Liverpool currently sit seven points outside the top four back in seventh place in the league table, but with the club’s domestic form fluctuating so much this season, it seems as if the goalposts have been continually moved by manager Brendan Rodgers to the point that it’s difficult to quite know what the minimum expectations surrounding the team are now this term and whereabouts they hope to finish.
It goes without saying that the side want to finish as highly as possible in the Premier League and being seven points adrift of Tottenham is not an insurmountable lead by any stretch of the imagination, but after Rodgers claimed earlier in the campaign that replicating the eight-placed finish under predecessor Kenny Dalglish would be a ‘magnificent achievement’, the 40-year-old appears to have bought too much into the hype surrounding the side in recent months.
It’s still worth noting that Liverpool haven’t beaten a club inside the top ten in the league all season, which hardly seems conducive to a top four finish and if the shock FA Cup defeat away at Oldham taught us anything, it’s that while the starting XI has been in superb form in recent weeks, that the support cast isn’t quite up to the standard required just yet. Doubts also remain over the club’s ability to deal with physical opposition, while Rodgers has developed a worrying tendency to get his starting eleven wrong in games of importance.
On November 30th, with the side set to host Southampton at Anfield, they sat closer to the relegation zone than the top four, with four points separating them from Nigel Adkins’ third-bottom team and a 10-point gap from fourth-placed West Bromwich Albion in fourth, but Rodgers sounded optimistic when pushed if the club could still finish in the top four: “It is realistic, absolutely. Teams are taking points off each other. Let’s be honest, it is a big ask, a massive ask, but that has to be our target. We are going to look to try and get as close to that as we possibly can.”
Fast forward to December 14th and perhaps Rodgers’ most ill-judged rhetoric during his time in charge reared its ugly head when he stated at a press conference just before the humiliating 3-1 defeat to a struggling and subsequently woeful Aston Villa side: “We lie four points off the top four. For me the ambition is to grow higher. We are 11 points off second and that can all turn around very quickly. You need to get consistency – and that is what we have at the minute.”
However, in recent weeks he’s sought to play down expectations by labelling a top four finish on the eve of the game away at Arsenal as ‘difficult’ and it seems that nobody quite knows, not least of all the manager himself, quite what the target in the league is for Liverpool this season. Confused yet? You should be.
What is clear, though, is that this is a campaign of transition and expectations have been dampened to such an extent by Rodgers in the summer that a general consensus has been reached by a fanbase willing to be patient with the new man at the helm, that just so long as they finish eighth or higher, then they will be satisfied with the progress that the club are making both on and off the pitch.
Lest we forget, this is a young squad, with several new signings in key positions which have increasingly come to rely on both Luis Suarez and captain Steven Gerrard in recent months. This is not a fully formed outfit by any means and they are still getting to grips with Rodgers’ methods and style of play, while in terms of depth, they come up short compared to many of their rivals.
In that sense, Rodgers is fortunate to have taken over the club at a time when the supporters are tired of false promises and the quick rate of managerial turnover and are willing to place their faith in a new ‘project’ and ‘philosophy’, craving stability above all else. Nevertheless, Rodgers seems to have a troubling tendency to keep the media on side and in the loop with regards to his thinking and decision-making almost at every turn.
Of course, being media-friendly is all part and parcel of the game these days and having a poor relationship with them can only make your job all the more difficult, as countless managers have found to their cost in the past, but Rodgers seems to want to create news where none really exists. He’s not the first manager to contradict himself within a matter of weeks, but Liverpool fans seem to be straddling that line now between whether to continue to dampen down expectations or dare to dream of something more and a consistent party line above all else is what’s required.
With a tough run of fixtures in the pipeline, including Arsenal and Manchester City away from home not to mention the tricky test of Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia in the Europa League, now is not the time to be getting carried away by what has been some good form against opposition you’d expect them to do well against.
The challenges ahead are huge and whether they finish sixth, seventh or eighth, splitting hairs in such a fashion really takes away from what the larger objective in mind is, restoring Liverpool to the top four in a matter of seasons, not months and Rodgers would do well to remember that.