Liverpool has been a hot topic of discussion with several laying the blame at the feet of Brendan Rodgers. It would be fair to say at minimum that he has failed to improve on the work of his predecessor Kenny Dalglish. The manager may not be perfect, but there seems to be something inherently weak at the very spine of the side at the moment. The problem runs deeper than just this campaign.
It does not take a genius to realise that expecting the same players to keep carrying the team season upon season is not feasible for the long term. Under Rafael Benitez when they finished 2nd in the 2008-2009 campaign there was a complacency that a place amongst Europe’s elite was a given. They only narrowly missed out on the Premier League they desperately craved, after all. Ever since this point the side has failed to finish in the top 5 and this points towards a problem with the overall strategy rather than just their current Northern Irishman at the helm.
When Liverpool were facing Zenit St Petersburg last Thursday Jim Beglin went on to say in reference to Steven Gerrard “If anyone is to get them out of trouble it is usually him. All he needs is one chance”. This was with the match firmly poised at 3-1 with one more goal at Anfield required to take the Reds through to the last 16 of the Europa League. No miracle escape cure arrived and with the England international at 32 years of age surely its time that the Merseyside club look for a plan B.
The impact made by Gerrard is not the only thing which needs replacing in the long term. Jamie Carragher has announced he is to retire at the end of the season and this was a crucial move for the football club to move forward. He has lost a lot of the awareness and zest he once had.
Carragher made what ended up being the crucial mistake against Zenit which ultimately cost his the Reds in the Europa League. Those who are nostalgic may want him to continue but he simply does not cut the mustard at anywhere near the ebb and flow of Champions League football anymore. The deterioration of the hero’s of old does not stop there either. Pepe Reina has suffered from indifferent form for the majority of the campaign and maybe it would be wise to shift him on in the summer.
It would be harsh and unreasonable to say the same of Steven Gerrard but they can’t keep relying upon him to be the supply line to Luis Suarez. He has always been great at slotting the ball right in the middle of the two defenders slicing a back line apart in one killer pass. It has been akin to what every FIFA player aims to do on Playstation when they press the triangle button. A huge part of the problem though at Liverpool is the memory fans have of players such as Gerrard delivering the goods. The side needs to evolve and create new leaders.
In terms of history Liverpool are one of the most successful sides in Britain but that will be scant consolation if they continue to fall down the Premier League. If they are ever to reach these heights again they need a solid foundation and to remove the dead wood. There are plenty who leave it to others to carry the mantle for them with the expectation too much of a burden to carry. It seems that glorifying past exploits is a monkey Liverpool simply can’t get off their back. If they are going to truly recover from their slumber of the past 4 seasons they need to start from scratch.
This means having the bravery to admit that this will take time. Rodgers may have got a lot wrong at Anfield this season but one thing he did get right at the beginning of the season was putting his faith in youth. There may have been some moaning that they were unproven and not fit enough for the shirt but who is in the Liverpool squad these days. Those who can look themselves in the mirror and be satisfied with their performance is in short supply on Merseyside.
In the latter stages of this campaign if Rodgers is to have a future he needs to stop pressing the panic button and hoping the old guard save his skin. He must keep embedding the likes of Suso and Sterling into the setup. There needs to be an element of trial and error. It will take a lot of fine tuning to replace the style of play the team must develop for when the likes of Gerrard and Carragher are no longer around to carry the torch. They need to start wielding a style of play which focusses upon the personnel who will be here for the long term. The likes of Coutinho and Sturridge.
The board will also be required to have strong resolve in the project in the summer.There are several that have pointed out Liverpool are not just one or two short of the Champions League anymore they are 5-6 world class players away. They are not wrong. It may be a painful process having to admit that the likes of Henderson and Carroll are only worth a fraction of what they were bought for but burying their heads in the sand and making do is unacceptable.
If Liverpool FC are to re-emerge as one of the forces in England they need to build a new legacy. The atmosphere at Anfield when they narrowly lost to Zenit was just a glimpse of the sensational support they could receive to roar the team on every week should they get things right. It is not a gap which is too hard to bridge either. Newcastle built an entirely new team in the 2011/12 campaign and came desperately close to Champions League football.
The Reds can only dream of such a push for a top four finish if they hand the reins of responsibility to those who have had their time in the spotlight. So now is the time to start consigning the ‘old guard’ to the history of the club or they will remain in the past for the foreseeable future.