Back in May, Liverpool just missed out on winning the Premier League for the first time, after playing some scintillating attacking football all season and scored 110 goals in all competitions, with 101 of those coming in the Premier League. That season ended with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers being voted Manager of the Year by his fellow managers.
Now, as always happens in England, the negative reaction of Liverpool fans towards Rodgers due to Liverpool’s disappointing start to the season has led to the media smelling blood and Rodgers is currently one of the bookmakers’ favourites to be the next Premier League manager sacked, a fact even he acknowledged in a recent press conference. Even our esteemed BigSoccer twitter account was recently asking should Rodgers be fired.
The next fortnight could define whether or not Rodgers remains in his job. Failure to beat Basel tomorrow night in the Champions League, which would see Liverpool fail to qualify from their group coupled with defeats against Manchester United and Arsenal in their next two league games could spell the end of Rodgers’ time in charge.
Calls for Rodgers’ dismissal by Liverpool fans are nothing new. This is his third season in charge of Liverpool and there have been calls for him to be fired by some since day one. Even last season, when the team was playing some truly impressive football and winning game after game, there were calls for him to be fired by some of the more moronic amongst the fanbase, after every little bump in the road such as a draw or even a narrow win.
I’ve got no idea whether any of the talk about Rodgers being under pressure is true or not. The Liverpool owners, FSG, are a non-presence in Liverpool, and as such, it’s nigh on impossible to judge what they think about Liverpool’s season so far.
But, I’d like to think that FSG aren’t thinking of getting rid of Rodgers, no matter what happens in the next few weeks or even the rest of this season. Not only do I think it would be a terrible mistake because he’s an excellent manager, it is also grossly unfair to make him a scapegoat for the struggles Liverpool have had this season, because the vast majority of those struggles have been due to circumstances beyond Rodgers’ control.
At this point, I’d like to point out that Liverpool’s season is far from a lost cause. Despite several woeful performances in the league so far, they’re 7 points off 4th with 69 points left to play for. You have to think that as Liverpool get some key players back from injury and some of the new players settle in a bit better, they’ll be able to make a real challenge to get back in the top 4.
Add to that the fact that qualification from their Champions League group is still in their own hands; which would be no mean feat considering they haven’t been in it for a few seasons and it generally takes clubs time to become accustomed to that level of competition.
Despite finishing second last season, it was always going to be a tall order for Liverpool to mount a title challenge this year. Last summer, Liverpool lost their best player when Barcelona made an offer they couldn’t refuse for Luis Suarez.
Not only has Suarez’s sale left a huge hole in the team, but Daniel Sturridge, the second top scorer last season, was injured in a training session when on England duty in August and hasn’t played since.
In the absence of Suarez and Sturridge, who scored 55 goals between them last season, Liverpool have struggled to carry much of attacking threat, and have so far only scored 19 goals this season.
Take 55 goals out of any team and they’ll struggle, but Liverpool have really struggled to find goals all season. Mario Balotelli, who was supposed to be the second striker to Sturridge, ended up in the unfamiliar role of lone striker and, largely thanks to a lack of creativity behind him, has made little impression, and is currently out with an injury picked up on Italy duty.
That leaves Liverpool with Rickie Lambert as the only real striking option (Fabio Borini looks to be completely out of the first team picture at present), Lambert was supposed to be used only in situations when plan A wasn’t working, but wasn’t ever meant to be plan A, and his limited pace and mobility badly limit how Liverpool can play.
The lacklustre attack might not be such a problem if there was a strong defence backing it up. Quite simply there isn’t. Rodgers likes his Liverpool teams to play attacking football, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they concede more goals than teams whose philosophy involves more conservative play, but they still concede more than they should.
After Daniel Agger decided his body couldn’t stand up to rigours of the Premier League any longer, Liverpool have missed his leadership at the back. The defenders have no confidence in each other, and even less in the goalkeeper behind them, which means there’s no overall cohesion. Add to that the lack of mobility many of Liverpool’s midfielders have, which means they offer the defence little to no protection, and you have a defence that isn’t as good as it should be.
There’s very little Rodgers can do as well as the alarming propensity that Liverpool’s defenders have for making individual errors. So far this season Liverpool have conceded 5 goals as a direct result of a defensive error, the most in the league. Without those five goals, they’d have conceded as many as Manchester City.
When an experienced international player like Glen Johnson can’t judge where a ball will come down when it’s in the air, there’s not much Rodgers can do. There’s even less he can do when three of his players are in the Premier League top seven for defensive errors, with big-money summer signing Alberto Moreno having the second most errors leading to a goal in the league, and fellow big money signing Dejan Lovren, who was excellent for Southampton last season, making the most individual errors in the league so far.
Which brings us onto the signings.
It’s unfair to criticise Rodgers for the players signed last summer. For starters, Rodgers isn’t solely responsible for signing players; Liverpool has a transfer committee which deals with signing players. Rodgers is part of that committee, but there are three others who share equal responsibility for the success or failure of the transfer policy.
And, speaking as a Liverpool fan, I don’t have any problem with the transfer policy Liverpool followed last summer.
Most people would think that if you sell a superstar player like Luis Suarez, then it’s a simple case of using that money to go out and buy another one to replace them, and the team goes on without missing a beat.
The reality is often very different. For starters, that way of thinking assumes that there is another like-for-like player of equal or better ability available, which only happens rarely. Secondly, that way of thinking also assumes that if that like-for-like player is available, they will want to sign.
Last summer, Liverpool had the twin problems of there not being a like-for-like replacement for Suarez, and even if there was, the chances of them being able to sign that player were slim.
In the last decade or so, clubs from London have had far greater success in attracting superstar foreign players than clubs in the north of England have. London is such a high-profile city that it is subsequently a much easier sell to players when it comes to relocating than either Liverpool or Manchester are.
Manchester City have managed to get around that problem by offering astronomical contracts to prospective signings. Even Manchester United, with all of the success they have had over the past decade and beyond, hadn’t managed to make a high-profile signing from abroad since Juan Sebastian Veron in 2001 before deciding in the last transfer window to pay the massive transfer fees and wages demanded by Di Maria and Falcao.
Last summer, the player who probably would have suited Liverpool most was Alexis Sanchez. While not a like-for-like replacement for Suarez, he would have fitted into the Liverpool team nicely and had the additional advantage of both being available and affordable. Unfortunately for Liverpool, he also ticked most of the boxes for Arsenal. And, in a straight choice between the two clubs, he went for Arsenal.
As well as signing Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren from Southampton and Mario Balotelli from Milan, all players who have Premier League experience, Liverpool ended up taking the tactic of signing players who could potentially be stars, but aren’t quite there yet like Lazar Markovic, Alberto Moreno and Emre Can.
This is a tactic that has served Liverpool well in the past, with Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez making the step up from good player to bona fide superstar while at Liverpool, who sold both players on for a massive profit after getting years of fantastic service out of them.
This is a tactic which comes with the potential reward of getting a player for cheaper than they might be worth in a season or two, but also comes with the risk of that player not developing any further, and as a result, never fulfilling their potential or being any use to the team.
Also, this tactic means that players will have to develop whilst at Liverpool in order to be a success, which in turn means that their transfer can’t be judged to be a success or a failure signings until they have had time to adapt to a new team and a different way of playing.
So Rodgers is being blamed for his team not playing as well as last season when the two best players from last season aren’t playing and the replacement for those players also isn’t playing. Rodgers is being blamed for experienced international players making the sort of mistakes you’d expect a young child to make. Rodgers is being blamed the lack of positive impact made by signings he isn’t solely responsible for making.
In the first 118 years of their existence, Liverpool sacked one manager. In the past 4 years, they’ve sacked three. Bouncing from manager to manager has not been the answer in the past, and it’s certainly not the answer now, especially when that manager exceeded all expectations last season. I certainly hope FSG know that and keep the faith with Rodgers.