Brendan Rodgers is trying to make the best of a bad situation, I get that. The tie isn’t over yet, and why would it be? Zenit scored twice at home and still have to travel to Anfield. For all the money they’ve spent in recent transfer windows, Zenit are not that good.
The Liverpool manager might be forgiven for consciously protecting his players, even if he believes they should come in for some criticism. Describing the away loss as “near-on perfect” is what you’d expect from a manager, as how often do they stand before reporters and publically slaughter their own team? But sometimes you’d like that, and at the very least, it would be better if managers didn’t try and convey something that is as far from the truth as can possibly be.
Andre Villas-Boas was guilty of similar actions earlier in the season, at a time when he was still finding the right level of comfort for the hot seat at Tottenham. He was overly confident of his team’s performance in the 5-2 loss at Arsenal, while having absolutely no evidence from the 90 minutes at the Emirates to support his claims.
But that’s what managers do, and some go to greater lengths to try and paint a better picture than what is actually a more worrying reality.
How does Rodgers realistically defend his Liverpool side after the trip to Russia? For starters, Hulk, who isn’t really worth the fee Porto received from Zenit, opened the scoring with a scorcher – one of his few party pieces. Where was the Liverpool defence? Why allow someone of his ability from range the time and space to size up Pepe Reina’s goal?
The finer details of the Liverpool performance can be dissected elsewhere and the topic of the team’s quality over the course of the season will continue to be much debated.
But it’s Rodgers. It’s whether he believes what he’s saying. It’s whether he’s still struggling to find that position in the Liverpool dugout that he’s had to look for since the start of the season.
What good do the manager’s post-match offerings do for his team? If he says the performance at Zenit was good, then his team are likely to accept that. Subconsciously they’re under the impression that they gave their all in a match where a better side came out victorious. That’s not the case, because again Zenit are not that good.
But it’s not just central to the away trip in the Europa League. This Liverpool team have not beaten any of the teams above them in the league; West Brom have done the double over them, and they’re out of the FA Cup. Yet Rodgers seems to offer small packages of praise to his players, as if all is well on the road to ultimate victory.
Do you wonder if the pressure is starting to tell for the former Swansea manager? Maybe he is in at the deep end. I doubt he’s the type to admit defeat, but the wider footballing world are not going to be too forgiving, nor are they likely to offer leeway with the idea that Liverpool are on a long-term plan to rebuild.
It’s about status and maintaining a high level in English football. Liverpool are one of the most decorated teams in England, one of only two who are well ahead of everyone else. Chelsea and Manchester City still have a lot to do to match Liverpool and Manchester United, who collectively hold eight European cups and 37 league titles. However, the Liverpool manager speaking about wins at home against much lesser teams doesn’t create a pleasant image. Is he conceding that Liverpool have fallen that far and now have to take whatever they can get from wins against recently promoted sides?
It isn’t really a surprise that Rodgers was part of Jose Mourinho’s coaching staff at one time, and you can see he wants to pick up traits from the Portuguese manager. But no one will allow that. Mourinho can do what he wants and wage wars where he feels the need, and for the most part he can leave you wondering whether he is actually in the right. You had to smile at the Real Madrid manager’s post-match interview following the 1-1 draw with Manchester United; calm, confident and maybe just a bit too cool considering the surrounding issues at the Bernabeu.
For Rodgers, it’s hard to talk about in him a similar light because he hasn’t earned that reputation in the game. It’s always necessary for managers to twist the truth in a manner which suits them and their team, but consistently drawing conclusions that do not sit at all right can become a damaging trend for Rodgers.
I’d like to see the Liverpool manager given the time he needs at Anfield and go as close to completing this five-year plan as he can, and then perhaps even go beyond that. But admitting sometimes that you weren’t quite good enough is always essential. Targeting underperforming players isn’t always a bad thing. Going stale, however, is the likely outcome from indulgence into the fantasy world.