Brendan Rodgers went into Tuesday’s Champions League loss at Real Madrid arguably under the greatest amount of pressure he has endured during his two-and-a-half years as Liverpool manager. While his debut Premier League season ended with a lowly seventh place finish, there was much to be encouraged about as the side showed signs of becoming accustomed to his philosophy of intense pressing, fluid passing and incisive attacking, which all came together to devastating effect last season as the Reds rocketed to a second-placed finish – earning them a spot in football’s greatest club competition after five years in the wilderness.
Although emulating the heroics of the previous campaign was always going to be difficult for Liverpool due to the departure of Luis Suarez – so integral to the way the team functioned – the extent to which they have struggled so far has come as a surprise. The team that scored over 100 times last season has been woefully inept in front of goal and the defensive problems, papered over due to the sheer attacking brilliance of Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, have re-emerged and are more glaring than ever. So what exactly is the cause of Liverpool’s travails?
Kenny Dalglish’s second spell as Liverpool manager was, for all intents and purposes, pretty rubbish. A League Cup triumph and a final appearance in the FA Cup embellished what was otherwise a lamentable 2011/12 season for the Reds as they staggered sheepishly to an eighth-placed finish in the league – level on points with current Championship strugglers Fulham. Liverpool’s poor league performance cost Dalglish his job, yet the Scot did do some things right during his brief return to the dugout. His decision to appoint Steve Clarke as the team’s defensive coach at least ensured that the backline retained a degree of solidity, and the 40 league goals that Liverpool conceded under Dalglish is lower than the total for both of Rodgers’ completed campaigns. Clarke left Anfield after Dalglish’s sacking, yet Rodgers could do worse than to learn from his legendary predecessor and look for a defensive coach of his own. Although Liverpool have kept just two clean sheets in their past 21 games, they do possess excellent defenders. Their problem is not the quality of their backline, it is the lack of attention given to that particular area of the team on the training field. Rodgers may enjoy having full control of his side, but he should perhaps consider swallowing his pride and investing in a specialist coach. As it stands, their difficulties in defence look far from being resolved.
Technically supreme, lightning quick, dependably prolific… but injury prone. Although Liverpool could make do without Daniel Sturridge at times last season with Luis Suarez still in red, the absence of the England international with a calf strain has exposed the Anfield outfit’s dependancy on the striker. And with Suarez now playing for Barcelona, there is no-one to turn to while Sturridge remains stricken. Mario Balotelli has hardly convinced us that he can score Liverpool’s goals on his own, and with Sturridge recently suggesting that the hereditary ‘Caribbean vibes’ are to blame for his injury tendencies, supporters on Merseyside will be on tenterhooks throughout the season, as without him the Reds are a significantly inferior and less potent attacking side.
The £75 million Liverpool received for Luis Suarez gave Brendan Rodgers the opportunity to add strength in depth to a side which had previously been lacking in game-changing options outside the starting eleven, yet none of Rodgers’ nine summer signings – bar Divock Origi, who is at Lille on loan for the season – have covered themselves in much glory. The Spanish full-back duo of Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo have been found to be defensively suspect at times, with the former culpable of gifting cheap goals in matches against Manchester City and Newcastle United. The trio of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren, formerly of Southampton, have shown few signs of bringing their standout form at the South Coast club last season to Anfield. Lazar Markovic and Emre Can are struggling with the physical demands of the Premier League, while and Mario Balotelli’s tough start is a subject that has been done to death. The worry that Liverpool would “do a Tottenham” – which seemed a bit simplistic at the time – is actually materialising, as the raft of new recruits have found it hard to acclimatise to life at Anfield. The octet are hardly mediocre footballers, but they will need time to find their groove and to get used to Liverpool’s style of play – time which Brendan Rodgers is running out of at a rapid rate.
Unconvinced by the long-serving Pepe Reina during his first season at the club, Brendan Rodgers was determined to bring a new goalkeeper to Liverpool in the summer of 2013, and the man he opted for was Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet. Many Reds fans will by now be wishing that Rodgers had persisted with Pepe, as Mignolet has been shown wanting a number of times in the past 12 months with his questionable distribution skills and his tendency to flap into thin air from set pieces. The Belgian’s current deputy is Brad Jones, who is hardly the man to provide Mignolet with serious competition for a place in the first team. Is it time, then, for Rodgers to look for the effective goalkeeping stimulus that Mignolet evidently needs? Victor Valdes has been mooted as a possible option, and the former Barca stopper’s expertise would certainly be a welcome addition to the Liverpool squad.