In the second part of his report on the strange malaise of Merseyside this season Ahsan Naeen turns his attention on the red half of the city, on a club that aren’t even a shadow of their former selves.
Last week I gave my take on Everton’s relatively poor start to the season – this week it’s Liverpool’s turn.
What to make of last season’s moral Champions. It’s difficult for me not to feel a pang of irritation at the thought of Rodgers’ Liverpool side after the entire nation seemingly united in willing the title to them even though City were the actual champions. Brendan’s side were indeed electric, an unbelievable attacking force, as City themselves saw first hand in both games against them. They deserved plaudits, but not the moral Premier League title.
As I said last week though, that cliché is so true [insert period of time] is a long time in football. 12 months later and lets be honest, having been dumped out of the Champion’s League group stages which saw them feature with the mighty Ludogorets and Basel, Liverpool look a shambles and to say they are even a shadow of their former selves is wide of the mark. They look literally like a different club with totally different players to a year ago. Where once they were unplayable, now they are unwatchable, where once they were vibrant, now they are paralysed: Where once they were would be champions, now they are simply mid table fodder.
It would be easy, lazy, and very unfair to put their demise solely down to the sale of Suarez and the purchase of Balotelli. Losing Suarez was a blow, but not an insurmountable one. In fact it’s still not insurmountable. I’ve never been a huge believer in the single player theory (that losing one player can radically change the fortunes of a side). Football is much less predictable than that, thank God. Where I think the problems began for Liverpool is their truly awful approach to last summer’s transfer window in general.
Where to begin – well logically we should begin at St. Mary’s. At the beginning of last summer I cringed when I saw the players Liverpool were being linked with. Lallana and Lovren in particular screamed of Liverpool and Rodgers repeating the mistakes of Benitez and their then owners. Neither player was good enough for a top four side – hence there was no competition for the players. The signings screamed of settling for second best in a summer that was going to be crucial to the club’s long term future.
Before any irate Liverpool supporters start yelling at me about petro dollars and the like, they need to understand as a club you went into last summer’s market place with a ton of money and no particular wage bill restrictions when you consider you were losing 200k a week minimum off the bill with Suarez’s move to Barcelona. So there was no outward reasons why you couldn’t move for Di Maria, for Sanchez, for players who would have made a manifest difference to the quality of your starting XI. You could make the sort of offers that United made, or that City had to make a few years back, to entice foreign players to the north of England.
This is where we have to come back to Brendan. Oh he of the shiny new teeth and the infamous envelope. I like Brendan Rodgers the coach. The work he did at Swansea was excellent, and his time at Liverpool up until the end of last season had shown that he has what it takes to coach very good players into a very, very good team. Sadly I think Brendan showed a naivety last summer that cannot be understated or underestimated.
The world and their wife could see that Liverpool’s squad was thin and it needed reinforcements in the summer. However it also needed stability. The loss of Suarez needed to be mitigated as much by Rodgers showing faith in the rest of the group as it would be by signing lots of new players. In the end Rodgers signed the wrong players, and subsequently the balance and dynamic of the side has been upset to such an extent that they cannot buy a win nor a goal for love nor money.
Their defence is worse than last season, having had nearly 40 million pounds spent on it. Similarly their attack has had a small fortune spent on it yet they cannot seemingly buy a goal. This is all down to Rodgers. The players Liverpool have at their disposal, although not good enough to challenge for the title, are MUCH better than they are currently showing. They look like a team who have for all intents and purposes lost all faith in their manager.
Brendan Rodgers has a lot of good will because he’s British and he’s coaching a team who finished in the top 4 last season. Make no mistakes though, he’s proving to be well out of his depth this season. Were he any nationality other than British he’d be the proverbial foreign wally with the brolly. Contrast his treatment in the press with that of say Andre Villas Boas, or even Manuel Pellegrini and it becomes clear that the nation’s media are collectively trying to protect Liverpool and Rodgers from the obvious. Shades of Moyes and United last season.
It’s funny. In many respects the one thing Rodgers did right in last summer’s transfer window is the thing that people will say cost him his job. He signed Mario Balotelli. Mario was a gamble, but the right one. What he needed was the Liverpool of last season to show up, in particular in the attacking third of the pitch. He needed and needs Coutinho and Sterling running off him. He needs quality deliveries when he’s in the box. Instead Mario’s been grossly misused, been left isolated in front of a midfield which has no spark and no creativity and generally been scapegoated, again by the xenophobic British media, pretty much every time he’s taken the field. The good thing for Liverpool supporters is that whoever you get next as manager cannot get any less out of Mario. The only way is up.
In case it wasn’t clear, I think Rodgers should be sacked. It might not be the “Liverpool way”, but it’s the only way to rescue what otherwise is going to be a catastrophic season in the long term for the club.