three points,” said Dalglish.

“I suppose they deserve credit for their organisation but we are disappointed we didn’t break them down.”

That it has happened so many times this season means it is impossible to dismiss each occurrence as a one-off as Dalglish tends to.

“He played with three at the back and when we saw that, we thought that he was being positive, not negative,” Stoke manager Tony Pulis said.

“He pushed the two centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates forward and just left Jamie Carragher at times with Crouchy (Peter Crouch), so I don’t think that was negative. He went for it.”

It was very much the respectful side of Pulis but these are crucial weeks ahead for Liverpool. After their trip to Bolton next weekend, they have the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester City at Anfield, having won the first clash 1-0.

Then they have an explosive FA Cup fourth round match with Manchester United at home. If they fail to win either competition, it would mean the longest trophy drought since the winless spell between 1966 and 1973.

Even if they do manage a first trip to the new Wembley, would it really dispel the wondering that, for all that money put down by Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool are not really moving forward? It’s a sensation they have felt far too often at Anfield this season.

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