It has been said that Brendan Rodgers over-achieved last season. Even by his own admission, his Liverpool side managed to not only achieve Champions League football ahead of schedule, but also a sustained title challenge that he could only have envisioned happened a year after European qualification.
The poor campaign so far has seen inevitable question marks over his competency as Liverpool’s manager. It is also the first time he has faced such large criticism. Rodgers managed to escape any sort of criticism in his maiden season, pointing to a transition season where he was still implementing his ideas. In that second title-challenging campaign last year, Rodgers was given praise for his side’s tactical flexibility. But now on hindsight, the focus of last season’s success has shifted on the over reliance of Luis Suarez and the half a century of goals conceded that is now being blamed as the ultimate failure in the Reds’ title challenge.
With the defence looking worse and worse with every passing game this season, Rodgers’ coaching methods have also been doubted and his ability to properly coach his side’s defensive structure is under the microscope as well. Dejan Lovren was brought in for £20million as Liverpool’s record centre-back signing, and he did replace fan favourite and former vice captain Daniel Agger. Does Lovren look an improvement from our favourite Dane? That’s not only an emphatic no so far, but Lovren looks an expensive downgrade. And then there’s Mamadou Sakho, the previous record centre-back signing from the summer before at £17million, who is fighting for that same left-sided centre-back position as Lovren. There’s £37million worth of talent fighting for one of two positions that requires little rotation in order to build what’s arguably the most crucial partnership within a football side.
lovren’s anfield nightmare worsens as his struggles continue
The other defensive signings were Atletico Madrid loanee Javier Manquillo and Sevilla’s Europa League-winning left-back Alberto Moreno. Manquillo’s youth and relative inexperience does give him some leeway to make mistakes, but he has been decently solid and looks a better bet defensively than the declining Glen Johnson. Moreno has been seen as the best of Rodgers’ plethora of signings so far, and even that says something of the performances of the new arrivals. Moreno has already made two crucial defensive mistakes, one away at Manchester City which lead to Stefan Jovetic’s opening goal and the other away at Newcastle United which allowed Ayoze Perez to strike the Magpies’ winner. He has looked decent going forward, and besides those two mistakes, has adjusted well to the rigours of English football.
A Crucial Three Weeks Beckons
The next five games will be crucial to Liverpool’s season as a whole and even more so, Rodgers’ future at the club. Rodgers will have to sort out his defence and somehow find any confidence left in his team suffering from low morale. He may have to hold his hands up and admit that Lovren has, so far, not been working out, and draft in a more experienced option in Kolo Toure. He may even have to drop Steven Gerrard for one or two games to not only give the Reds a chance of winning the midfield battles ahead, but also to have a fully fit and 100% Gerrard when Rodgers do pick him.
will need more than luck for the away fixture in bulgaria
First off in this crucial five fixtures in three weeks is away to Ludogorets Razgrad. Liverpool simply have to pick up two wins from their last two Champions League group games to qualify for the knockout stages. Having only just sneaked a last-gasp victory at home in the first game against Ludogorets, a win in this fixture isn’t a given, even if Ludogorets are Champions League newcomers. Anything but a victory here and the last home game against FC Basel would drop off this list of vital fixtures.
After that is a run of three ‘winnable’ games in the Premier League, a midweek away game at Leicester City sandwiched by two weekend home fixtures against Stoke and Sunderland. Stoke have become a dangerous side under Mark Hughes and a Bojan Krkic-inspired performance saw them to victory at Tottenham. Leicester City have to rely on their home form in their relegation fight and will want a result similar to their 5-3 victory over Manchester United earlier in the season. Then there’s Sunderland, who after their 8-0 loss to high-flyers Southampton a few weeks ago, have recovered well and took five points from the subsequent four games – which is actually a better record than the Reds.
sunderland have recovered well from that 8-0 reverse
The end of this crucial period is that last European group game against Basel at Anfield. If qualification is still possible, a famous European night could beckon at Anfield and may help drive Liverpool to victory, and hopefully, qualification for the knockout stages. Qualification may be the springboard Liverpool need for the rest of this torturous season. It could be the morale booster needed for the next set of fixtures that start with an away game at rivals Manchester United and includes Arsenal as well.
Ideally, considering the Reds’ current form, Rodgers can negotiate seven points out of nine in the league and secure the wins required for qualification from the group stage. If he manages this, Rodgers will surely be given more time. If the worst happens, it would not be a surprise to see him lose all fan confidence and thus given the boot by January, with owners FSG giving someone else the January transfer window and half-a-season to try to save Liverpool’s current campaign and more importantly, rescue the progress made, ironically by Rodgers, in the past two years.