Liverpool FC have played 25 competitive games since the season began for them back on the 2nd August with an away trip to FC Gomel in an Europa League third round qualifier, so it’s fair to say that we have a fairly large sample to draw any sort of particular patterns or conclusions from. So with that in mind, here is our 10 things we have learned about the club under their new manager Brendan Rodgers since the start of the season.
1. Score more goals – This isn’t a new one, granted, with the team’s profligacy in front of goal last term under Kenny Dalglish also hampering a stuttering Premier League campaign. With just 18 goals to their name in 14 league games, 10 other teams in the top flight have scored more, so it’s no coincidence that the side are sat as low as 12th at the moment. Goals win you games, and with only Luis Suarez really contributing in any substantial way, with 10 of those 18, then the side will continue to struggle. They need more cutting edge in and around the box, and for all the pretty passing, there’s very little in the way of penetration at the moment. Purchasing an out-and-out finisher in January may not be the answer to all of the team’s problems, but it would be a start and a step in the right direction.
2. How small the squad is – The summer saw the club radically reduce the wage bill with Andy Carroll (loan), Charlie Adam, Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez all allowed to depart after being on hefty sums, and the likes of Joe Allen, Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi won’t be on anywhere near as much. This has robbed Rodgers of the depth needed to sustain both a European and league campaign at the same time and youngsters such as Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom, Jonjo Shelvey and Suso have had to pad out a threadbare squad. January should not only be seen as a time to invest in quality, but numbers too should the budget allow it.
3. Complaining about officials – Nobody in their right mind would try to claim that Liverpool have had a fair rub of the green when it comes to decisions so far this term, and that they’ve still yet to receive a penalty is unfathomable considering the incidents on show. From the last-minute disallowed goal in the Merseyside derby for the wrong reason, the assault on Suarez from Leon Barnett to numerous other penalty calls, while some will even still try and argue that Jonjo Shelvey was harshly done by with his red card against Manchester United. Nevertheless, Rodgers has already complained to refereeing chief Mike Riley and to hear him go on about ’embarrassing’ officiating in the aftermath of the Tottenham defeat is tiresome and fuels a sense of injustice which the fans are bound to buy into, but the extent to which you can keep making the same point over and over again does only serve to highlight that Rodgers needs to get over it and get on with the task in hand. Deflecting attention is a commonly used trait by most managers after poor results, but at least try and mix it up a bit, eh?
4. Over the top praise – Rodgers appears to have fallen into the trap of continually praising defeats as ‘magnificent’ or draws as ‘outstanding’ as he did during the quite forgettable home draw against Newcastle last month. We are not all idiots, we can use our own eyes to see what is unfolding before us and how to accurately judge how a team has performed, and the praise the manager is lauding on his players for mediocrity is getting laughable now. We all know a manager has to support his players, particularly in public and especially when some of them are so young and learning their trade, but can we do it without the fawning rhetoric, please? It would at least be more believable then.
5. Tactical flexibility – A plus point of Rodgers’ reign has been his willingness to shift between systems mid-game and make intelligent tactical changes. During the Merseyside derby, while the withdrawal of Kevin Mirallas through injury at the interval may have helped to curb Everton’s attacking threat somewhat, his switch to a 3-5-2 system to close down the channels made a big difference on the game. Like Jose Mourinho before him, he’s also started making tactical substitutions, often in the first half, with Suso taken off in the 36th minute for Jordan Henderson against Wigan, inverting the balance in midfield to have two holding and it had an impact on winning the battle in the middle of the park and ultimately the match. That he can spot where to change things on the pitch during the game, admit his mistakes and then fixing the problems points to a coach of some intellect. There’s a plan B on show, it just simply doesn’t involve hoofing the ball up to a big man like Carroll.
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6. The soundbites – “You train dogs, you educate football players.” “I treat every player at this club like my son.” “Stay behind the ball. You’re not the one bombing on for fun, you’re not going to be like Cafu.” That last one was said to young full-back Jon Flanagan, and while it’s quite hilarious when taken out of context, the fly-0n-the-wall documentary Being:Liverpool did expose the fairly naff David Brent-esque managerial techniques of Rodgers. Of course, you could argue that he did not ask for the documentary to be made and it’s quite unbelievable that the club’s owners saw this as anything other than an instrument that could only apply more pressure to a new manager working under difficult circumstances. We never see behind closed doors how any other managers talks to their players, but at the same time, nobody really made Rodgers say those things. The ‘son’ line above he offered directly to camera in a one-on-one interview. There’s always been a suspicion that he likes the sound of his own voice a little too much, and we’ve seen little evidence to contradict that just yet.
7. Leave the experimenting for pre-season – Liverpool played four friendly matches this season, three of them before their first game against FC Gomel, but progress was hindered by the fact that most of the key players were returning late to training after being given some time to rest after their exertions at Euro 2012. Nevertheless, the sign of Stewart Downing being absolutely torn apart by Aaron Lennon in the first 15 minutes of Tottenham’s 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane at left-back, when the side had recognised left-back Jose Enrique playing in Downing’s position on the left wing was preventable. Rodgers stated after the game that he’s looking for more ‘solutions’ due to the ‘shallowness of the group’, and he’s clearly trying to get every last drop of versatility out of what he’s already got, which is understandable, but Downing shouldn’t be making his debut in the position over ten games into a new season. He probably won’t win you the game on the left wing, but he can sure lose it for you at left-back.
8. The need to close games out – Liverpool have performed well by and large this season, but they’ve struggled to secure the results that they’ve deserved due to a certain tactical naivety from the players. They’ve let leads slip against Manchester City, Manchester United and Udinese all at home, while the late draw they suffered courtesy of a fantastic strike from Elsad Zverotić during the Young Boys game means they now travel to their final fixture in Italy needing to avoid defeat to stand a chance of going through to the next round.
9. Use home advantage more – In the league so far this season, Liverpool have picked up nine points from a possible 21 at Anfield, while in the Europa League, they’ve picked up just four from a possible nine. Anfield used to be a fortress for the club, but the nervy atmosphere around the ground during most games now is palpable and it must be having an effect on the team; returning the club back to its glory days, or even where they were five years ago under Rafa Benitez will live and die by how difficult they make the historic ground for visiting teams to play at once more.
10. Over-reliance on one player – Before it was Steven Gerrard, then briefly it was Gerrard and Fernando Torres and now it’s down to Luis Suarez. Discussing the captain’s lack of goal threat this season today, Rodgers stated: “He’s carried this club for nearly 13 years and it’s about time there was more than Steven picking up the baton of responsibility. There are others that we want to step up to the plate and get the goals.” It’s a fair assessment and certain players can go into hiding under the increased amount of pressure; not making forward runs, choosing to pass it backwards or sideways and simply following leadership rather than trying to be a leading figure. The best thing Rodgers can do over the coming months is try and find players on the continent or at home to try and sign who will help share the burden out. The Uruguayan has been directly involved in 12 of the team’s 18 league goals this term and has been superb throughout, but he will not be able to carry the burden alone forever and the club are just one injury away from a campaign with only mid-table obscurity and a decent cup run to look forward to.