I promised myself that I wouldn’t write an article based on the current doom and gloom enshrouding the club, lord knows there have already been enough of them. Hell, I wrote just two weeks ago with just about all the optimism I could muster on why to stay upbeat about Liverpool’s start to the season, despite what can only be described as a misleading, turbulent set of games. Rightly, or wrongly I highlighted that Rodgers’ typically poor starts to the season were characteristic of his forthright desire to develop a new squad capable of challenging for the title.
However, after an unconvincing victory over Carlisle in a dismal penalty shootout I came to a startling realisation – that the idea that over time things will get better was perhaps a fallacy that many, including me, were happy to construct. Some will say this is long overdue, although I do still believe under different circumstances Rodgers will be a good manager. But, now with Liverpool’s games most often resulting in apathy and exhaustion for fans alike, I will be joining the dissenting voices rather than remain another apologist simply wishing for Rodgers to come good. Indeed, once the immortal line from Brendan was uttered again this season, “Next season we will be able to challenge for the league again” Liverpool’s perennial nearly-men status under Rodgers was confirmed once again.
Now, a poor 1-1 draw with Norwich followed by an unimpressive victory in the Capital One cup is hardly the nadir of Liverpool football club and their recent history. Nonetheless, it is a revealing result in the sense that it is all too easy to come up with excuses rather than to simply state that the team’s performance was simply not good enough. Although Brendan has appeared to have found a formation that utilises the majority of our defensive and attacking talent, this has come after a success of poor outings. Indeed, it was obvious to many fans after game day one that playing one upfront was simply going to isolate Benteke, whose aerial strength is matched only by an intricate ability to link attack and midfield through flick-ons and hold up play.
Three at the back sustained us once before, but for only so long – and the tight diamond formation with four in defence that would appease many fans has still gone unnoticed. The suggestion that Brendan may finally get round to this is perhaps indicative of his sluggish and stubborn approach to tactical changes. For Brendan ‘if it’s broke’ he still won’t fix it, unless after something like ten games have been played and then he might only consider it if he can still fit in Lovren.
Now, part of Brendan’s formational quandary is simply due to the type of player he has purposely sought after. The acquisition of Roberto Firmino is indicative of Brendan’s tactical indecision. Firmino appears most suited behind a front two, and yet that leaves Coutinho as part of a midfield three, whose defensive work rates must be high in order to supplement the Brazilian’s tendency to look for the ball. Now, without any attacking width anywhere in the squad, bar the raw talent of Jordan Ibe, Liverpool’s fullbacks must be superhuman to fulfil everything required of them. Gomez offers little to nothing going forward, and it’s hardly surprising that a centre back by trade doesn’t have an excellent crossing delivery at this stage in his development. Moreno is superb intermittently at wing-back, but the gap he leaves requires confident centre backs with an ability to pass the ball and cover vast stretches of the pitch. These points have surely become laboured over time, but they serve as a reminder that Rodgers’ Liverpool team will always be in transition, because quite simply he does not know what he wants from his team.
Rodgers’ brand of “death by football”, a possession-heavy game that required players comfortable on the ball but not willing to take many risks, was a tremendous success for Swansea. Brendan’s continental football guided them to play off success and a comfortable 11th place in the Premier League at the first time of asking, impressive stuff. Yet, Luis Suarez and conservative, possession based football would never work, and so Brendan built a team around an unstoppable force of nature. But, with the exit of Suarez assured many years ago Rodgers has had plenty of time to choose what style of football to play next – A reinvention of death by football? Attacking pass and move? Well none have been chosen, and thus Liverpool have been left with no discerning style. Sometimes we player counter-attacking football. Sometimes we play a short passing game. Most of the time we hoof it up to Benteke and hope something good will transpire.
A couple of damning statistics gleaned from the endless string of damning statistics helped me come to this realisation – that things won’t get better. Firstly, that Liverpool have now failed to score more than 1 goal in 11 matches in a row. Secondly, Brendan Rodgers’ win percentage is now lower than both Roy Hodgson’s and Kenny Dalglish’s. Finally, a seemingly innocuous stat illuminated much about the current level of talent and experience in the ranks of our squad – our top goalscorer in European football is Lucas Leiva, a converted defensive midfielder who many wrote off as a deadweight after an anterior cruciate ligament injury that most agree he has never fully recovered from.
Poor finishing and a quite awful James Milner will leave many to attribute the recent Norwich game as an anomaly, when it is anything but. The cyclical hysteria over a defeat or draw under Brendan Rodgers points to a loss of confidence in a manager frantically grasping for control. Finally restoring Sakho to the side shows some clarity from a man now infamous for his delusion, yet it also points to a man who may have lost his faith in his own decisions. And, once a leader questions their own decisions the battle is already over. Even if we beat Aston Villa, Everton and Spurs, the never ending cycle of criticism for Rodgers will only be partially dampened, quite simply because it will be too little too late.
What is of paramount importance in these times of uncertainty surrounding a manager is damage control. Waiting till December or January to appoint a leader would be simply criminal. At this stage of the season 39 points are available before the start of the next calendar year, and the small matter of our entire Europa League group fixtures – perhaps our best opportunity qualifying for the Champions League. As such change must come soon, why wait three months, when do we really see Rodgers here in three years? The only thing that will change in that time is the availability of Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelloti, and the ability to revive a top four challenge.
FSG have been warned against Klopp, the reservations attributed to an unknown source who has worked directly with the German manager. And yet surely these reservations cannot amount to the the extent of their own reservations with Rodgers now, who once promised so much and delivered so little. The Northern Irishman was sold to us as a forward thinker, a protégé of Mourinho and an expert tactician. Yet, Rodgers has only created stasis and stagnation masked by an over-performing team built around an unstoppable player destined for Spain.
A better manager could solve our lack of team chemistry and given time to turn things around, could do good things with an excellent set of players. Certainly, introducing a new leader at this stage would take the pressure off, especially with Liverpool finding themselves in 13th place. Put too late into the hot seat towards the end of the season however, and a new face may have little chance to stem the tide of mediocrity. Clearly fan pressure may have little influence over the firing of a Premier League manager backed to the hilt by his board. Ultimately, FSG will have to swallow their pride (no easy feat) before Liverpool become little more than also-rans. That may at least reignite Anfield, a stadium that has become quietened over time by a team guided by a manager that many have assured us will come good, yet has tangibly produced little.
Part of the reason I was a Rodgers’ apologist was for that reason. Assurance after assurance and an impressive track record does a lot for a long time.
For fans that pride themselves on faith and trust, it is perhaps hard to admit when supporting your team has become a difficult thing to do. When change must happen there will always be victims and this cannot be avoided by hanging on to false promises. In a disaster you put out a fire rather than let it burn and wait for rain, and FSG must extinguish this protracted run of poorness.
Liverpool’s willpower and ability to manage damage control will be tested in this difficult time while parts of this season are still salvageable. Supporting Rodgers’ whose team may gel and perform better with two up top (including a returning Sturridge) is certainly what some will do, or at least some parts of the press will promote. Yet, it has taken over 4 years for my dawning realisation that Liverpool would be better without Rodgers. Something must be done soon or we will surely be submitted to another cycle of near-achievement, or perhaps even worse. I’m sorry Brendan but I just can’t believe in your excuses or assurances anymore, it could have been something beautiful, but now I’m joining the hordes of angry protestors – #RodgersOut…
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