Liverpool 1 – Carlisle 1 After 90 Minutes And AET, 3-2 On Penalties
Some people might say that a win’s a win. Others might suggest that a lower league team coming to Anfield and putting in a dogged display of grit and fight isn’t anything new and that we shouldn’t read anything in to it. Yet the reality is that, on and off the pitch, the League Cup match against Carlisle was nothing short of a professional embarrassment.
There are, perhaps, one or two positives to take from the game. The overwhelming feeling of everyone who watched Liverpool toil and struggle against a League Two team, however, was one of disappointment and disillusionment. Despite having talked about the manager to some extent in most of our recent pieces it’s virtually impossible to discuss the game against Carlisle without making reference to the manager and the tricky situation he finds himself in. As always, we’ve broken our piece into sections so feel free to read the whole thing or just to skip to the bit you’re interested in. Make sure you tweet, comment or choose some other way to get involved, though!
Accentuating The Positives
This piece is likely to be overwhelmingly negative in its feel. That’s somewhat natural after any poor performance, let alone a poor performance that comes in the midst of a host of poor performances. Yet before we get too doomy and gloomy it’s only fair that we discuss the one of two positives that came out of the game last night – as long as you scratch beneath the mediocre surface.
Emre Can appears to have got his groove back, for example. The German youngster, who is only 21 despite the fact that he looks like he’s about 32, has had a tricky couple of months at Anfield after earlier impressing and suggesting he had enough promise to make a real go of his Liverpool career.
Can arrived at Liverpool from Bayern Leverkusen with a reputation of being a dynamic midfielder who can also play in numerous defensive roles. Brendan Rodgers obviously rated him and played him in several different positions in a number of varied formations last season as he tried to find a role for him. Eventually it seemed as though he’d found his niche when the manager played a back three and put Can on the right side of the defence alongside Martin Skrtel.
Yet when the Reds struggled to beat Swansea and then lost 2-1 to Manchester United at Anfield the Northern Irishman abandoned his back three in order to try out a 4-3-3 formation, meaning Can was no longer part of a defensive trio and was instead asked to play as a right back. He was never at home in the out and out defensive position the manager asked him to take up, being humiliated by talented wingers and giving away more than one penalty in the process.
At the start of this season the manager was once again determined to make a 4-3-3 formation work, yet he was also keen to move Can out of the defence due to the arrival of Nathaniel Clyne and yet keep him in the team wherever possible. This meant playing him in various midfield positions, none of which seemed to suit the wunderkind. He saw himself as a midfielder and yet couldn’t influence the game to a satisfactory degree from the middle of the park. He doesn’t particularly want to become a defender, but his best work has come when he’s been asked to play at the back and break forward when the opportunity to do so presents itself. In short, he wasn’t happy wherever he was being played and looked a little lost in a Liverpool team that is desperate to be found.
When he was called up to the German squad at the end of August, he was delighted. Interestingly, Joachim Low put him in the squad as a defender and that was the position he played in when he got his debut for the national team, being part of a defensive unit that conceded one goal but watched the attackers score three, giving the Germans a victory over Poland that saw them head to the summit of their qualifying group.
Whether it was his call up to represent his country, the fact that Low saw him as a defensive player or something the Germany manager said to him during his time away on international duty remains unclear, but the one thing that can’t be questioned is that he looks a different player. For two games in a row he has been defensively sold whilst giving the team a good outlet moving forward, finding space and making intelligent passes. His wonderful, confident panenka penalty deserves plenty of plaudits at a time when everyone else seemed to be losing their heads completely.
Special mention should also be given to Alberto Moreno. The Spanish left back was left out of the team at the start of the season, as Brendan Rodgers seemed to favour the newly signed Joe Gomez over him, despite the fact that the 18 year old from Charlton is actually a right footed centre back. Some players may have let their head’s dip when their manager showed such a lack of faith in them. Moreno, though, has shown incredible mental fortitude and has, if anything, come back stronger than he was last season.
His performance against Carlisle wasn’t world beating, but then he isn’t exactly playing in a team that is brimming with confidence, either. He did the basics well, looked solid at the back and provided options going forward – all of which is about as good as it can possibly get for a left back who isn’t Roberto Carlos.
Finally we’ll give some slightly tempered praise to Adam Bogdan. The reality is that the goalkeeper should have done better for Carlisle’s opening goal, but he wasn’t helped out much by a defence and midfield that decided to abandon any pretence of being bothered about stopping the league two side. He was great in the penalty shoot out, though, saving three of Carlisle’s attempts, and that deserves some credit.
Where Have The Goals Gone?
Liverpool have got some serious problems. Their ‘goals for’ column dating back as far as the game against QPR on May 2nd looks like a computer programmer’s binary combination: 1, 1, 1, 1, 0, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1. Miss out the 2-1 win over QPR and it doesn’t look much better, with a 2-0 win over Newcastle being the outlier rather than the common theme. In fact, you’ve got to go as far back as the start of March to find two games in a row in which Liverpool managed to score more than one goal, with a 2-0 win over Burnley followed by a 2-1 win over Manchester City. After that up until the QPR game the ‘goals for’ column goes: 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 0, 0. That’s eighteen goals in twenty one games. Hardly the breath taking football we all got so used to experiencing in the 2013 – 2014 season.
Rodgers has, to give him some credit, looked at numerous different ways to stop the paucity of goals from becoming a regular thing. He’s changed formations, tried different players in the forward positions, told the players to shoot on sight; yet nothing seems to be making a difference to the amount of times the Reds are able to score in a game. Why not? Something in Liverpool’s attacking play just isn’t working out. Let’s have a look at the amount of attempts on goal Liverpool have had this season, how many of them have been on target, who they were playing and how many goals those attempts resulted in:
Those stats come from the BBC’s match reports and they make for decidedly grim reading. 47 shots on goal against Carlisle, only 16 of which were on target and most of which seemed to come from outside the area. It’s no surprise, though, as it seems that whether Liverpool take 47 shots or 4, they’re incapable of scoring more than one goal in a game. The stats don’t get any better if you go back to the end of last season either, but we’re not going to do that lest we lose the will to live.
Is it a mental issue? Are the players performing under such intense pressure that they can’t handle it when it comes to the putting of the ball into the back of the net? It’s possible. Right now no one at Anfield seems to be happy, nor do they quite seem to know what they’re supposed to be doing. Liverpool’s assistant manager, Gary McCallister, seemed to suggest that the players had been actively encouraged to have a go at goal. He said after the match, “We’ve been asking the players to step forward and take more responsibility and we had that tonight – we just didn’t worry the keeper enough. The players have to trust themselves and they kept trying – no one shied away from it”.
It’s a worrying thing if the hierarchy at Anfield think that asking the players to shoot on sight will be the answer to all of their prayers. Ironically it actually seemed as though some of the players were reluctant to shoot when they got into good position, instead opting to shift it out wide or else look to pass to someone else. The only time players were keen to have a go was when they were about forty yards from goal and had the entire Carlisle team to beat if they were hoping to get a goal.
Goals, shots, targets and statistics; it’s all a load of nonsense at the end of the day. The simple truth is that Liverpool failed to beat a team that is 65 places below them in the football league. Carlisle didn’t even play that well, as it happens. Yes they put eleven men behind the ball and defended resolutely; no they didn’t really show any desire to try and win the game and set up in a manner that suggested that they wanted to take the game to penalties; but in truth they were quite poor on the ball. They often mis-controlled it, over hit passes or just plain kicked it straight out for a throw in. They played like a team that is in the fourth division of English football and yet they were never once punished for it.
Asking About Anfield
Anfield is a physical place, of course, but it’s also a spiritual home. It is the location most Liverpool fans think of as being like their Mecca; from the fans who live on the other side of the world and may never visit the place through to the locals who live in its shadow and traipse along to it for every home game, it holds a special place in the heart of Liverpool fans.
Yet in recent times it has lost its verve and energy. Most Liverpool fans never again thought they would see the sort of scenes they experienced when thousands of people lined the streets to welcome the team bus to the ground in the closing stages of the Reds’ doomed title tilt of 2013 – 2014, though plenty might have hoped to occasionally hear something of an atmosphere inside the ground.
In truth there hasn’t been a regularly good atmosphere inside the ground for years. The title tilt of two years ago was an anomaly, not the norm. Opposition fans regularly ask ‘where’s your famous atmosphere’ or offer to ‘sing a song for you’, blithely ignoring the fact that atmosphere’s around the country are genuinely terrible most of the time.
Something about the way Anfield was in Liverpool’s game against Carlisle saw things drop to a new low, however. There is no question that the 96 victims of Hillsborough deserve respect and should never be forgotten. Yet it also seemed as if the chant of ‘stand up for the 96’ that emanated from the Kop during the match was done to generate a false sense of an atmosphere rather than because of those more noble reasons. It felt cynical and wrong, not full of a sense of justice or outrage as it has in the past. It is not without irony, either, that Liverpool’s goal came when the chant was going on – the one moment of atmosphere in the ground during the 120 minutes of the game that wasn’t generated by the Carlisle fans.
There was also the fact that the fans inside the ground needed the game to go to penalties before they offered any intimidation to the Carlisle players or support for the lads in the Liverpool shirts. They booed those in blue and applauded those in red with gusto as they walked up to take each penalty, happily pretending that they hadn’t been as quiet as mice for the preceding two hours. When a Liverpool player missed a penalty the travelling Carlisle fans chanted ‘who are you?’ to the Kop, only for the Kop to return the chant when the opposition missed one of theirs. This was embarrassment in the extreme, asking supporters of a team 65 places below who they are after the team those supporters follow had been given enough time and space on the ball to mean their fans could chant ‘olés’ for five minutes.
From the moment You’ll Never Walk Alone was sang in a mournful, depressing manner through to the final whilst at the end of the penalties, the Anfield faithful completely failed to cover itself in glory. Of course it’s fair to point out that they haven’t had much to sing about in recent years, but there was a time when the Kop was rumoured to be able to suck the ball into the back of the net and make the Liverpool players feel like they were ten foot tall; those days are well and truly over.
Calling Time On Rodgers
We’ve been ardent supporters of Brendan Rodgers here in the And Could He Play offices. We are firm believers in the fact that he was a large part of the reason that Liverpool nearly won the title in 2013 – 2014. Back in May we had a look at the stats surrounding Luis Suarez before and after Rodgers’ arrival at the club and proved with stats that the Uruguayan’s explosion in form was in no small part thanks to the work the Northern Irishman did with him and the way he set up his team (https://www.andcouldheplay.com/brendan-rodgers-a-discussion/).
We accepted that last season there were a number of mitigating factors that needed to be taken into account when considering the team’s performance and Rodgers’ future. Despite what some might want to believe, the decline of Steven Gerrard and the way the club handled his departure weren’t ideal things to be dealing with last season; especially when combined with the outright heartache so many people were feeling in the aftermath of the aborted title challenge. Losing Luis Suarez to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge to injury for the season were massive blows to the manager, as was the complete and utter ineptitude and dreadful attitude of Mario Balotelli after his high profile arrival at Anfield.
We’ve not only resisted the disrespect and name calling that has been sent in the manager’s direction, we’ve also called people out on it time and again. He isn’t a fraud, he isn’t ‘shit’ and he isn’t a money grabbing so and so either. He is blatantly a nice man that wants to do his very best for Liverpool Football Club but who has lost his way and doesn’t know how to re-discover himself. We were desperate for him to do just that and genuinely believed that, with the right tools behind him and a little bit of time and patience in front of him he’d be able to do exactly that.
Now we’re ready to call time on his stint in the Anfield hot seat.
For whatever reason this current incarnation of Liverpool doesn’t know how to get itself going again and is now slipping and sliding its way towards mediocrity until someone in the management structure decides to pull the plug on the life support machine that is keeping Brendan Rodgers’ time as Liverpool manager going when everyone else can see it should have been given a sticker that says ‘do not resuscitate’.
Fenway Sports Group had a chance to call time on it all in the summer, but they neglected to take it. They felt that the mitigating circumstances we’ve mentioned above made a strong enough case to allow the manager to carry on and made a good fist of it, but they failed to realise the extent of the malaise that has set in at Anfield. The majority of fans lost their faith in the manager’s ability to bring things back around when the team lost 6-1 away to Stoke and it was going to take a genuinely incredible start to the season to win them around again.
Not only has that start to the season not materialised, it seems as if Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool team has actually gone backwards. A host of new players need to be bedded in – again – and now a brand new backroom staff has been added to the pile of problems and broken dreams.
Brendan Rodgers is not a fraud. The Northern Irishman might be guilty of over talking, trying to take credit for the good times and avoid criticism for some of the bad and even of being a little bit too self-congratulatory. Yet all of that is the sort of thing that often comes along with a person who has a ton of self-belief, and manager will succeed in the Premier League without a huge degree of self-belief.
We hope Rodgers goes on to have a brilliant career elsewhere. He came to Liverpool and learnt about the club’s traditions, threw himself in to the way the fans see things and made every effort to respect the history of Liverpool Football Club. He doesn’t deserve our disdain, just our sympathy that things haven’t worked out. Now it’s time for him to wave goodbye to the Kop and move on to pastures new. Anything less than a quick, painless goodbye would be unfair to the man himself and detrimental to the football club – something neither party wants nor deserves.