Written by Ernie Fox
That’s it! After the longest unbeaten run in 2015 of any Premier League team was broken, the ‘Rodgers Out’ campaigners are back out in force. It is such a shame that all the hard work over the last three months have been undone in just 180 minutes of league football. I could be writing about all the things that are wrong with Liverpool football club, predicting doom and gloom, but there are plenty of other pundits who will be doing this; instead I’m going to attempt to look for the positives.
But where to begin? At first glance, finding the positives in an otherwise dismal season would not seem so easy. Last season we were flying high, challenging for the Premier League title and playing the most exciting football in the country; this season we have failed to retain a top four spot with seven games to go. I realise that’s not a mathematical certainty just yet, but let’s be realistic we are at least three matches behind and still have to travel to Stamford Bridge – and our record against those sides currently occupying the top four positions is not too favourable.
The summer gamble clearly failed. We signed a number of players to bolster our squad, to provide us with the quality to compete in all competitions, but the fact of the matter is that we have been unable to replicate the performances that brought us so close to success. Had we have progressed in the Champions League or finished in the top four it could be said that the transfer policy of the summer was successful, but having failed on both fronts not even an FA Cup victory will hide from the fact that the objectives for this season have not been met.
At this point, things are not sounding particularly positive so far, but there is something to look forward to. We need to put the disappointments of this season behind us and look to the future by being honest with ourselves. This season we were always playing catch up, we had such an appalling first half of the season that the fact we even had a glimmer of a chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League is either testament to how much we improved over the Christmas period – or how poor in quality the league’s top sides have been this year.
I have written earlier how this season we have struggled in the big games, the ones that really matter. We have lacked the strength in character and quality to overcome those big contests in must-win scenarios, and our latest back to back defeats only go to show that we are lacking that star quality that would make us into a great team. But having dropped so many points against our top four rivals, where did we pick up the points to put us in a position to challenge at all?
Whatever anybody says, I am adamant that Rodgers’ philosophy is the right one. Ferguson won a number of league titles with Utd, not by beating the best teams, but by consistently beating all those lower down, ensuring they picked up the points they were expected to. This is what Liverpool managed to do during the opening months of 2015, it is what brought us back into contention for a top four place; whilst the others dropped points against lower down sides we controlled possession, dictated play and deservedly took maximum points in the majority of our games. It was no fluke, we played a style that most teams in the league were unable to handle and it put us in a much better position.
So, what is there to be positive about? If we are able to recreate the performance levels and results from these last couple of months and achieve a similar consistency from the beginning of the season, we will be in line for a top four finish, regardless of how we perform against Utd, City, Chelsea and Arsenal. It has taken the first half of the season for the new squad to start to gel, but despite the disappointment over two recent results, there can be no doubt that the team has started to find its form.
It is vitally important that we don’t do anything rash, that we don’t panic and throw away all the hard work that has been done over the course of the season. These last results against Utd and Arsenal don’t change anything, our progression this season has been slow but undeniable and what we need is to continue that development not abandon ship at first sign of trouble. If you were to consider our form and performance levels throughout the season it is no surprise that we dropped points either side of the International break, therefore there is no need to declare a state of emergency just yet.
It is now time to look towards next season, whether Raheem Sterling stays or goes, we have a number of great young players who need the support of the fans and club to continue their development in the game. Next year Moreno and Markovic, who have both shown fleeting signs of brilliance, will have experienced an entire year in the Premier League, Coutinho and Sturridge will be a year older and wiser, and Henderson will be captain.
Manchester United have not been a team of Champions League quality this season, but rather the best of a poor bunch, with a number of overpaid, world class players struggling to pull together. Utd finishing fourth isn’t the end of the world for us, because it means that the Utd hierarchy will continue with a regime that has succeeded through good fortune as much as it has quality. Retaining Van Gaal’s services for another season could be a blessing in disguise for the rest of the league, he is not a long term solution to Utd’s search for Ferguson’s successor. While we continue to build on the foundations that have been put into place, Utd will just throw copious quantities of money at the short term problem, signing big name superstars with even bigger egos and trying to make them fit – and as we all know, this tactic has a habit of blowing up in your face.
We all knew this season was going to be tough, I don’t think many of us quite appreciated just how hard because of last year’s success, but it is not the end of the world, it is not even a huge set back. We will go again next season, and we will be even stronger; our younger players will have grown as players and personalities, and older players will have gained experience to take on the responsibility that perhaps they weren’t quite ready for this season.
Rodgers is a manager who plays a style that needs a buy in from the entire squad, if players don’t feel comfortable in possession they will struggle and we have seen that on numerous occasions, particularly early in the season. With a longer opportunity this summer to work with the players and instill his philosophy into their way of playing, Rodgers will come out stronger next season We have seen clear evidence of this in the past few months, so let’s not become distracted by a couple of poor performances.
Fans have every right to feel disappointed whenever we perform poorly or fail to achieve results we felt were expected. But we are on course for something great, as long as we support the team to navigate through the troubled times and stay true to the philosophy. Next season we will pick up many more points, we will maintain a consistency of performances, beat the majority of sides in the lower end of the table – something we have struggled to do in the past. And we will start to see a strong and positive mentality amongst the players that will pull us through those harder, pressurised, top of the table clashes. I realise that we say this every season, but this time I genuinely believe it; we are not a club who are going to throw a load of money at a problem and hope it goes away, but do it the correct and Liverpool way.