It is fair to say that Liverpool have changed a lot since Brendan Rodgers took over the helm at Anfield. Things have definitely taken a turn for the good with the Reds going the closest they ever have to the elusive Premier League title and playing some of the most thrilling football they have in a long time.
But, one worrying aspect of Rodgers’ managerial tenure has been his performance in “big” games. Liverpool’s recent thrashing against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium clearly depicts this. When the pressure got high and the intensity levels increased, Brendan Rodgers’ men just folded and crumbled.
What drives this worry is the acknowledgement that Liverpool is a team with genuine Champions League ambitions and thrives on being on the biggest stage of them all. The tales of the “legendary European nights” at Anfield are held dear by every Liverpool fan. But, the fact of the matter is that Liverpool is just not performing where it counts.
This year’s dismal Champions League performance highlights this worry, with the Reds winning only one game in six. What was particularly telling was the performance against FC Basel at Anfield in a winner takes all scenario. The Reds had to win to move on but just did not turn up. When the going gets tough, it seems like Rodgers stops going.
The main topic for consideration in this issue is the Reds’ performance against the so-called “big” teams, which are Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City. All these teams are proven winners and can be drawn on the same wavelength as Liverpool. These are teams that expect to beat or match Liverpool. Teams like Southampton and Tottenham have not been included because they are not proven winners and struggle in big games themselves.
Here is how Liverpool has performed against the “Big” Four with Rodgers:
The numbers clearly show where the weakness lies. When the opposition has quality and a cutting edge, Liverpool are always overrun and thwarted. These stats also do not paint the full picture because the two wins against Man Utd came when they were at their worst in a long time and did not have the quality they have been known to have. To concede more than 40 goals in just 27 games is just not good enough and suggests there is a huge problem.
This suggests that there is a tactical deficiency with Rodgers’ approach to crunch games. He just does not seem to be prepared when the teams are tactically resolute and defensively sound. While there was a media outcry about Chelsea “parking the bus” against the Reds in “that” game last year, what was more worrying is how easily Rodgers was tactically outsmarted by Mourinho. Everyone knew that Mourinho was coming to Anfield to stifle the Reds and hope that Rodgers would buckle and he did exactly that. His reading of the game and situation was totally wrong. Games and championships are won based on these nuances and Rodgers does not seem to have grasped them.
What is also worrying is how dramatically the output level drops during these big games. During the Champions League campaign, Liverpool yielded a measly 5 goals with 4 coming against perceived minnows Ludogorets Razgrad. As teams press higher and man mark attackers, Rodgers does not know how to react. For example, it was clear in yesterday’s game against Arsenal that Liverpool’s 3 at the back formation had been figured out. It was palpable that the weakness lied with the exposed wingbacks and overwhelmed midfield. But, we did not see any tactical change from Rodgers who just set his team up in the same way and was destroyed as a result.
Surely Rodgers should have known this as the formation was exposed against Swansea, Manchester United and even Blackburn on occasions. Swansea and Blackburn could not defeat Liverpool because of lack of quality and nous but when teams like Manchester United and Arsenal came, they exposed Liverpool to their bare extremes. Arsene Wenger and Louis Van Gaal are tactical managers and they exposed Rodgers where others could not. The pressure went up and the performances went down.
If Jose Mourinho or any other top manager were at the helm, the tactics and preparation would most definitely have been different as they are winners and know how to win tactical games. Of course, Rodgers has his qualities but his record does not look encouraging. Sure, he is a good motivator and plays great football but he does not perform when it counts.
Till now, he has come up against tactical masterminds like Carlo Ancelotti, Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson and ended short against all of them. Out of 11 games against the aforementioned managers, the Reds have won none under Rodgers. If Liverpool are to qualify for the Champions League, they will come up against the Guradiola’s and the Ancelotti’s of the world on a regular basis and if they want to do well, Rodgers will have to up his game. It is imperative that a winning attitude be instilled in Liverpool otherwise they will languish for a long time.
By: Siddharth Kapoor
Twitter – @KopChants
Link to my Blog – kopchants.blogspot.in