Liverpool take the lead, Liverpool concede a goal, the match ends in a draw. Haven’t we been here before? FC Sion were 7th in the Swiss league when they arrived at Anfield for the second group game of the Europa League on Thursday night. At the weekend their owner had branded them a ‘disgrace’ when they lost 1-0 to their rivals. They are hardly the European greats the Anfield faithful is used to watching.
Yet they did what teams like Juventus and Barcelona have failed to do at the famous old ground in the past – left unbeaten after a match in front of the Kop. How the mighty have fallen. Were there any clear reasons for the failure, or was it an accumulation of things? What are the major talking points of the game? We have a look at some of the key take aways from yet another disappointing home draw.
Consistency Is Key
Rodgers deserves some of the criticism that has been coming his way over the past couple of months and some of the harsh words are unfair. One thing he keeps doing, though, is making his own job harder. Virtually every game this season the players have taken to the pitch and looked like strangers who don’t know what the players next to them are going to do – most of the time it’s because that’s exactly what’s happened.
The Liverpool manager said during the summer than the amount of signings that the club had made would allow him to consider picking one team for the cup matches and a different one for the league. It’s an ambitious idea and perhaps one he might consider more readily if his job wasn’t under imminent danger.
When your back is against the wall, though, and you know that one or two wrong steps could mean the end of your tenure at the football club it’s a lot more difficult to put faith in kids or players who you don’t particularly trust. If Liverpool were flying in the league and the fans were singing Rodgers’ name from the Kop once more, would Luis Enrique get a run out in the League Cup, for example? Possibly.
The problem Rodgers has given himself is that he’s trusting some kids, some of the time and sticking with experience at others. He’s not confident enough about Divock Origi’s ability to start him against League Two teams in a knockout competition like the League Cup, but he’ll play him in compeitions that one defeat won’t spell disaster like the Europa League. Danny Ings has made a great impression since he came on and scored in the match versus Norwich at Anfield, meaning that he’s now a nailed on starter in the league alongside Daniel Sturridge until Christian Benteke returns from injury and gives the manager food for thought. The problem, however, is that Rodgers also wants Ings to lead the line in the cup games meaning he’s running him into the ground.
Rodgers started the season determined to get the team playing 4-3-3 only to abandon that plan when the results weren’t forthcoming. He’s reverted to a 5-3-2/3-5-2 as the games have gone by, meaning the players who have spent the pre-season getting used to playing in a particular way are now throwing all of that work out of the window to get themselves accustomed to the new tactical whims of the manager.
Chopping and changing of formations, ideas and playing staff isn’t helping anyone. How is Jordan Rossiter supposed to make a good impression when he’s playing alongside Emre Can one minute and then Joe Allen the next? How are the players supposed to develop relationships if they’re never given a chance to learn each other’s habits and styles during matches?
If Rodgers had had the courage of his conviction from the start of the season he might have been able to witness the benefits of that now. Putting faith in one team for the early stages of the Europa League and the League Cup and picking an entirely different XI for the league would not only give the players that opportunity to learn from each other but it would also give him time to work on the formations and ideas that he wants to use moving forward. Consistency is useful in all forms of life, but it is especially true in football. When your back is against the wall you will inevitably feel the need to defend yourself, but the irony is that Rodgers is at his best when he’s balls out brave; unless he remembers that – and soon – he’ll continue to be under serious pressure.
It used to be the cast that history repeating at Anfield would mean another team leaving the famous old ground disappointed; it would mean flags being waved on the Kop as a floodlit European game brought out the best of those in the stand as well as the lads on the pitch. Now it means another 1-1 draw with opposition Liverpool really should be putting to the sword.
Here are some stats for you courtesy of @BassTunedToRed: For four games in a row at Anfield Liverpool have had at least 14 shots from inside the opposition’s box, but from almost 6.5 hours play they’ve scored just six and conceded five. That’s at least 56 shots from within the opposition’s area over the last four games and roughly just one in ten of those shots have resulted in a goal. According to Opta Liverpool had seven clear cut chances against Sion, clear cut chances are defined as “a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one-on-one scenario from very close range”.
For five games in a row Liverpool have taken the lead, but have only won one of those five. The other four games have ended in 1-1 draws with the equalising goal being scored after sixteen, thirteen, eleven and fourteen minutes have elapsed after the opening goal. Liverpool have then been unable to regain the lead in four out of the five games.
Combine both of the above bits of information with the fact that Liverpool have had five, seven, seven and eight shots on target inside the box in the last four games and you have to feel that Liverpool really should be battering teams. Dan Kennett on Twitter confirmed as much:
4 #LFC homes in a row vs Norwich, Carlisle, Villa and Sion 111 shots to 33 43 on target to 12 6 goals to 5 3 draws and a 3-2 win
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) October 1, 2015
Just to repeat, that’s one hundred and eleven shots resulting in six goals. Something is going very, very wrong at Liverpool and it really needs to be sorted. Rodgers seems to be desperately relieved that Daniel Sturridge is back, and understandably so, he is diamond class. But the team can’t keep relying on the England striker, especially considering his injury record; to do so would be folly.
Maybe it’s a lack of coherent tactics; perhaps it’s about players not being played regularly or in their favourite positions; possibly it’s because the players are feeling the pressure and can’t relax the necessary amount to put the ball in the back of the net. There’s no real way to tell, of course. Yet someone other than Sturridge needs to take on the mantel of putting the ball into the back of the net, because at the moment the chances are being created, but no one knows how to take them.
Everyone’s To Blame
Let’s get this right, Brendan Rodgers absolutely deserves no end of criticism for the results Liverpool have been getting over the past eighteen months. For some people it’s all about the manager and they are fixated on the notion that as soon as he goes and is replaced by someone else everything will be ok. Sadly, though, that’s simply not true and people other than the manager need to stand up and be counted.
There’s no question that Rodgers’ time in the Anfield hot seat is ever more rapidly approaching its conclusion, yet to too many people the idea of saying that the likes of the players need to be held accountable is suggestive of being a Brendan Rodgers ‘apologist’. That might be true if the suggestion was that he’s been unlucky, or that he shouldn’t be blamed for faults within the club’s current structure. Both of those things are true, of course, but neither should be changing the way the man himself approaches games and makes his tactical decisions.
Yet players need to do more to help the manager out once they’ve crossed the white line and the match has got underway. Martin Skrtel is now the most senior professional in Liverpool’s regular back line and has been at the club for eight years, so why is he so silent at virtually all times during a game? Why was Dejan Lovren brought in with the instruction to be a ‘leader’ of the defence when Skrtel is a staple member of the back line?
Why isn’t anyone putting their foot on the ball when Liverpool are coming under pressure and trying to control the game? Where was Joe Allen’s assistance to Jordan Rossiter during the game against Sion, talking him through the game and helping him develop? Adam Lallana was captain at Southampton and yet has become something of a mute since pulling on the Red shirt of Liverpool. Nathaniel Clyne was the best right back in the Premier League last season, and though it’s fair to say that he would prefer to play as a right back in a 4-4-2 in this team more than as a right wing back in the 3-5-2 that’s currently being deployed, does his being played out of position really excuse his inability to find someone in the same colour shirt as him when he gave the ball away for Sion’s equaliser?
Kolo Toure has won league titles, yet he disappeared completely when the Sion striker was on the attack. Do even the most vociferous of the manager’s critics really believe that that sort of terrible defending is being instructed to occur from the side lines? Asking why the manager still hasn’t brought in anyone to work with the defence is an entirely fair question, but the least he might expect is that someone of Toure’s experience might decide to run towards danger rather than away from it.
Plus, of course, there’s the already mentioned inability to score that we really need to talk about. Are the embarrassing sorts who call the manager ‘Brenda’ or ‘Brodgers’ and end every tweet with #RodgersOut really convinced that it’s the Northern Irishman’s fault that no one apart from Daniel Sturridge seems to know how to put the ball in the back of the net when they’ve only got the ‘keeper to beat?
It’s not just morons on Twitter who deserve to be brought to account, either. Anfield is no longer the fortress of old on the pitch nor the intimidating arena it used to be off it. Here’s a quote from an interview with Jamie Redknapp in Simon Hughes’s excellent book ‘Men In White Suits’:
“Then there are other times when it’s going badly. You’re a goal down and you’re giving the ball away. The crowd are on you. Individuals in their seats wait for a moment when it’s quiet inside Anfield to give you a bit of stick. Each match is like life in ninety minutes because it encapsulates all of the extreme emotions you feel… It’s a pressure cooker…
“…There were games when everything went right. You had forty five thousand people roaring your name or celebrating a goal… When you spray a pass thirty yards and it meets the target and everyone applauds, you feel like a million dollars”.
In other words, the players can hear the crowd and react to it. If Jordan Ibe or Divock Origi do something you’re not happy with, you might feel a little bit better when you give them down the banks, but how’s it going to make them feel? They’ll hardly get a warm glow inside and look forward to playing in front of the home ground again next week, will they?
It’s ok to feel frustration watching football matches, especially when your team’s playing the team that is seventh in a league it would be difficult to name six other teams from and the team can’t get a result. But wouldn’t it be better, just maybe, to turn your frustration on the opposition rather than on the team you’re supposed to support?
As Jamie Redknapp says, getting applause from the crowd makes the players feel like ‘a million dollars’, so wouldn’t they stand more chance of giving a million dollar performance if they got applause rather than abuse? Maybe you think Origi is absolute bobbins; perhaps you genuinely do think the manager is a ‘fraud’; it’s possible that James Milner has you feeling disappointed after he arrived with such promise; but surely letting all of them know that really isn’t helping anyone?
The manager has found his position as the head of Liverpool Football Club’s playing staff under immense scrutiny, and deservedly so. But he’s not the only one who needs to have a look at himself in the coming days and weeks. The players need to offer everything they can on the pitch and the fans need to give every ounce of support from the stands – if we’re not all pulling in the same direction then, new manager or not, what chance have we got?