Our FA Cup exit has joined a dismal European campaign and a pretty tame challenge for a top four spot in the list of disappointments this season. Reaching the semi-final at Wembley was no mean feat, but it was the nature of our elimination that has left most fans reeling.
Outpowered, outpaced, outthought, outplayed. We were second best, and very few players demonstrated either the ability or the mentality needed in what turned out to be the biggest game of our season. Brendan Rodgers too appeared devoid of ideas; his tinkering with the system seemed to be the equivalent of a ‘hit and hope’ shot rather than an intricate tactical alteration. Frustration turned to anguish as it became clear that much of our squad simply is just not as good as we need it to be. Mario Balotelli, Glen Johnson, and Rickie Lambert were the players we elected to throw on and try to change things around, but they are three players who have barely hit form all season, and their introduction might as well have been accompanied with crossed fingers and a touch of wood.
So what happens now? Opinion seems split on Brendan Rodgers, with Jurgen Klopp looking a very appealing prospect having announced his availability. One thing is for sure: we cannot afford another summer like last year. As a fan it’s difficult to know how much of our transfer window failings were down to the manager, or whether it was the transfer committee complicating things and overruling him. Rodgers claimed that the summer of 2014 would be our biggest transfer window for years due to the turnover of players and amount spent, but this summer looks to be equally as significant.
With Steven Gerrard leaving at the end of his contract, Glen Johnson and Kolo Toure looking to do likewise, Rickie Lambert, Fabio Borini and Jose Enrique seemingly surplus to requirements, Dejan Lovren, Joe Allen, and Mario Balotelli open to offers, and Sebastian Coates, Tiago Ilori, Andre Wisdom, Luis Alberto, and Iago Aspas all returning from underwhelming loan spells, there looks to be a lot of dead wood to clear out. And getting them off the wage bill may be crucial in bringing in the calibre of player we really need.
For me, one area that definitely needs improving is centre midfield. With Gerrard on his way, we have Allen who seems to have hit a ceiling his development, Lucas Leiva whose good season has been hampered by injuries, and Jordan Henderson who is an incredibly useful player, but isn’t a dominating midfielder that you can build your team around. Emre Can is young and raw, and his best position/role isn’t yet clear. If we could get in at least one, ideally two, more controlling centre midfielders, I think we’d find that teams like Aston Villa don’t pass straight through us as easily as they have been too often this season. Allan of Udinese or Grzegorz Krychowiak of Sevilla could be shrewd acquisitions for a defensive option, while Mateo Kovacic or Miralem Pjanic would be excellent signings for a playmaking role.
It goes without saying that a couple of new strikers are priority, with us likely to listen to offers to all but Daniel Sturridge from our current crop. Alexandre Lacazette seems to be the most wanted, but Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi, or Luciano Vietto could be good alternatives. Another right back also wouldn’t go amiss, with Johnson’s deal drawing closer to expiry and Javi Manquillo playing so little during the first year of his loan move. Serge Aurier of Toulouse hasn’t featured heavily while on loan at PSG, and could be a bargain if we get in there quick.
Just as vital as the personnel, is that we know what to do with them. We’ve seen so many square pegs in round holes this season that the likes of Can, Moreno, Markovic, and Sterling have rarely played in their best position. We can’t afford to bring in another mishmash of players and then spend three months working out what system best suits them. Having the ability to be tactically fluid is an advantage, but you need to have a starting point and a blueprint of how you want to set up, before you make tweaks and changes based on the circumstances.
It’s imperative that we show ambition this summer. After three years of Rodgers’ tenure, it’s not unfair to expect us to be in a better position, with a more solid framework in place for the team. We aren’t quite sure who’s in or who’s out, what our best system is, who the next captain will be, whether we can keep hold of our best players, or how the powers that be see us growing. After last season it seemed that we were on the right tracks and just needed to carry on as we were. But mistakes have been made, and we have to address them as quickly as possible. We can’t know if there’s any one person directly to blame for these mistakes, and I wouldn’t want Brendan Rodgers to leave only to find out he was working under impossible conditions. But FSG have some work to do to fix things, and we can only hope that this summer they get it right.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)