Liverpool 1 – Norwich 1
Another weekend, another disappointing result for Liverpool. Coming off the back of a 3-0 loss to West Ham at Anfield, a 3-1 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford and a 1-1 draw with Bordeaux in France, there was no question before the match that Brendan Rodgers needed Liverpool to take all three points available against newly promoted Norwich.
How and why did it all go wrong for the Northern Irishman? Are events conspiring against him to mean that the clocking is ticking towards an eventual dismissal? We take a look back at the weekend’s game and ask the big question on most Liverpool fans’ lips: Where do we go from here?
Ings Can Only Get Better
Let’s start with the positives that we can take from the game, the biggest positive surely being the performance of Danny Ings. The former Burnley striker was supposed to come in to Liverpool as a squad player. He said himself when he signed for the Reds that he didn’t expect to become a Liverpool legend overnight and declined the opportunity to take an iconic shirt number straight away, instead preferring to slowly earn himself a good reputation with the fans.
In just 45 minutes against a team that was in the Championship he has already gained himself exactly the reputation he was hoping for.
Ings ran none stop, pestered, closed down and harried the Norwich defence for the duration of his time on the pitch. He not only offered Liverpool an attacking outlet but he also led from the front, asking questions of John Ruddy, Russell Martin and everyone in the Canaries’ back line. His goal was exactly the reward that his endeavour deserved and, alongside Alberto Moreno, was the chief shout for man of the match.
The question his performance has brought up, though, is why hasn’t he been used before now? Given that every Liverpool fan and pundit on Merseyside has been saying since the first game of the season away to Stoke that Chrsitian Benteke desperately needed some support alongside him, how hasn’t Ings been given the opportunity to impress before the sixth game into the season?
Rodgers might argue that he saw the first four games of the season as their own small competition that needed to be weathered before the Reds looked ahead to the rest of the season. He might suggest that Ings played from the start against Manchester United and didn’t overly impress. Yet the fact is that Liverpool were mediocre against Stoke, quite poor at home against Bournemouth, good in the first half against Arsenal at the Emirates but needed to find a way to get men around Benteke and dreadful against West Ham.
There’s also the fact that against Manchester United Ings was asked to play in a wide position; something that his style of play and personality suggest he’s entirely uncomfortable doing. As soon as he was played in the more advanced striker’s role he looked the part, scoring virtually immediately after coming on in the second half and forcing the issue time and again against a Norwich team that were there for the taking.
On The Anfield Wrap’s main show Adam Smith made the point that Luis Suarez has plenty of personality traits that can’t be replaced, but that some of his finer attributes can be replicated even by players that aren’t as good as him. The diminutive Uruguayan is one of the best players in the world and there can be no question about how much Liverpool are missing him. Yet do you really need a player of Suarez’s ability to constantly close down the defence? Must it be one of the best players in the world who counts down how long the goalkeeper has had the ball in his hand and asks questions of the referee?Suarez was a force of nature that cannot easily be replaced; yet Ings went some of the way against Norwich to replicating some of the star striker’s more replaceable attributes. He impressed the Anfield crowd with his willingness to put in a shift in much the same way that Dirk Kuyt got applauded for never stopping running. If Rodgers can find a system that works to include not only Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke but also Danny Ings then there’s no question that Liverpool will look much the better for it.
Defensive Frailties Rear Their Head Again
The always fascinating insights of Andrew Beasley on Twitter threw up another gem this weekend, and that is the amount of times Liverpool appear to concede from shots inside their own box. In short, the Reds tend to concede a lot of the shots they allow to take place from within their own area whilst not scoring with anywhere near the same ratio.
LFC have only allowed 5 shots in their box in last two games, which is good, but four of them have been scored. More: http://t.co/gJOou1JNJc
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) September 21, 2015
Norwich were allowed just two shots from inside Liverpool’s area during the game on Sunday, scoring one of them. The Reds, however, managed fourteen from inside the Canaries’ box and only scored the single time. The worst thing about these facts is that it isn’t a rare occurrence. In the last two matches against Manchester United the Red Devils have been allowed just six shots from inside the box against Liverpool – theoretically great defending. The bad news is that they’ve scored five of those attempts and the sixth was a Mignolet penalty save against Wayne Rooney.
Stoke had only five shots from inside the area but won 6-1, Hull managed four and won 1-0 and Arsenal were allowed ten shots from inside the area, suggesting the Reds were lucky to come away from The Emirates with a point. All of these stats are in Andrew’s excellent blog, which can be read by clicking the link in the embedded tweet above.
Last season, Mr Beasley says, Liverpool allowed an average of 5.7 shots from within their own penalty area and the league average is that a goal will come from one shot in seven. Yet the Reds conceded 48 goals in total in the 2014 – 2015 League campaign. 5.7 shots from within the area every game would result in roughly 217 shots over a 38 game season. Presuming that one in seven of those resulted in a goal that would mean that Liverpool’s goals against tally should be roughly 31, not 48. So were the Reds unlucky enough to concede 17 thunderbolts from outside the area or is the defence under performing in the crucial area?
Whatever the statistical analysis might suggest, the reality is that Liverpool don’t look comfortable at the back. Perhaps it’s because Rodgers has changed his system so many times in between now and last March that the players don’t know what their roles are. Maybe it’s because of the addition of new personnel like Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne. Or it could be because Rodgers himself isn’t great at organising a defence. Whatever the reasoning behind it, things need to change and fast.
One player that did seem to make a difference to the back line was Mamadou Sakho. The Frenchman has found himself playing second fiddle to Dejan Lovren this season as Brendan Rodgers has tried to play the Croatian centre back into form. The problem is that Lovren has not looked anything like the player many were expecting him to be since his big money move to Liverpool from Southampton in the summer of 2014. He was signed with the promise that he was a defensive leader, yet he only seems to have led the defence further and further into trouble.
For all that Sakho may look a little uncomfortable on the ball at times he was a marked improvement on his rival for the left sided centre back slot. He was calm, composed, won everything in the air and gave the defence a new found sense of collectiveness that it’s been lacking so far this season. Emre Can looked a natural fit in the right side of the back three and Martin Skrtel looked decidedly more assured without having to worry about what Lovren was going to be getting up to next to him.
Much like with Danny Ings, Sakho’s performance impressed the crowd and should tell Rodgers everything he needs to know about his defensive choices moving forward. Where Lovren gives an aura of unpredictability and destabilisation, Sakho oozes class and calm and will surely bring the best out of those around him. If Rodgers seriously wants to keep his job he would do well to use the Frenchman as often as possible in his back line.
Rodgers On Borrowed Time?
There is a section of Liverpool’s support that has never liked Brendan Rodgers. Whether it was the ‘Brentisms’ that the manager was guilty of during the filming of the American documentary Being: Liverpool or whether it was because he was appointed manager when Rafa Benitez wasn’t even given a look in, there’s no way to tell. Whatever the cause, the manager will never be able to win over that particular group of people. The problem the Northern Irishman’s got, though, is that he’s starting to lose the rest of the support base, too. A quick search for Brendan Rodgers’ name on Twitter leads to some rather depressing results:
There are certain subjects we’ll never agree on,but we can agree on this Brendan Rodgers is a twat
— Joe O’Brien (@joe_obrien34) September 21, 2015
There’s only one face in the world that irritates me more than the sight of Brendan Rodgers and its this cretin pic.twitter.com/tb3Wrhsw9R
— LFCKopiteReds (@alanredmen79) September 21, 2015
Zouma mistakenly calls Costa a cheat and the whole media turns on him.Brendan Rodgers is scamming Liverpool Football Club but they dont care
— alam (@ssnhqfirmino) September 21, 2015
Those are some of the more polite tweets we could find. Sufficed to say, then, that lots of Liverpool fans aren’t happy with the performance of the manager. What makes it worse is that he is also being subjected to extraordinary levels of personal abuse, with people feeling as though his failings as Liverpool manager are somehow deliberate and that it’s ok to call the man a ‘fraud’ at every opportunity.
It’s difficult to argue with the point of view that suggests that Rodgers is out of his depth at Anfield. The glorious, free flowing attacking play of the 2013 – 2014 season now seems like a distant memory or a strange mirage. In that season Liverpool scored 101 goals; so far in this season the Reds have managed just four.
It feels as though Rodgers is living on borrowed time and although comparisons to Roy Hodgson are extraordinarily unfair there is one fact that both managers share: the loss of the crowd. Roy Hodgson never made an attempt to understand the culture of Liverpool Football Club. He never had the least bit of respect for Liverpool fans or those associated with the club. He saw his time in the Liverpool hot seat as the perfect stepping stone to the England manager’s job and felt that he was hard done to during his time at Anfield. He once criticised a local journalist for being “too Scouse”, for example. There was also the time that he declared that even Jose Mourinho thought the rebuilding job at Liverpool was a tough one and that perhaps the press should quote “the great man himself”. Telling Liverpool fans Jose Mourinho is a great man was never likely to win him many friends.
Whatever criticisms you can lay at Rodgers’ door you cannot suggest that he doesn’t understand the culture of the club or doesn’t appreciate the fans. He has thrown himself into life in Liverpool and has shown a huge amount of respect for organisations such as the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Support Group. Perhaps his harshest critics would do well to remember these things next time they go to call him a fraud.
The problem is, though, that Liverpool haven’t been playing well enough for a considerable amount of time. Their poor run of form is not just a problem the fans have had to cope with this season but is instead a continuation of poor play that has dogged Liverpool since Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip against Chelsea during their title run in of 2014.
Now that even the more moderate supporters are beginning to lose faith in Rodgers it feels like it’s only a matter of time before the manager is removed from the firing line permanently. The biggest question that FSG have to answer – and perhaps the reason that Rodgers is still in a job – is who would replace him? With the Liverpool owners reportedly not keen on Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti not necessarily an ideal fit, it could be that Rodgers is the best option available to the Reds for the time being.
Liverpool showed some signs of improvement against Norwich, with Daniel Sturridge’s return from injury coming at the ideal time. Yet they still couldn’t muster three points against a newly promoted side and over the last twelve months eleven different teams have left Anfield with at least a point. That’s simply not good enough whichever way you look at it and something needs to be done to change the current trajectory that the club is on.
Last season there were a number of mitigating factors that Rodgers had to deal with: Steven Gerrard’s long goodbye and gradual decline, the departure of Luis Suarez, the injury to Daniel Sturridge and the complete ineffectiveness of Mario Balotelli to name just a few. This summer Rodgers has been given the backing in the transfer market that he claimed he needed and has also been allowed to change around his backroom team. Change, change and more change has taken place at Liverpool, yet there doesn’t seem to be all that much difference to the way the team plays on the pitch. In fact, there are just two constants at Liverpool Football Club at the moment: Disappointing performances and Brendan Rodgers. Will the former change if the latter is removed from power? Only time will tell, but the clock is well and truly ticking.