A little over seven months ago, the footballing landscape in England had a very different guise to the one that currently adorns it. Liverpool, who had underachieved and disappointed for the best part of three decades were on a rampaging run, obliterating all comers in their quest for an inaugural Premier League title.
Fast-forward to the present day and the Reds find themselves with a different consistency to their game. This time, the rampaging attacks are replaced with hesitant, disjointed sideways stumbles, the strut and swagger replaced with tepidness and confusion and the feelings of triumph at the end of the ninety replaced with those of dejection.
Eleven wins on the trot had been replaced by none in five, a run terminated only recently. This horrendous start to the campaign has provided journalists, pundits and fans all over the globe plenty to rant and rave about, with an alarming amount of them calling for, or expecting Brendan Rodgers’ head to roll soon. Below, I intend on shedding some light on how the Northern Irishman has dug himself into a hole, and evaluating whether he is the man to heal Liverpool’s stinging wounds.
Something that has become a topic of conversation recently has been the way in which Rodgers conducts himself during press conferences. The Northern Irishman comes across as being very arrogant and regularly takes unnecessary digs at other teams. Below, I will list a few examples of these and show how making these statements have come back to bite Rodgers.
In the aftermath of Liverpool’s home clash with Chelsea last season, one of the most iconic Premier League matches to date, Rodgers had this to say about the tactics employed by his opposite number.
“It’s not difficult to coach to just get 10 players right on your 18-yard box.”
Considering the short space of time between the final whistle and his press conference, Brendan Rodgers’ frustration was probably understandable given the manner and implications of this defeat. At the time, this comment could have been seen as a result of this frustration, however, it is indeed much more worrying than first feared. The fact that the Liverpool boss passed off a defensive and tactical masterpiece as something easy to coach, followed by his failure to isolate and resolve the deficiency in his own team’s defence by bringing in improvements for the starting eleven as well as coaching staff proves his disregard towards the defensive side of the game. Something that the most revered managers pride themselves upon is the ability to adjust their own game plan according to the opposition, and the ability to build a team on the base of a solid defence. These two principles were the reason behind Manchester City’s success last season, and why Chelsea are so impressive this time around. There is no right or wrong way to play football. If a manager identifies that the opposition have better technical quality than him, and he sets out to stifle their play and executes this plan, it is to his credit. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea achieved in ninety minutes what Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool have failed to in over two years, which is to defend to a credible standard consistently.
The following two quotes are both related to transfer activity and were made by Brendan Rodgers in the build up to his side’s matches against Tottenham Hotspur last season as well as Southampton, on the opening day of this campaign.
"They should be challenging for title after spending £100 million on players."
At the start of last season, Spurs found themselves in the same predicament as Liverpool this one, having lost their best player to one of the Spanish giants for big money. Rodgers remarked that spending that much money on new players should leave a team in a position to challenge for the title, which Spurs evidently weren’t. Just a few months later, his own Liverpool team are being accused of committing the same errors and squandering the money received on subpar players.
"I have absolutely no sympathy for Southampton. They have a choice as a club. They don’t have to sell. They had that choice. Maybe Southampton’s objectives have changed. They were on course to become a Champions League club, I believe, but obviously that has changed."
As of the league table, Southampton currently sit in third place, six points ahead of Liverpool who occupy a very unglamorous 8th. In the past, Brendan Rodgers has had two distinct endearing factors to his style of management. The first being his ability to play free flowing attacking football and the second being creating a tight knit environment in the dressing room, which in turn creates an aura of camaraderie and togetherness. This season, he has failed and Ronald Koeman has excelled in these two aspects. Not only did he condemn his managerial counterpart, he is also being beaten at his own game.
My intention behind presenting these quotes is not to sneer at the Liverpool manager in hindsight, neither is it to suggest that I knew any better at the time. With regards to Southampton, not even the most optimistic Saints fan and most pessimistic Liverpool fan would have been able to predict the gulf in their teams’ respective fortunes. However, my underlying criticism is Rodgers’ arrogance and the fact that he takes needless jabs at other teams and their managers, despite not having any true successes of his own in management thus far. Him making these comments in the first place stem from arrogance. As a manager, there is absolutely nothing wrong in having a larger than life personality and partaking in managerial mind games, but you must have the pedigree to justify it. Managers like Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson were two of the biggest perpetrators of this, but they had proved themselves more than sufficiently in terms of titles.
Saturday’s 1-0 win over Stoke City ended a grueling run of five games without a win for Liverpool. There were many positives to be taken from that game, and Liverpool will definitely be feeling a renewed sense of confidence, having just defeated Leicester City on Tuesday night. If these wins are used as a springboard and Liverpool win a few more games successively, the noose around Rodgers’ neck would be significantly loosened. It is a testament to the unrivalled competitiveness of this division that a team could embark on such an appalling run as Liverpool have, yet still be in contention for a place amongst the top four.
Two key performers from the game against the Potters were Kolo Toure and Lucas Leiva; astounding considering that these individuals were absolute certainties to leave the club during the summer transfer window. Kolo Toure was impressive at the back, using his experience expertly to marshal those around him and assume the position of a leader, something Liverpool’s defence has been crying out for. For a problem like the defence, experience is usually the most effective remedy and it is encouraging to see that Rodgers’ has finally identified the problem, and improved the situation to a certain extent.
Lucas, on the other hand, showed the value of having a specialised ball-winner in the team, and provided more protection to the back four than Liverpool have seen this season. The Brazilian carried this form into Liverpool’s affair at the King Power Stadium, winning more tackles (6) than any other player in the division on Tuesday. Lucas’ withdrawal and Gerrard’s occupation of the number ten role did the world of good, as Leiva provided stability defensively and Gerrard showed his attacking prowess at the other end. This is testament to how much more effective the skipper could be, if he is managed correctly.
On the chopping block
Calls to sack Brendan Rodgers had been gaining momentum in recent weeks, given the Reds’ abysmal form over the last month or so. Personally, I don’t feel a managerial change would be the unprecedented catalyst to good form people are making it out to be; we must remember that each manager has a different philosophy and will take a decent amount of time to inculcate his methods and recruit personnel he deems appropriate.
Constant chopping and changing has had more adverse effects than improvements to teams that employ this tactic. I’ve lost count of the amount of managers at the helm of Spurs in recent years, and they’ve regressed from being spritely Champions League participants to yearly disappointments and now look set for Europa League stagnation for the next few years. Even Chelsea epitomised the ineffectiveness of constant managerial change, having been extremely lacklustre league-wise between their last title winning season and this campaign. Even with the endless funds available to him, Jose Mourinho still took an entire season to build a team he deemed fit to challenge for the title. An example can also be made of Manchester United, of whom title-winning form was expected in the early weeks of the season. Louis van Gaal’s squad obviously needed time to take onboard all his new ideas and methods, which is why they’ve only recently looked like they have their mojo back.
Even if Liverpool and Rodgers were to part company, who is there that the club could realistically call on as a replacement - Jurgen Klopp? There is absolutely no way he’d leave Borussia Dortmund in their current state, having turned them from mid-table fodder to seasoned Champions League campaigners and serious challengers for the Bundesliga crown. Klopp’s ability to nurture effervescent potential into irrevocable world-class talent, and the fascinating character he is has been instrumental in Borussia Dortmund becoming everybody’s second favourite team.
Rafael Benitez? Seriously? It's time to let go. The Spaniard is an absolute legend at this club, but it’s not as if he has had tremendous success at every club he has managed between now and when he left Liverpool. A draw point to the Spaniard, however, is his ability to assemble a miserly defence and his record against the biggest teams, especially in Europe. However, the fact that his Napoli side currently languishes in the Europa League, having put in some dire performances in that competition is enough for me to turn up my nose.
The bottom line is that there is simply no manager available that is willing to come in and will have a positive impact instantaneously. Yes, Liverpool have been abject this season and a shadow of their former selves, but there is no need to react impulsively when top four is still very much attainable. We know all too well that the situation a manager finds himself in can change drastically in a matter of weeks, one only has to take a look at Alan Pardew. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that Brendan Rodgers has lost his ability to manage a group of players to a top four attaining standard. I feel if he reinstates some adaptability to games and makes changes proactively, rather than picking players based on their reputations and price tags, the pressure on him would be significantly reduced and faith in the manager’s methods would be restored amongst the Liverpool faithful.
Just a few months ago, Brendan Rodgers was being hailed as the man that 'made us dream' again. Now he is tasked with the job of shaking Liverpool awake from an overwhelming and distressing nightmare.
By Hamzah Ebrahim – Liverpool fan – @