Just how big the ‘Rodgers Out’ brigade is at the moment, I’m not sure. I personally am willing to stick by our manager, but he absolutely has to cut out the daft decisions that are far too reminiscent of Roy Hodgson during his stint at LFC, or Rafa Benitez in his final season. That arrogant stubbornness, that in itself becomes detrimental to the club. Whether it’s the insistence on a style of play that blatantly isn’t working, the sticking by players who are under-performing, or the constant talking about how we’ll turn a corner and bounce back in the next game. He needs to learn from their mistakes, and quickly.
It was only a matter of months ago that Rodgers was splashing out more than £100m on players that were supposed to propel us to the next level. Yesterday just two of them played, and that was only because of injuries. If that is Brendan’s admission that he got things wrong, well I have to agree with him. We made poor signings. But for him to be the one to have made those signings, and then so quickly lose faith in them, isn’t exactly going to convince FSG to hand him another big transfer budget to work with. Exactly how much our transfer committee affected who we signed, we’ll probably never know. But Rodgers has previously said that no player will arrive unless he gives the okay. And we’ve no reason to think that’s changed, so there’s no excuse there.
Our transfer activity was like a child given £100 to spend in a toy store. We got a bit excited, a bit carried away, overspent on things we didn’t need, and then down the line we’re bored of what we got and are wishing we could have another go. Adam Lallana for £23m was too much, when Southampton got Dusan Tadic, an equally good player, to replace him for just over £10m. Likewise Dejan Lovren at £20m was too much, when if we’d really wanted him we could have had him for £8m the season before. Rickie Lambert wasn’t what we needed, when we could have just kept Iago Aspas. We spent £20m on Lazar Markovic, when in the way we’ve utilised him as a squad player, Jordon Ibe would probably have been just as effective. And everyone knew Mario Balotelli was a gamble, which is why we needed another top class striker even with him coming in.
So exactly what was going through Rodgers’ mind at the time, I’m not sure. But it seems to be dawning on him now that it’s more than just the players taking their time to settle and gel. Truly top class players don’t need special treatment to integrate them into a side, they’ll naturally just be on the same wavelength as other good players.
The line-up yesterday screamed negativity, and that’s not like the Brendan Rodgers we know from last season. Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique started in place of the two young fullbacks we signed over the summer. Glen Johnson gave the ball away in the first few seconds, and then moments later he tried to clear a ball under minor pressure, and somehow hammered it sideways across goal. His game didn’t get much better than that. Enrique was hauled off at halftime for Alberto Moreno. We started all four of Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, and Steven Gerrard, leaving Emre Can on the bench; our one midfielder who can actually carry the ball and drive forwards. Lambert was pretty much up front by default, but he too was taken off at halftime, leaving us with no striker and desperately needing two goals. Lallana and Coutinho, supposedly our creative sparks, were deemed not needed until the 74th minute, when the latter was introduced.
Even ignoring who was or wasn’t used, the entire tactical set-up and structure of the players was just as negative as the personnel selected. Rodgers had highlighted the need for patience in his pre-match press conference, which was true in terms of mentality and belief. But it seemed he meant it far more literally, as for the whole first half we just showed no urgency or desire whatsoever. This was a game where, if we failed to win, all of last season’s hard work would be undone. And we were treating it like a pre-season friendly game to get our fitness up.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is part of Rodgers’ tactics as opposed to a players personal traits, but time and time again we’re seeing Mignolet looking uncomfortable as he plays it short, or the defenders passing to each other until they get closed down and one of them hoofs it up the pitch, or the midfielders looking backwards first instead of forwards. Even if it isn’t something Rodgers is directly telling them to do, it’s happening enough that he should be doing more to discourage it. Because it simply isn’t working for us. We don’t keep the ball well, partially because we are devoid of confidence, but mainly because we just don’t have the players to do it. It’s a major part of Rodgers’ philosophy, but last season he showed the flexibility to change things, whereas now he seems to have developed these obstinate tendencies, like he’s saying ‘it’s my way or the highway.’
As I said (I’m even using the gaffer’s favourite phrase now) I am willing to stick by Brendan Rodgers. Firstly because there aren’t many managers that we could get to replace him who would make it worthwhile, and even then it might mean another year or two of transition. But also because he has the tools to be a great manager, I just think at the moment he’s going through a learning period, maybe at a time when he was convinced he’d learned it all. Let’s face it, even his Swansea side were better than we are now. He knows good football, and he knows how to get it, but he possibly overestimated our abilities due to last year, and now he’s caught in two minds about how to solve it. For a start, he needs to stop trying to be too clever, and just put our best eleven players out on the pitch, play to their strengths, and encourage them to be positive. Maybe the master plan he had up his sleeve for this season hasn’t come to fruition, but we need to show some sort of reaction and change. Because the odd bad performance and result can be excused, but making the same mistakes over and over again is what might get FSG sharpening that managerial axe.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)