When Brendan Rodgers took over as Liverpool manager at the end of the 20112012 season, the club faithful could take anything.
Even when Liverpool finished seventh in his first season, it didn’t raise any eyebrows. However, Rodgers has since failed to rise to the occasion when the stakes are high. Last season, Liverpool enjoyed a hassle-free run-in to the Premier League finish line as nearest rivals Man-City and Chelsea grappled with Champions League football.
But when pressure mounted at the tail-end of last season, we all witnessed the crumbling at Crystal Palace and against Chelsea. Rodgers’ team has not recovered since and now, Liverpool is flat and unimaginative so much like David Moyes’ reign as Manchester United manager last season.
Just from a team selection point, Rodgers today and Moyes then, have a lot in common. Even with the benefit of how Sir Alex Ferguson rationed Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s play time because of their age, once Moyes arrived, he opted to play them week in, week out, a point from which Man-Utd’s defensive problems were laid bare.
Similarly, Rodgers has chosen to play Steven Gerrard in almost every game this season, yet we all know the 34-year-old’s legs have gone and he needs rationing, the way Fergie did Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, the way Jose Mourinho did Frank Lampard. Besides, after a gruelling last season, that also had the World Cup, Gerrard can’t be going on and on unscathed.
It is impossible, just as it’s not, to see more similarities between Rodgers and Moyes. Once things weren’t going so well at Old Trafford at the beginning, Moyes suggested the team was old and not good enough even to challenge for the Champions League. Rodgers has put Balotelli out to dry, albeit tactically.
While Rodgers hasn’t bashed Balotelli, he hasn’t defended him vehemently. Instead, he has criticized him for swapping jerseys at half-time with Pepe, and has bedded in with the media pressure on how Balotelli is on borrowed time if he doesn’t start delivering soon.
I hope the game time Balotelli is getting, is actually intended to boost his confidence, as opposed to showing that he has had game time but not delievered soon enough, and therefore should burst in January. In a similar way, Moyes often played Shinji Kagawa out of his favoured position, behind the striker, to prove he didn’t match United’s standards.
That killed the Japanese’s confidence, and sure will the Italian’s. But it will kill the team more. And like we all remember how poor United were in terms of form last season, every player at Liverpool looks awkward and disenchanted. Look at Raheem Sterling and Phillippe Coutinho. Simply off-colour, blunt and unimaginative, the way the likes of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie were much of last season.
Apart from the crossing game Moyes espoused, which saw him play Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young all the time despite it not bearing much fruit, certain players at Liverpool, especially Glen Johnson and Jordan Henderson, are looking awful. Sometimes it’s about tweaking that system in order to cut out your team’s flaws. Moyes rarely saw that, and with his favoured 4-4-2, United kept being overrun in the middle and the defence was exposed.
Liverpool has been run over in the middle because of a sheer lack of application. Gerrard is off the pace while Coutinho and Sterling aren’t tenacious enough. They have got to starting this weekend against Chelsea. And a 4-3-2-1 would work well under the circumstances especially if Rodgers doesn’t want to return to the 3-5-2 that worked so well for him last season.
With Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen and Gerrard sitting, while bursting forward one after the other, the extra support that comes from either Coutinho (Adam Lallana) and Sterling would help match Chelsea’s numbers of Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard.
At this point, there is no need for Rodgers to be the Moyes of today, but the Rodgers of yesterday that showed tactical wit. It’s not about being pretty, but winning at all cost not just for Liverpool, but for the rest of the Premier League in order to stop Chelsea running away.
Source : The Observer