Brendan Rodgers’ problems at Liverpool don’t lie solely in the lack of quality in the squad, but also in his indecision or inability to land on a winning formula and stick with it.
This summer, Liverpool retained two centre-backs in Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel and added three others, one of whom being the £16 million Mamadou Sakho. The Liverpool manager has toyed with various formations, notably swinging between either two or three centre-backs to varying degrees of success. But those changes were to enhance the quality at the other end – at least that’s the way it appeared – and also to reduce the risk of errors from those who were lacking confidence or even quality.
The loss of Coutinho to injury was a problem that was countered by the return of Luis Suarez. There isn’t much creativity in the squad, but Suarez is one of those players who makes his own chances, as well as setting up opportunities for others.
It’s only now following the loss of Daniel Sturridge to long-term injury and a subsequent defeat away to Hull do we hear Rodgers complain of the lack of quality in the team.
The thing is I’m struggling to accept the notion that Liverpool’s summer acquisitions – all eight of them – were sprung on an unknowing Rodgers. Even last year, he talked up Joe Allen as a player whose value would quickly double. So far, we’ve seen little of Iago Aspas, the initially highly-rated Luis Alberto, and Victor Moses has bemoaned a lack of minutes since making the switch from Stamford Bridge to Anfield. These aren’t bad players, so why is it December and Rodgers still hasn’t developed a clear formula that suits the personnel in the squad?
Versatility can be a useful weapon. It appeared that Rodgers was switching between a set of formations to catch out the opposition. Liverpool are one of those teams who have to score more than the opposition, as oppose to setting up shop and using defence as their greatest asset. So it made sense to bring the best out of Suarez and Sturridge by using them as an attacking duo and in turn reinforcing the midfield so as not to be overrun through the use of 4-4-2. But that was then, when Liverpool looked to be on to something.
The tactics and personnel used against Hull were baffling. Not only was possession lost, but extremely little was created for the lone striker. There is a squad at Liverpool, and regardless of what Rodgers may think of it, there are players who can help to generate something threatening in the final third. Sticking with Jordan Henderson, who does nothing other than offer industry, and Lucas, whose sole purpose is to protect the defence, will of course offer very little going forward.
But the issue at hand, from Rodgers’ perspective, is his lack of quality in the squad. One thing Liverpool are lacking is goal scorers beyond Suarez and Sturridge. Yet Aspas has scored goals in Spain. OK, there is an obvious step up from Celta Vigo to Liverpool, but Rodgers spent £7 million on him so why not use him as Sturridge’s replacement? He hasn’t made the biggest impression in the games he’s played, but that’s expected. The need to adapt again becomes a factor. He’s certainly a better option than Raheem Sterling on the flank, who hasn’t done anything worthwhile since last season.
We know that Liverpool missed out on a couple of targets in the summer, and that may have been due to a lack of European football. But it’s not impossible to get good players regardless, as evidenced by last January’s purchase of Sturridge and Coutinho. There was nothing hampering Liverpool’s summer activity, even with Suarez’s public transfer saga. So why is it now such a surprise that the Liverpool squad is inadequate?
This is a team who are still in transition. Their position in the top four doesn’t change the need to further invest and build upon the good that is in the squad. But it also shouldn’t be a surprise that Liverpool don’t look up to the task of challenging for the title, as some tipped them to earlier in the season.
Above all, this is Rodgers’ squad. He had a hand in its creation and is tasked with getting the most out it – which has hasn’t been able to do past his two best strikers.