Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers must defy sceptics to turn around Red's season

By Vincent Hogan

I tend to measure Brendan Rodgers' stress levels by something we might call the "as I said index". The more uptight the Liverpool manager is, the drier his mouth becomes and the greater his propensity for stitching that simple expression into a media briefing.

At Melwood last Friday, Rodgers deployed "as I said" eight times in maybe ten minutes.

He looked and sounded a man who knew his team is close to a war-zone. The message-board abuse coming his way just now is startling.

Much of it implies that all the innovation of last season was down to Luis Suarez - that Rodgers simply facilitated the magic, telling Suarez to go and play, then watching the rest of his team become electrified by the Uruguayan's genius.

But to believe that is to rewrite history, to forget the sulking player who was banished to train with the reserves because of a fear that his demeanour might corrupt dressing-room spirit.

Suarez, eventually, performed wonderfully for Liverpool last season, but only because Rodgers created a system - as he promised he would - that was built around the South American's movement. As a partnership, Suarez and Daniel Sturridge ran lines that endlessly left opposing defenders facing their own goal.

Those lines then facilitated unorthodox movement off the flanks by Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho.

To opponents, Liverpool all but became unreadable. Yet, the bottom line on everything they did, the absolute fundamental to it all, was huge energy.

Liverpool pressed high, swooping like rock doves on every opposition mistake. At Anfield particularly, they were relentless, putting teams away with sometimes breathtaking conviction.

True, Jose Mourinho eventually found the antidote - a goalkeeper behind two lines of five. But had Steven Gerrard not slipped, chances are that April contest would have ended scoreless and Liverpool would have gone to Selhurst Park eight days later with an entirely different mindset.

Three or even two goals to the good then, the team would psychologically have been in a much more adult place to the one that all but perished through its own recklessness. Liverpool lost the title with that Gerrard slip.

The meltdown at Palace was the consequence of a team resigned to chasing the miracle that a small mountain of goals might have delivered.

The fantasists' view seems to hold that Rodgers was then happy to lose Suarez to Barcelona. Yet surely he was just resigned to the fact that concrete interest from either of the La Liga giants would turn the Uruguayan's head irretrievably.

Wisely, an early decision was made at Liverpool to do business. But that is where the wisdom muddies.

Given a deal was reputedly in place with Barcelona even before the World Cup, what was Liverpool's strategy for replacing Suarez? More pertinently, was that strategy shaped by Rodgers or by the infamous Anfield 'transfer committee'.

We know the policy of Fenway Sports Group is to sign young talent with a view to future profit in the transfer market. But a policy set in stone surely amounts to a strait-jacket.

What was Rodgers' view on the best way to replace a man whose departure was bringing in £75m?

This question has yet to be asked directly of him. So, as he prepared to bring his team back to the scene of that May meltdown, media focus was more on his "patience" with Mario Balotelli rather than an exploration of the circumstances that brought the erratic Italian to Liverpool.

Sturridge's ongoing injury troubles mean the club has some rather big decisions to make now. There is speculation they might try to fast-track Divock Origi's arrival from France, but is a 19-year-old really the wise answer to a striking crisis in mid-season?

Short-term, Rodgers' reluctance to field anything less than a five-man midfield demands he play a lone striker, a role for which Balotelli is palpably ill-suited.

In January, he surely needs to sign a play-making midfielder (Yohan Cabaye?) and a true international-class striker (Carlos Tevez?) whatever Fenway's grumbles.

If there is a valid criticism to be made of Rodgers it is that, on his watch Liverpool continue to be poor defensively.

Even during the course of last season's remarkable 11-game win-streak, they still leaked 15 goals. That weakness was attributed, largely, to individual errors.

Yet, this season, the concession figure for Liverpool's first 11 league games is an identical 15. This despite the summer recruitment of Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno and Javi Manquillo.

In other words, even with new personnel the old problem persists. Factor in the loss of Suarez's and Sturridge's goals and it's not difficult to see why Liverpool are struggling.

Rodgers has been emphatic in his rejection of suggestions about recruiting a defence coach, but Liverpool's outlay on expensive defenders suggests that personnel isn't the issue so much as structural clarity.

For Liverpool, the next few games could make or break their season. Rodgers is the right man for the job, but this where he must show it.

Further reading

Brendan Rodgers paying the price of Liverpool's diminished status in European game

Rodgers has just weeks to get it right at Liverpool 

Sturridge: I'll come back stronger

Rodgers in need of answers as Crystal Palace hurt Reds again 

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