By Paul Cantwell
There are many factors with which to mitigate Liverpool’s current lowly 13th place in the Premiership. With only eleven league games played, we are just past the point of the campaign at which Bob Paisley would deem the table to be worthy of his glance. The same stage of recent season’s has seen the top end of the table populated by sides like Hull, Blackpool, Burnley and others who would end the campaign relegated. So, unless you are Roy Hodgson, armed with a CV charting thirty years of underwhelming nothingness at mostly no-mark clubs, the least any new manager deserves is a full season over which to be judged.
But that is not to say that we, as fans, should be forbidden from commenting as we analyse the on-going progress of the team throughout the season. When Paul Dalglish recently tweeted ‘We are 12th. We’ve scored 13 goals. 2nd lowest in the top 12. We’ve conceded 15. 2nd highest in the top 12. I am not bitter. We’ve been poor’, he was accused of everything from ‘not being a true fan’ to having some sort of familial bias.
No matter that both suggestions are equally absurd and that Dalglish Jr’s tweet was not so much the proffering of an opinion as a statement of facts, it was still too unpalatable for some fans. Whilst nobody is arguing that it’s too early to judge Rodgers, it would nevertheless be remiss not to assess how the team is doing.
Dalglish’s tweet outlined some of the more basic stats about the start Liverpool have had to the season but there are others too that should be considered. When comparing Liverpool’s first ten games of this season to last, it is clear that, so far at least, the team has not just failed to improve, but has, in fact, regressed significantly.
Let’s start with the basics. Last season, under Kenny, Liverpool had 18 points after ten games compared to eleven this term, winning five in 2011/12 as opposed to just two this season. As regards goals scored (the Achilles heel of the Dalglish reign), the figures for this season and last match at a paltry 13. As for goals conceded, the side appears to be a lot more porous under Rodgers, shipping 15 this season compared to just 9 at the same stage last term.
When it comes to individual match stats, Rodgers again falls short. In terms of possession, the Ulsterman is ahead of the Scot, but only marginally with a possession ratio of 57.51% compared to 55.5% last season. However, when it comes to shots on target, Dalglish’s men had 56 compared to just 44 for Rodgers’ team, a difference of 22%. It should also be noted that at the same stage of last season we had missed two penalties and hit the woodwork 8 times, whereas this season the figure is zero and five respectively. Had either of the penalties in 2011/12 been converted Kenny’s Liverpool would have had almost double the points we have this season.
On a less scientific level, few fans would argue that the side under Kenny was playing better at the same stage last season, having performed well in all but two of their first ten games (Spurs away and Norwich at home). This season, however, it could be argued the team has played well for 90 minutes in only three games (United and City at home and Norwich away.) Although we were denied a win in the Derby by a terrible piece of officiating, in truth victory would have flattered us.
None of the above should be interpreted as proof of anything. As already mentioned, Rodgers needs – and deserves- time to put his own stamp on this side. Among various mitigating factors, Rodgers can point out that where Dalglish was backed generously in last summers transfer window, the Northern Irishman was given a comparatively paltry amount this summer and was even prevented from signing the players he wanted.
There is no doubt Rodgers is well within his rights to point out this and other factors as reasons for his somewhat modest start at the club. But that’s not to say we have no right to expect more. After all, of the five other clubs with new managers in the Premier League this season (Swansea, West Brom, Villa, Norwich and Spurs), three are ahead of us and two are in the European places. Also, although only eleven league games have been played, Rodgers has been in charge for 25 in total which could be argued is a reasonable number of games in which to have an impact on, say, the defence.
Other criticisms would include a midfield that looks anything but coherent; the insistence on playing Gerrard as a holding midfielder and thereby neutralising his threat; a failure to spend any of the £30 million made available to him in the summer on a proven finisher and a failure to come up with any sort of plan for scoring goals that doesn’t rely on a moment of genius from Luis Suarez.
Whilst it is too early for these and other criticisms to be used as a stick with which to beat Rodgers, they are nonetheless valid points that are no doubt being pored over by Rodgers himself and his backroom staff. The Ulsterman deserves at least until the end of the season but he, more than anyone, will be aware that unless the evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, starts pointing to a marked upturn, he will be under pressure long before he reaches his Anfield anniversary – whether that’s fair or not.