Before he walked through the Anfield doors Brendan Rodgers compared managing a Premiership club to “building an aircraft when it’s flying”
If Rodger’s fancies himself as an engineer then there is an old motto among that fraternity that seems apt, “Ok boys, lets start her up and see why she doesn’t work”
On Saturday it looked as if Rodgers had turned the key and had no idea why the engine failed to spark, let alone why his creation didn’t actually function as designed.
Four games into the season is not sufficient time to judge anything definitively but hope that Rodgers had made changes in the pre-season that would reinvigorate his squad is evaporating as quickly as the Kopites exiting early to avoid the traffic on Saturday. It appears that the reason that Rodger’s Liverpool aircraft cannot get off the ground is because the parts assembled don’t actually fit together.
The side seems out of balance. Benteke was isolated upfront on Saturday which seems totally unnecessary when both Danny Ings and Divock Origi sat waiting on the bench. With Sturridge to return it begs the question as to how Rodger’s is going to accommodate him if he persists with one up front. If his plan is to play them both together and if Ings or Origi are not trusted to stand in for Sturridge then what was the point in signing them?
Joe Gomez has made a commendable beginning to his Anfield career but his presence as a first team starter is an indictment of the clubs continual failure to sign a left back, Moreno is clearly not trusted in the role he was presumably recruited for. The risk of burning out Gomez seems high, if that happens and his confidence is sapped then what is the fall back? (no pun intended).
Jordan Ibe appears to be suffering just such a crisis of confidence and as Markhovic has been shunted out on loan the idea of pace on the wings seems solely reliant on Ibe regaining his focus. Its a lot of pressure on a young man’s shoulders.
The alternatives would seem to be a belief that Lallana will retain fitness and up his game, Firmino or Coutinho will fulfill that role (which risks negating their impact behind the striker/s) or pushing Milner into a wider berth than he was promised.
Dejan Lovren’s selection ahead of Sakho has all the appearance of a stubbornness in the face of evidence and again if Sakho is not trusted ahead of the mistake prone Lovren then he is another bewildering signing. The deadline day loan of Illori further casts further doubts on transfer policy and/or coaching at the club.
It is no longer clear what Rodgers is trying to achieve through either his recruitment, team selections or tactics. His stated philosophy of ball retention and circulation, of high pressing and a pass and move game that is designed to unsettle the opposition and create “death by football” has been replaced with a stand still and watch and hope that Coutinho can occasionally get within passing distance of Benteke blueprint.
It has worked in the odd moment but the team has actually performed at its best when lumping the ball forward to Benteke at the Emirates and taking advantage of the territory gained to harass a makeshift Arsenal defence into errors. Despite the enjoyment of seeing a Liverpool side genuinely compete at the Emirates it was hard not to acknowledge that Arsenal’s attacking interplay was on a different level than the visitors and more in keeping with what Rodger’s had once promised to deliver.
The performance against Stoke was resilient no doubt and enlivened by a moment of genius by Coutinho who increasingly seems to be the only creative force in the side (improvement from Firmino as he settles could double that count but there is no guarantee of it). The home encounter against Bournemouth was deeply unimpressive, but three points tends to gloss over doubts.
That brings us to West Ham and the undressing of Rodger’s tactical acumen. There comes a point in every recent Liverpool managers career where the expectation seems to overwhelm them and the inability to move from some success (though Rodger’s is measured by a nearly moment and some superlative football two seasons ago as opposed to trophies) to consistent achievement becomes apparent. Taken in context with last seasons disappointments the opening performances of this, more so than the results, seem to point to the impending arrival of that moment.
This is all written without any pleasure, naturally. To criticize the club, team or manager in print is seen by many as an act of disloyalty. It raises the question of what one is loyal to. For me it is the institution that stands solidly at the center of a community (the dispute over flags on the Kop indicates that currently the club may be tone deaf with regard to that) and exists only to win trophies. That is a cliche I know and times have moved on but with the money available being humbled by Palace at home, humiliated by Stoke away and plainly outplayed by West Ham at Anfield in the course of a few games flies in the face of everything the club ought to be. The fact that there was a transfer window,back room reshuffle and uninterrupted pre-season between the former two results and the latter suggests lessons unlearned.
The memory of 2013/14 still gives Rodgers some credit in the bank, a hope that he was truly the architect of that season as opposed to getting lucky with the alchemy of Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge orchestrated by a motivated Gerrard. The signings of Lambert, Balotelli and Benteke since Suarez’s departure seem to suggest that Rodgers has another vision in mind, one that is not altogether clear. I guess we could look back to Tottenham away last season as an example of what he is thinking and an occasion on which he seemed to show that he could set up a team to carry out his plan. That seems an awfully long time ago and there has been scant evidence since that he is able to deliver it with any regularity. His account is in danger of becoming seriously overdrawn.
Every time I write something like this my fervent hope is to have it shoved back in my face by a string of results and performances that make my opinion seem hopelessly wrong. Old Trafford would be a great place for that to start. As things stand I just don’t see that happening.