There’s no real way of discussing the weekend’s Merseyside derby without it becoming a discussion of Brendan Rodgers’ tenure in the Liverpool hot seat, given that the game became the Northern Irishman’s final one in charge of the Reds. We’ll certainly spend some time talking about the departing gaffer, but of course there’s also an actual football match to talk about.
Liverpool took the lead before conceding within just a few minutes, meaning it’s difficult to look at the match without it being a conversation about history repeating. Of course with the departure of the manager some of the more tactical issues with Liverpool’s display could become somewhat moot, but we’ll still have to talk about it – this is a match review after all! Whether in the comments or via Twitter, do let us know what you think and if we picked the right talking points!
Rodgers Over And Out
Under the Northern Irishman Liverpool have played 166 games, winning 85 of them, drawing 39 and losing 42. They have scored 293 goals and conceded 201, a stat that perhaps sums up the Ulsterman’s time in charge of the Anfield hot seat; scoring goals haven’t been a problem for the most part, stopping the opposition scoring really, really has been.
There has been a groundswell of desire to see Brendan Rodgers given his marching orders from vast swathes of Liverpool supporters for the best part of nine months or so, with the Rodgers Out brigade finding their voices reaching a crescendo in the last few weeks. Finally, after yet another underwhelming performance, John W Henry and Fenway Sports Group said ‘enough is enough’. But have they made the correct decision?
For most right thinking Liverpool fans, who wouldn’t consider a manager’s teeth or marital status to be particularly relevant to his abilities as a manager, it’s impossible to separate a discussion of Brendan Rodgers’ tenure as Liverpool manager without making passing comment to the 2013 – 2014 season. Liverpool came within a Steven Gerrard slip of winning their ever Premier League title and their first top flight crown since 1990. They played football that was absolutely glorious; swashbuckling, attacking and completely without fear.
Simon Mignolet might have got bored of picking the ball out of the net that season, but Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge never tired of sticking it into the back of the opposition goalkeeper’s net. It was the very epitome of playground football, full of joy and wonder and a ‘next goal the winner’ attitude. Rodgers might not have intended to play that way when he arrived at the club, but he very quickly abandoned his plans in order to harness the power of his front two, the speed and youthful vitality of Raheem Sterling and the through ball genius of Philippe Coutinho.
Anfield bounced; the streets were lined with fans welcoming the team to the ground and the city of Liverpool was alive with the hope of possibilities. For the first time in a long time talking about Liverpool Football Club didn’t involve any amount of caveats. It was no longer important to march against the owners or complain about the ineptitude of the owl faced manager. It was about eleven man all clad in Red and making you feel young again. That was thanks to Brendan Rodgers and, though Liverpool ultimately fell short, he should be given a huge amount of thanks and praise for the way he made us feel.
Like all of the best parties, though, it had to come to an end sooner or later. Luis Suarez left the disco early, taking his ball – and his feet – to Barcelona. Daniel Sturridge was like the fella who had drank too much, sitting drunk in the corner and not able to dance any more. Raheem Sterling found out there was a better doo going on elsewhere and figured if he couldn’t get the girl at our gaff he may as well investigate what it would be like to strut his stuff in the new fangled disco on the other side of town.
Rodgers, like the DJ who tries to put on the best tunes he’s got to keep the party going, threw on as many hits as he could think of for the last half an hour, but ultimately he couldn’t find the right song to please the masses and everything just petered out. Perhaps it might have been different if Sturridge hadn’t been injured. Maybe he would still be in charge of the club if FSG had gone all out to persuade Alexis Sanchez to move to Merseyside rather than London. Sadly we’ll never really know, but whatever the excuses the reality is that time seems to have been up on the manager since the meek surrender to Manchester United at Anfield on 22nd of March.
Since then Liverpool have played 22 competitive matches in all competitions, winning just seven with one of those victories coming after a penalty shoot out. They’ve only managed to score more than one goal in a match on three occasions, and even those games were against QPR, Newcastle and Aston Villa. They’ve lost eight of the 22 games, drawing the other seven. Out of those draws there were five 1-1 finishes, six if you include the match against Carlisle.
Even more worryingly the victories haven’t been in tough matches but, rather, in games that Liverpool Football Club would be expected to win regardless of circumstance. We have beaten Blackburn, who currently sit 15th in the Championship; Newcastle who are currently rock bottom of the Premier League and were in free fall at the time under the doomed management of John Carver; QPR who were in the relegation zone at the time and are now 11th in the Championship; Stoke City who have had a terrible start to the season and are 14th in the Premier League as things stand; Bournemouth who are a newly promoted team and are 15th in the Premier League; Carlisle who currently sit in 8th position in League Two and who we could only manage one goal against in 120 minutes of football; and an Aston Villa team that are currently 18th in the Premier League and seem destined for a relegation battle under Tim Sherwood.
Perhaps even more alarming was Brendan Rodgers’ away form against the top four (Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United) and Everton. He has played eighteen games against this group of teams and has mustered just one victory. Even that was against Manchester United when David Moyes was their manager. His team has drawn nine, lost eight of the remaining games, scoring twenty and conceding thirty two in the process.
There is a temptation for Rodgers’ critics to try to re-write the history of 2013 -2014 and attempt to claim it was in spite of the manager, not because of him. All of the best minds in football consider this to be an absolute nonsense. Luis Suarez may have hit form, but Brendan Rodgers helped him find it and then set up the team to take complete advantage of it. Unfortunately, though, history couldn’t repeat itself. Like Roy Evans, Gerrard Houllier and Rafa Benitez before him, Rodgers had one good crack at the title but ultimately fell short of the prize. That’s not to be dismissed, but rather remembered fondly and thought back on as the best of times. Throughout his time at the club he behaved with dignity and respect towards the club, learning its traditions and trying hard to understand the supporters. It didn’t work out and it was the right time for him to leave, but there should be no pleasure in his departure; just sadness that it didn’t work out for a man who gave his all.
Sakho Is Immense
Given this is a match review there really must be a discussion of the actual match itself, though hopefully you’ll understand why we felt it necessary to spend so long talking about the outgoing manager. We’ll start our discussion of the game with a bit of a chat about Mamadou Sakho, the French defender who gets nowhere near the amount of credit he deserves.
There’s a notion in football of confirmation bias; the idea that you form a certain opinion about someone or something and then can only see the incidents that back up your original thought. Mamadou Sakho is very much a victim of confirmation bias as far as plenty of supporters and the vast majority of pundits are concerned. For the average fan to suffer from confirmation bias is unfortunate but perhaps not overly surprising. For a pundit to do it, however, given that they are paid a not insignificant amount of money to comment on football matches, is inexcusable.
Sakho is a tall, slim and perhaps slightly ungainly looking footballer. He doesn’t have the natural poise and elegance of, say, a Rio Ferdinand or Alan Hansen, meaning those that don’t like the look of him will always feel he’s not great on the ball. Here’s some stats on him in the derby, though: He attempted 38 passes and completed 37 of them; he won 100% of the tackles he went in for; he won 75% of his headers; he made seven clearances and he got in one block.
37 passes completed out of 38 attempted. That’s the sort of stat that a ball playing midfielder would be pleased with, let alone a central defender. It’s also important to note that he doesn’t pick easy passes either. He isn’t the sort of player who knocks it back to the goalkeeper or hands it off to a deep lying midfielder. Sakho plays searching, probing balls with pace and energy on them. He plays the sort of balls that midfielders and strikers love to receive as it allows them to immediately turn and go on the front foot, no need to stop and attempt to put their own pace on it.
Perhaps a criticism could be levelled at him that he’s not enough of a defensive leader, though that would be unfair considering it’s never levelled at Martin Skrtel who is older and has been at the club for a much longer period. Maybe there’s something in the fact that his injury record hasn’t been great during his time on Merseyside. But the simple fact is that Mamadou Sakho is an immensely talented defender who the next manager, regardless of who that is, should be looking to build a team around.
Lukaku Is Liverpool Personified
It’s a strange thing to be talking about an Everton player as the personification of Liverpool Football Club, but it’s a comparison it’s difficult to avoid when you look at it. Prior to the start of the Merseyside rival Graeme Souness, the former Liverpool midfielder and manager, made the observation that Romelu Lukaku, Everton’s Belgian striker, is unplayable on his day, but that he seems to pick and choose when he wants to put the effort in.
Indeed in the derby itself Lukaku was incredible; holding the ball up, shrugging off the attention’s of Liverpool’s defence, bringing other Everton players into the game and getting himself a goal just before the interval. Though Blues’ fans might well have wanted him to offer more, there can be no debate that the Liverpool defence just didn’t know how to deal with him.
The problem for Everton manager Roberto Martinez is that Lukaku is too often found wanting in games. He doesn’t do enough to put poorer teams to the sword and if he doesn’t feel like it’s going to be his day then the effort he makes can be minimal, to say the least. Does that not sound like a certain football club you know and love?
Too often, regardless of manager, Liverpool don’t turn it on enough against poorer opposition. There has been an underserved arrogance about Liverpool Football Club for the duration of the Premier League era, with the team seeming to take to the field with a swagger when they play teams they really should be beating. Roy Evans’ Liverpool kept themselves in with a shout of the league title when they beat Newcastle United 4-3 in the game voted the best ever in the Premier League back in 1996, only for the players to then lose 1-0 to a poor Coventry City team the week after. Rafa Benitez’s Reds went 2-0 down at home to Hull City in the 2008 – 2009 title challenging campaign, came back to 2-2 and then allowed the game to drift away to nothing.
In short, Liverpool have the ability to beat any team in the league on their day and when they really want to do it, just like Lukaku has the running of any defence he comes up against. But, much like the Belgian sometimes just doesn’t fancy it, more often than not the Reds just don’t have the stomach for the fight. The reality is that this is a terrible, terrible league right now. Manchester United have a team that were top until this weekend and their manager’s idea of tactical ingenuity is to play Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia as wing backs and put Marouane Fellaini up front so they can hoof it up to him.
The point is that it shouldn’t actually be that difficult to compete at the top end of the league if you beat the teams that you should beat, realistically amounting to the bottom ten at least. Steam roller those teams, as the Reds did with a reasonable degree of success during the 2013 – 2014 season, and the final outcome of your league position will likely come down to how you get on against the competitors for the places at the top of the table.
Romelu Lukaku gave Liverpool’s defence a torrid time on Sunday. He may have been extremely fortunate to score, given that Emre Can hit the ball directly to him as he stood in the middle of the Reds’ box, but he deserved a goal for the rest of his play during the game. If he can play with that intensity every week then he could compete with Sergio Aguero for the golden boot. If Liverpool can find a way under their new manager to play with the same intensity against the likes of Sunderland and West Brom as they did in the first half against their city neighbours then who knows where the limit of their season could be drawn?
There will be plenty of discussion about Brendan Rodgers’ replacement in the coming days, with Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti the two names most strongly linked with taking over at Anfield. That’s to be expected, and when an announcement is made we’ll be amongst the first to write something about it.
For now, though, we don’t want to move on to the next fella until we’ve properly said goodbye to the last one. Perhaps the derby was the most fitting way for Brendan Rodgers to bow out: plenty of attacking opportunities let down by defensive vulnerabilities. 2013 – 2014 is the most fun the majority of us have had watching football for the past twenty years. There’s no joy in seeing Rodgers leave his post, just sadness that it didn’t turn out differently and gratitude that he was the man who made us dream. So long Brendan, and thanks for everything.