Liverpool’s week could only have been more disastrous if Steven Gerrard had announced he was to take up a coaching position at Manchester United at the end of the season. Their much hyped return to the Champions League ended in simpering fashion after a series of desperately anaemic performances in Europe’s elite club competition. And their domestic form went from bad to sacrilegious in the wake of an embarrassing defeat to bitter rivals Manchester United. So how complicit is Brendan Rodgers in this fall from grace, or should the Northern Irishman be given more time to cultivate a winning mentality again?
Luis Suarez. Much has been made of the departure of the international superstar, but was there enough done to replace him? The farcical signing of Mario Balotelli seemed completely counter-intuitive to the fluid model of football that Rodgers had so desperately tried to instil. Commercial considerations were clearly prevalent to some degree as Liverpool attempted to fill the marquee quota left by Suarez. The sentimental acquisition of boyhood Liverpool fan Rickie Lambert only served to exacerbate Rodgers’ complicity in not dealing with the Suarez vacuum.
Rodgers could have learnt a lot from the template offered by Spurs in the wake of Gareth Bale’s departure. Spurs attempted to address the void in piecemeal fashion, buying a swathe of barely recognisable players at vastly inflated prices. Erik Lamela embodies this new craze of knee-jerk glamour buying; bristling with talent but low on enterprise and delivering the finished product. Markovic and Lovren were two such examples of players bought on dubious promise at exorbitant prices. Perhaps it would have been more prudent of Rodgers to nurture young talent; such as Flanagan and Wisdom, while investing heavily in perhaps three world-class players - just think of the Suarez deal with Ajax.
Defensively, Mamadou Sakho’s disappearance seems to reek of some undisclosed rift in the ranks of the side. Daniel Agger said that his decision to leave the club was based largely on his breakdown of communications with Brendan Rodgers. It seems as if Rodgers’ single-mindedness in approach is not the ideological framework that suffers insubordination. He also seems irreconcilably sold on the aesthetics of tika-taka, showing inflexibility that has not endeared him wholeheartedly to the Anfield massive. Just think of the way in which Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll have propelled West Ham United forward. Sure, their absence was not felt when the Suarez-Sturridge-Sterling trinity was in full effect, but they would have provided a critical tactical alternative in a game of ever evolving challenges.
The signing of Simon Mignolet provides an interesting microcosm of Rodgers’ narrow-mindedness. He is a great shot stopper and provides an excellent foundation for launching attacks through his distribution, but he is woefully susceptible to aerial bombardment and lacks positional awareness. Rodgers chose to hedge Liverpool’s future success on a keeper of razzmatazz as opposed to stoic solidity. And then there’s the fading talismanic figurehead that is Steven Gerrard, and Rodgers’ inability to integrate him successfully into his confusingly ‘dynamic’ formations (I mean, Lucas starting ahead of Emre Can?).
Brendan Rodgers has a lot to answer for the direction of Liverpool football club - he was more than ready to accept the praise for his evolving ‘system’ when it was going well last season. His tactics are confused while the transfer strategy in place seems disconnected from the realities of Premier League football. Liverpool now have to decide whether to brave the treacherous waters ahead - in the ‘Liverpool way’ - or perhaps do something pro-active for the sake of a dynasty slowly bending its will to the philosophical proclivities of one man.