Were They Really Just Words?

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by Ernie Fox

Frequently I find myself paraphrasing past comments from Brendan Rodgers when discussing the future of the club because at the time they made perfect sense, and even today I’m sure if many of his early statements were actually put into action we would see results and performances improve, yet we still appear to be stuttering about in the “transition” period. A lot of what he said when he first came to the club resonated with the vast majority of fans, so what’s gone wrong? Why have we failed to make that step forward?

In my opinion, he talks a good game, but up to now hasn’t been able to put those words into any practical application. Rodgers has often spoken about instilling a winning mentality into the players, and yet once again I fear his team selections don’t seem to backup his statements.

In the last 20 competitive matches, we have only managed to find the net more than once in a single game on 2 occassions. Such a low scoring rate would be a poor standard for any club, so for a side with one of the longest serving managers it is an extremely frustrating statistic.

Against Norwich it could be argued that we did up our game slightly. Personally I’m still not convinced by the idea of playing a three man midfield at Anfield against sides like Norwich when we should be looking to stretch them across the entire Anfield pitch, but we certainly created more chances than we have done in previous games – particularly after Lucas was brought off and we started to take the game to the opposition for once.

The trouble is that our players weren’t able to find the net despite a whole host of great opportunities. Surely that’s not Rodgers’ fault? If the players can’t finish off the move surely some of the blame falls at the laps of those who squandered the opportunities as much as it does the manager?

To an extent that is true, and this time last year I would have been advocating this argument, but with another 12 months having passed and the season in full swing I’m afraid I’m reminded of those words used by Rodgers himself. We don’t have a winning mentality, as simple as that, the players obviously need to take some responsibility but so far Rodgers has failed to achieve one of his more basic of targets.

When you watch the moment Coutinho approaching Paul Ruddy in the Norwich goal you can see his nerves get the better of him. He slows his run as Ruddy holds his ground and with defenders approaching he clearly lacks the confidence to just make a decision and go for it, instead he dithers in indecision, maybe just for a second but long enough that when he does eventually fire in the shot it is weak and straight at the keeper.

The point is that over the last 12 months the team have struggled to find any kind of consistency, we have lost our identity of being an attacking force, so how can that not have a detrimental impact on the players? We may have one off games where Rodgers’ tactics do pay off and we create numerous goal scoring opportunities, but if that is inconsistent with our general form then it can’t be a surprise that our players struggle – and that lack of confidence in front of goal comes down to the actions of the manager.

Which leads us to our next match, a Capital One clash against Carlisle. Many would suggest that much like last week’s Europa League match we should field a number of youngsters, after all they performed well against Bordeaux didn’t they? The trouble is that we need to walk before we can run, sure enough, fielding a young side will enhance the experience in the squad and give a number of players a rest at the start of a long and grueling season, but it means we are missing other opportunities.

I’m not being disrespectful to our opponents, Carlisle will not be a walk over, but if we field a strong starting eleven one would expect the likes of Firmino, Coutinho and Benteke to find success in front of goal. If we do, it may well bring about a more positive attitude for our next fixture. If we elect to play with a side of youngsters which I strongly expect us to, then we will have gained nothing in the short term; the players may be a little fresher but still badly lacking in belief.

We have to go back to basics, before we start rotating the squad we need to establish a first team that is not only capable of winning games, but has the belief that they are; because if they don’t then the opposition are hardly going to be quaking in their boots. But Rodgers has shown time and time again that he is very good at introducing young players in tough situations and getting them to perform well despite their ages and inexperience – what he hasn’t managed to do in the last 12 months is get the best players to perform to the best of their abilities and if he can’t manage that then no amount of squad rotation will improve our overall performances from the lacklustre displays we have been confronted with in recent times.

Written by Ernie Fox

Twitter: @ernietfox