Yesterday’s 1-1 draw against Carlisle United (though technically a win on penalties) has got to be the final nail in the coffin for Brendan Rodgers, as Liverpool yet again produced a below-par performance at Anfield, writes Mitch Walkerden.
For the seventh consecutive match this season, Rodgers’ Liverpool failed to score more than one goal. Not too long ago teams from the lower leagues were thoroughly dispatched by second string Liverpool sides. The season before last yielded 100+ goals in the league.
Now, however, a team that has leaked 17 goals in eight games in League Two is holding out a practically full-strength Liverpool without a great amount of difficulty. The 40-odd shots doesn’t quite paint the picture, as the vast majority were impatient hit-and-hopes from 30-40 yards out. Carlisle were rarely troubled.
Plus had it not been for some heroics from debutant keeper, Adam Bogdan, in the penalty shootout, the Reds could have been looking at a very early exit.
By half-time against Carlisle United, fans were calling for Rodgers’ head. Liverpool had once again been unconvincing and a fourth-tier club were the better side heading into the break. Liverpool fans, as they tend to do, were swamping social media, many hoping the Reds would lose so that Fenway Sports Group would be forced to sack Rodgers. This is the man whom Liverpool fans sing about taking them “on a path to glory” following the incredible 2013-14 season. Never have I seen fans turn on a manager quite like this. But let’s go back to the beginning of Rodgers tenure to see where it all began; and how it’s gone so wrong.
Rodgers replaced Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish to the dismay of many around Anfield. Dalglish had done a decent job since taking over from the catastrophe that was Roy Hodgson and had guided Liverpool to two cup finals, winning the League Cup. But the league form tailed off and was deemed unacceptable, so Rodgers was hired.
The appointment of Rodgers was controversial, and many saw the Northern Irishman’s previous track record as simply being not good enough to warrant getting the top job. There were signs of promise, however, with Rodgers’ Swansea playing some pretty enterprising and attractive football; something you’d expect to see in La Liga, rather than Welsh countryside. He was a young manager on the up. He showed a lot of promise, but didn’t have a history of winning to back it up like previous Liverpool managers Rafa Benitez and Gerard Houllier had.
Rodgers brought with him the philosophy of “death by football” which excited many and saw Swansea’s “Welsh Xavi”, Joe Allen, arriving as the first flurry of transfers came through the Melwood doors in the summer. The first half of the season saw Liverpool win only three of their first 14 matches and a constant stream of heart-in-mouth moments as the players tried to adapt to Rodgers’ cavalier style of playing out from the back.
The winter transfer window brought with it both of Rodgers’ best signings: Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge from Inter Milan and Chelsea respectively. Both signings were relatively cheap. While they were both fancied as teenagers, neither had quite reached their potential at their previous clubs. They were a risk, but both had shown plenty of promise – you could draw a parallel with the manager.
With Luis Suarez beginning to plunder goals, Sturridge was allowed to settle and the pair were able form an effective partnership while Coutinho showed flashes of brilliance but at times was also wasteful. Liverpool would go on to lose only one of their last 12 to finish seventh, just behind cross-town rivals Everton. It seemed like something was building.
The 2013-14 season was without a doubt Rodgers’ best as Liverpool fell just short of the title on the back of some frightening attacking football as Sturridge and Suarez scored at will, taking the top two spots on the goalscorers charts. Simon Mignolet was the only signing of that summer who became a permanent starter, with Mamadou Sakho sharing defensive duties with Daniel Agger alongside Martin Skrtel. Rodgers preferred to spend the majority of the window clearing out the deadwood with club record signing Andy Carroll moving to West Ham along with Stewart Downing. Steven Gerrard’s slip up against Chelsea ultimately cost Liverpool the title, but the fact they were even close, jumping from 7th to 2nd, is remarkable in itself. A lot of that came down to the super-human form of Suarez, but it would be wrong to say Rodgers played no part in the success and the winning streak in the run-in that put them within touching distance of the title.
The following 14-15 season saw Rodgers spend a monumental amount of money in the summer window from the Suarez sale, as he pillaged Southampton, taking Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovern, while the majority of his other signings were for players with “potential” rather than proven quality. Mario Balotelli was the exception, but a gamble as Rodgers sought to replace the goals that were heading to the Camp Nou with Suarez. Ultimately, it’s hard to deem any of those signings as out-and-out successes bar Emre Can who has looked very promising and is now a full international for Germany.
The season before showed Rodgers didn’t need the very best players in the world (though one of them certainly helped) to get them near the top of the table. He had put together an attacking beast, while weak at the back it more than compensated with sheer weight of goals. In 2014-15 though, it looked a shadow of the year before. What had been built was now little more than ruins.
Liverpool found themselves 12th after 12 rounds and had it not been for an extended run of good results – though the performances were far from inspiring – after Christmas when they switched to a 3-4-2-1 shape, Liverpool could have finished much lower than their eventual 6th place. In fact, the showings of their last few matches deserved far worse, losing at home to Crystal Palace and sending Steven Gerrard off with a 6-1 loss at the hands of Stoke City.
Which brings us to this season. It’s hard to know where to begin. There were mitigating circumstances last season with the injuries to Daniel Sturridge and the departure of Suarez, but with the money available and the core of a squad that challenged for a league title still there, the lack of fight, cohesion and even a playing identity is damning.
Of Rodgers’ previous signings, Iago Aspas, Lambert, Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi have all been sold after barely getting a run in the first team. Balotelli, Luis Alberto, Tiago Ilori and Lazar Markovic all find themselves being farmed out for “game time”, and that’s not to mention that three of Liverpool’s best players in Suarez, Gerrard and Raheem Sterling have all left the club permanently. The amount of chopping and changing surely can’t help his cause, but he must take some of the blame for this. Equally, a number of players now departed have reasonable cases for not being given a fair chance to impress.
Of those who have left the club, Sterling, Suso, Borini, Daniel Agger, Sebastian Coates, Glen Johnson, Pepe Reina, Balotelli, Assaidi and more recently, Steven Gerrard, have all called in to question Rodgers’ management style, with several accusing the Northern Irishman of lying. This is somewhat alarming.
So far under Rodgers’ tenure, Liverpool have spent £312.8 million on 28 new players, which is the most of any Liverpool manager ever. But what does Rodgers have to show for it? Philippe Coutinho who cost £8.5 million… There will be people who disagree and say “what about Sturridge?” So far, Sturridge has spent half his Liverpool career on the sidelines through injury. If Sturridge had come to the club and then had a spate of injuries then I couldn’t fault Rodgers. But Sturridge was known to be injury prone when he made the switch from Chelsea and is likely to be the reason why he only cost £12 million. He is great when fit, but his record shows he can’t be relied upon. They sought to bring in adequate cover in Balotelli last season, but failed to play him in a two-man partnership where he’s played his best football. This season they’ve brought in Christian Benteke – who is a great footballer – but they’ve resorted to long balls onto his head and he has been incredibly isolated with a lack of support runners. He’s also rumoured to be a transfer target Rodgers really pushed for, but they don’t seem to know how to utilise him, with his two goals so far coming from a set piece and a wonderstrike.
The fact that Benteke is in no way similar to Sturridge, coupled with Rodgers’ constant formation changes, show that perhaps he doesn’t even know how is side is meant to be playing.
The pivotal match in the 13-14 season was without a doubt Liverpool vs Chelsea at Anfield. Jose Mourinho came with a clear game plan and “parked the bus”. Chelsea were rock solid and it became clear, as Liverpool became increasingly more desperate to score a goal, that Rodgers didn’t have a game plan to break Chelsea down. And it’s a problem that hasn’t been rectified over a year later. West Ham coped comfortably. Carlisle have done it with ease. In April last season it was revealed Liverpool had the 10th best record in the division against the bottom 13 teams. Rodgers has struggled, and continues to, against teams that set up to defend and hit on the break (which is becoming a trend in the Premier League).
9 points from recent games with Soton, Spurs, City, Utd & Arsenal not too bad… Here’s the Achilles heel this season pic.twitter.com/mlpy1ppeXv
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) April 5, 2015
Similar instances of Rodgers’ tactical inability have been littered throughout his time at the helm. Playing 4-3-3 this season has been an absolute disaster. Throw that in with poor Lazar Markovic being utilized as a right back, playing a narrow formation at Old Trafford last season which saw Liverpool get torn apart on the flanks, and persisting with players like Dejan Lovern have constantly caused Liverpool fans to shake their heads in disgust.
Not too long ago Liverpool fans were singing about the best midfield in the world and were winning games at the Bernabeu. Nowadays they have a midfield that barely functions with it’s attacking parts, and a match against Aston Villa – who aren’t in great form by any means themselves – this weekend looks like it could go either way.
There is a chance to change this, however, but ultimately it has to start with the manager. There are some big-name managers currently without a club who Liverpool should snatch up as quickly as possible. Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti should be at the top of the list and would perfectly suit the Anfield job. Rodgers was treading water at the end of last season. Now he’s floundering.
In 2012, Rodgers said: “Judge me in three years”. Well Brendan, we’re judging. And it’s safe to say it makes for pretty poor reading. Defensive frailty, ineptness in the transfer marker, poor man management, obvious tactical errors and ultimately a team that lacks a playing style or an identity. Dalglish was sacked for poor results in the Premier League, but at least his side had an identity (and were incredibly unfortunate with the amount of shots that hit the woodwork).
Rodgers isn’t getting results, nor does his side look like one that knows where it’s heading. He had credit in the bank after 2013-14 but over the last 18 months he’s been spending it at an unsustainable rate. So much so that he’s now digging into an overdraft.