I’ll spare you another joke about how the players joined in with the fans’ boycott of the Hull game last night by also not turning up, because in all seriousness it was yet another abysmal performance by our lads in red. They’ve come under criticism for already being on their holidays but, faint as they may have been, we still had a shot at a top four finish before the West Brom game, so our lacklustre displays have been inexcusable.
After the Man Utd and Arsenal games, I just think we lost all belief that we could achieve our goal this season. Not because we were too far off points-wise, but because deep down we knew we just don’t have the quality in the squad to manage. And that may be bang on, but we need our players to be stronger than that mentally. Whether it’s the faith in each other, or faith in the manager, it just doesn’t seem to be there. Even against Aston Villa in the FA Cup, where it was simply win or lose – go through or go out – we looked disjointed and out of our depth. Like we couldn’t even summon the confidence to believe that we could put in a performance decent enough to outplay relegation-battling Aston Villa to reach a cup final.
Getting to two cup semi-finals is no mean feat, but in truth the only real top notch opponent we came up against in either of our cup runs was Chelsea. Otherwise, we faced sides we would have expected to beat, and while it isn’t always as simple as that and ‘cupsets’ often happen, it shows that we actually had a bit of luck on our side with the draws, and even that wasn’t enough to help us claim a trophy. Likewise in the Champions League we were gifted as good a group as we could have wished for, but couldn’t make anything of it. And it didn’t even take one of the better sides in the Europa League to eliminate us, with Besiktas seeing us off as quickly as we’d entered the competition.
We’ve made a habit of making average sides look like world beaters this season, and that’s a sign of extremely low confidence and poor mentality. I’d love to say it was complacency, as at least then it would imply that we had faith in our capacity to better and beat our opponents. But the case has usually been that we shy down and look intimidated at the first sign of a team showing any sort of fight or bottle.
A key aspect of this weakness is our midfield. Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen are probably two of the players who you could say do put themselves about, but their inability to dictate a game with the ball means it’s all a bit fruitless. Allen made a couple of last ditch challenges to save us from further embarrassment last night, and Henderson burst forward in search of a goal. But if, for example, it were a Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso partnership in the engine room, we would be in control of the game and wouldn’t be in need of such erratic actions from our midfielders in the first place.
Brendan Rodgers has to shoulder a lot of the blame for what has happened to us this season. How much of last summer’s transfer activity was down to him is something only those at the club know, but I do believe that if he one hundred percent didn’t want a player, we wouldn’t have signed them. There may have been targets we missed out on, and names suggested to him that he tentatively agreed to chase. But we had enough time and money to get in better players than we did, and Brendan should have known we were squandering funds on unnecessary signings, while not adequately strengthening the positions we really needed to.
But regardless of that, even with the hand he has been dealt, Rodgers has made some baffling decisions. His continuing persistence in playing Glen Johnson is hampering us, while we could be using the time to assess loanee Javi Manquillo and prepare him for the second season of his loan spell. Mario Balotelli keeps getting endless opportunities up front, when at this point even Samed Yesil or Jerome Sinclair would be worth giving an opportunity to in place of him.
The manager seems to have no idea what our best system is, with the three at the back formation now apparently binned after a couple of bad shows. While I personally do prefer to have a traditional back four, Rodgers just does not seem to set it up as well as he should do. At one point yesterday we had a right winger at right back, a centre midfielder at centre back, and a right back at left back. Combined with the unbalanced midfield as described earlier, it’s really no wonder that we look so susceptible any time a team comes anywhere near our third of the pitch.
I’ve stuck by Rodgers so far, but if he’s still in charge next season he needs to show that he’s learned from his mistakes. He states that last year was an overachievement and an anomaly in the ‘three year plan’ from when he signed his very first contract as Liverpool manager. But even if we accept that claim, finishing second ought to have been a platform to build on not an excuse for regression. Challenging for the title a season earlier than expected should have helped us rather than hinder us, because there’s no way our ambition after three years of Rodgers’ tenure was to be finishing fifth at the highest. So if we believe Brendan that last year was a one-off, he’s effectively telling us that we haven’t improved at all in his time here, and this season’s struggles should be accepted as the norm.
FSG must be seriously tempted to find out if the soon-to-be free agent Jurgen Klopp would have any interest in joining us. I don’t like the thought of rashly sacking Brendan Rodgers and then finding out that the top quality managers we had our eye on have no interest in coming here while we’re in such a mess. And in spite of everything, I genuinely don’t think Rodgers is a bad manager, or that him being here next season would be the worst thing. If Klopp fancied a challenge though, I’d welcome him with open arms.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)