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The Reducer: Week 6, Liverpool Does the Evolution

The Reds continue their awkward transition from aimless drifting to relevancy.

Game of the Week:
Liverpool 2, Wolverhampton Wanderers, 1

Famous mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm once said, regarding evolution, “Life breaks free, expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously.” In an unremarkable match against Wolves, Liverpool’s remarkable evolution was on display for everyone to see, even if it pained them. Highlights: Liverpool/Wolves

Surely, for Liverpool fans, there was nothing uncomfortable about this scrappy defeat of Mick McCarthy’s now-struggling Midlands club. If anything, the professional if unspectacular way in which Kenny Dalglish’s team dealt with Wolves was a mile-marker. Last season Wolves beat Liverpool at Anfield 0-1, grabbing their first league win over the Merseyside club in 27 years and pretty much signing the termination papers for manager Roy Hodgson. For Dalglish & Co., dispatching Wolves 2-1 on Saturday was a return to regularly scheduled programming and a sign that the ship had been righted after two seasons of aimless drifting.

So where does it hurt? That’s where evolution comes in. Liverpool is a team in transition, and we saw just how awkward that transition can be when club captain Steven Gerrard came on for forward Luis Suarez as the team’s one substitution, in the 80th minute.

Luis Suarez always looks pissed off. He looks pissed off when he shoots wide (happens a fair amount), he looks pissed off when he doesn’t get the ball (happens from time to time), he looks pissed off when he gets tackled (happens a ton). He’s a player who seems to draw power from the notion that every possession, every pass, every shot, every decision on the field has life-or-death consequences. And when things don’t go his way he looks like a kid who just got his Xbox LIVE privileges taken away.

So when Dalglish brought Gerrard on for Suarez, “the Cannibal” (who scored a stellar goal earlier in the game) did not look very happy about it. He threw a water bottle as he went to the bench. And even as Gerrard played his first Premier League minutes of the year, finally returning from a nagging groin injury, the camera stayed on Suarez, shaking his head and muttering something that moved fellow benchmate Jordan Henderson to make a “U MAD” expression.

This season the dominating theme of the Premier League has been transition. It has been about teams leaving behind the first decade of the century and becoming whatever it is they will be in the second decade. It’s happening all over the country, and no more so than in Liverpool.

Gerrard was the face, the heart, and the engine for Liverpool’s successes and shortcomings during the past decade. Even during Fernando Torres’ stay in Merseyside, it was still Gerrard’s team. He played where he wanted to play, with the players he wanted to play with, in the role he preferred (be it in the middle of the park or behind the striker).

In Gerrard’s prolonged absence (he was shut down for much of the end of last season and missed the first month and a half of the present campaign) Liverpool has cleaned house, bringing in plenty of young players with lots of potential. Some have looked good in flashes (Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing), some need some work (Henderson and Andy Carroll), and then there is Suarez. His potential is limitless.

From the end of the 2010-11 Premier League season through the Copa America and into this new league year nobody has looked more dangerous, more capable of turning a game on its head, and more influential than Luis Suarez. He is quite clearly the best player on Liverpool, the player it should be running its attack through and the player it should be building around.

Where does this leave Gerrard? Where does he fit in a crowded midfield? Will he and Suarez develop a partnership like the fruitful one he had with Torres? Or will his presence stunt the growth of Carroll? It will be up to King Kenny to put the puzzle pieces together. Not to get all hysterical over what was admittedly a throwaway moment, one that was barely even remarked on by the players or manager afterward, but it certainly didn’t get off on the right foot. And for the first time in years you almost wonder whether Liverpool can move forward while still hanging on to one of the club’s greatest assets: its past.

Step Overs

  • It was a bad week to be a legendary — if aging — British midfielder. Sports Illustrated‘s Jonathan Wilson explains Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas’ ongoing tactical revolution with the Blues better than anyone else could hope to attempt, so The Reducer will just point out that, like up north in Liverpool, change prompted some rage in London, as well. Powered largely by a midfield of John Obi Mikel, Raul Meireles, Juan Mata, and Ramires, Chelsea was dynamic, uptempo, and, in the words of Villas-Boas (and Wilson), “vertical.” Oh, and it lowered the boom on Swansea. Highlights: Chelsea/Swansea

    Where does that leave England international Frank Lampard? Pissed off and heading into the changing room early, after he found out that up-and-coming youngster Josh McEachran would be going on instead of him.

  • The Reducer is loathe to invoke The Wire when talking about sports, since its been so comprehensively done in other venues, but you gotta say, this Arsenal team is so Season 4. You find yourself anticipating heartbreak at every turn. Jack Wilshere out for the rest of the calendar year; Robin Van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen putting off contract negotiations; Arsene Wenger snapping back at those who question his managerial acumen. I half expect Aaron Ramsey to come out next game with “RANDY” on the back of his jersey.
  • Maybe it’s all about perception. Sure, Manchester United didn’t lose its players to other clubs like Arsenal did. But United got only a few games of world-beating football out of their preferred starting 11 before the injury bug decimated them. United’s draw with Stoke (1-1) ended the perfect start to its season, but considering it was without Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, and, soon after the game started, Javier Hernandez, Sir Alex Ferguson has to be satisfied with taking a point at the Britannia.

Table Stakes

Around now, the Premier League table actually starts to tell a story. You don’t need a bunch of numbers to tell you the league is top-heavy, but when you look at the league standings you are struck by just how open (or bad) the league was early in the year. After Tottenham, in seventh, it’s an absolute free-for-all. Is Norwich really that much better than Bolton? Not really. But Owen Coyle’s Trotters sit in the basement, while Paul Lambert’s Canaries are flying high in ninth. Expect the deck to get shuffled repeatedly over the course of the year, but also expect this: This season feels like one of streaks. The teams that stay up or go down might do so based on how they’re playing in the last few games of the season; it could be that close.

Goal of the Week: James Milner, Manchester City Highlights: Man City/Everton

Sure, James Milner’s toe-poke past Tim Howard was coolly taken. But had he missed his shot, it would have been a crime against the arts. Because what David Silva did to set up Milner’s first Premier League goal of the season was a kind of artistry. The former Valencia midfielder, who probably has the same haircut he did when he was in third grade, held off two Everton defenders and did one of the hardest things there is in all of football: he waited.

Usually, hold-up play — the art of keeping possession of the ball in an advanced position while your teammates join you in attack — is left to Cutlass Supreme-sized strikers like Didier Drogba or Kevin Davies. In this instance some fancy footwork and smart positioning gives Silva just enough time to set the table for Milner. All the Leeds-raised midfielder has to do is dig in.

Quote of the Week: David Moyes

Everton forward Tim Cahill and Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany engaged in some mutually nasty business on Saturday, when Cahill went in for a challenge on Kompany only to see Kompany probably not-so-accidentally stomp on Cahill’s leg. Everton boss David Moyes saw the scene through Toffee-colored lenses: “The boy does him. He definitely sees his shin going in and stands on it. People who have been players know what I am talking about.”

Chris Ryan is a staff writer for Grantland.

Previously from Chris Ryan:

The Reducer: Week 5, Fernando Torres Sings the Blues
The Reducer: Week 4, We Are Big, It’s the League That Got Small
The Reducer: Week 3, This Is the North, We Do What We Want
The Reducer: Week 2, Youth Attack
The Reducer, Week 1: Blue Kun
The Reducer: Premier League Preview
The Huddle: Baltimore is Too Ratchet!!!

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