“Liverpool will not rise above mid-table mediocrity this season.”
“Last season, Liverpool were not Liverpool…Suarez was Liverpool.”
“The Reds will falter just outside the European spots this season.”
“For me, the ‘Pool remain Top 4 material.”
“Liverpool for the title!!!”
On the eve of the 2014/15 season, there were a variety of alternative views surrounding what position Liverpool FC would finish come the end of the season, each with their own merits and justification (nearly). Last season’s runners up have endured a sobering season and currently sit 7th, yet remain only 5 points away from the much-coveted 4th place. So, what position should Liverpool finish at the end of 2014/15?
Brendan Rodgers has the arrogance, yes, but which manager would not display a certain level of arrogance after being educated at the coaching school of Jose Mourinho for 4 years (2004-2008). Rodgers boasts an intriguing journey to The Big Time. A troubled knee forced early retirement (from league football) at the youthful age of 20, and he began learning the coaching trade immediately at Reading FC. His time at Reading included periods of Euro-travel in Netherlands and Spain to gather knowledge on his chosen subject of expertise. Better than that, his chosen clubs of focus were Ajax and Barcelona, two of the world’s foremost believers in The Beautiful Game, and the beautiful way in which it should be played.
A Brit going abroad to learn the trade is even rarer than a Roy Keane smile these days, and the fact it was a coach rather than a player does not make it any less relevant. Exposing yourself to different cultures/methods/ideologies/tactics…all this can only broaden both your character as a person and thinking as a Manager. Narrow-mindedness (not to be mistaken for obstinacy and single-vision) does not rate highly on successful managers list of strengths.
His British managerial experience lists Watford, Reading, Swansea then Liverpool in 2012. There has been a varying level of success prior to Liverpool, but what he was probably best known for was the manner in which his Swansea team played. Lots of possession and pressing, pretty much harrying, opponents towards their own goal whenever the ball was held by the opposing team…the style stolen direct from Barcelona’s logbook. So, with this experience, tactical back catalogue and understanding of the game, can Rodgers not get the current Liverpool side playing sexy football again? Was 7th position in 2015 part of the vision put so articulately to Liverpool bigwigs in his 180 page dossier prior to his 2012 appointment?
The New Team
It has been well, and almost unfairly on the basis of the increasingly reduced settling-in periods given to foreign players, reported that Liverpool spent upwards of £100 million going into the 2014/15 season (some say upwards of £120 million dependent upon which papers you read/websites you browse). Surely such an outlay would give way to an uprise in Liverpool’s recent footballing form for a sustained period, after last season’s unexpected 2nd placing, maybe even trigger a re-visit to the glory days??? Steven Gerrard has not left yet!
Two words that haunted the first half of Liverpool’s season…Luis Suarez. No matter that the player would not even have been able to play in the first couple of months due to his bloodsucking antics at the World Cup. Receiving £75 million for your top asset is all well and good, football is a business after all (sorry true fans), but receiving £75 million for your top asset and then re-investing the chunk of it (and more) into Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic, Alberto Moreno and Divock Origi is another thing.
Markovic has been showing signs of the top player he claimed he was on his arrival in recent games, Moreno shows an equal commitment to defend and attack which is admired by most football fans (see Luis Suarez) and Emre Can brings the intimidation factor (helping out Martin Skrtel of course). However, the other purchases must be questioned. Lallana has been very unfortunate due to injury, but may be a fine example for the regular overpricing of English players at a price of £25 million. Balotelli, Lovren and Lambert (for all his hard endeavour) could only be viewed as failures. Although Lambert cost the least of these at £4-5 million, he was the most unusual purchase for a man so devoted to doing the groundsman’s work for him and shaving blades of grass with each team pass. So Rodgers purchases certainly raised eyebrows in the Summer of 2014, and these eyebrows have perhaps been notched up a little since.
When it comes to tactics, Louis Van Gaal is a tough man to beat, for better or worse, but Rodgers has been in a tactical quandary which only recently seems to have sorted itself out. Last season, Liverpool were not brilliant in defence, but they were decent and they knew goals would come up top. This season, with the departure of Suarez and coinciding long-term injury to Danial Sturridge, the defence has been under greater pressure to tighten up. With this, and at a time when Simon Mignolet decided to have his wobbles in goal, things did not look good. However, the injury to Dejan Lovren in December led to the re-introduction of Mamadou Sakho to the backline, and matters have improved since then. Whether there have been 3 or 4 at the back, Sakho’s return coincided with a marked defensive improvement. Whatever you think about Martin Skrtel, he could scare the Spongepants off Squarebob, so this makes him a decent partner to have in defence. With Skrtel, it is important he is not known as the ‘best defender’ amongst the two, but just a solid partner. Like Carvalho and Terry at Chelsea in the early 21st Century, Carvalho was very average without Terry but they were a great partnership. Emre Can has also been putting in a decent shift in defence, ensuring there is less pressure on Liverpool strikers to score more than they will inevitably concede.
So, all told, with playing personnel and manager, where is Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool’s rightful 2014/15 league position? They are in it at the very moment…7th position. They will certainly not go North of this position, but may head South if their defensive issues re-emerge and Rodgers European education and arrogance fails to bale him out. Whichever way they go, one thing is for sure, Brendan Rodgers will continue to believe in no uncertain terms that he is The Man…but Liverpool FC are sure to return to better times in the future with or without The Man.
Duncan Fergusson (08/02/2015)