The Wheels Are Wobbling
The Premier League fixtures were announced this morning and things aren’t looking all that rosy for Liverpool Football Club or, more specifically, Brendan Rodgers.
The Liverpool manager has been under intense pressure since the Reds had a rather poor ending to the season. From losing 2-1 at home to Manchester United to getting beaten 4-1 away to Arsenal, things haven’t been great for the Northern Irishman.
A capitulation against Aston Villa in the semi-final of the FA Cup didn’t help his cause, especially given Villa’s manager is the under-appreciated and much mocked ‘Tactics’ Tim Sherwood. The defeat meant that Brendan Rodgers was the first Liverpool manager since the 1950s to be in charge for 3 seasons and yet not win a trophy.
All of those results paled into insignificance, though, when Liverpool lost 6-1 away to Stoke City at The Britannia Stadium on the final day of the season. It was the first time the Reds had conceded 5 goals in the first half in the Premier League era and Liverpool’s worst result since they lost 7-2 to Tottenham in 1963.
A Spectre Awaits
Earlier in the month Jurgen Klopp’s agent gave an interview to the German website Spox.com in which he made some not to subtle hints that the German would be keen to manage Liverpool should the opportunity present itself.
Klopp is undoubtedly the fans’ favourite to take over from Rodgers should he get the chop, with plenty of supporters feeling it’s more a matter of when, not if Rodgers is removed from the Anfield hot-seat.
In fact, there were plenty of people who were surprised that Rodgers survived his recent review from his American paymasters, with some feeling that FSG’s decision to sack Rodgers’s closest allies – in Mike Marsh and his assistant manager Colin Pascoe – has reduced the Irishman’s power to the extent that his position is virtually untenable.
Regardless of whether Rodgers survives the summer – which it certainly looks as though he’s a shoe in to do – the removal of his lieutenants means it will be decidedly easier to bring someone else in should Rodgers fail to get his troops firing on all cylinders when the season begins.
A Tough StartRodgers will not have been pleased to see the fixtures when they were released this morning. The Premier League claims that the fixtures are randomly generated, but away trips to Arsenal, Manchester United and Stoke – the scene of the 6-1 massacre – within the first 5 games of the season don’t seem to be the sort of fixtures that just fall out of a hat when a manager’s under pressure.
In fact, Liverpool’s opening 15 games of the season only generated 18 points in the 2014-2015 season, meaning that if the Reds don’t improve on that score this time around then Brendan Rodgers could be out of a job before you’ve even bought your Christmas presents.
The spectre of Jurgen Klopp will weigh heavy on the Liverpool manager’s mind throughout the rest of the summer and leading in to the start of next season. His presence will surely also be at the forefront of the thinking of John W Henry, Mike Gordon and the others at the top of the FSG moneyball train.
Quotes from Klopp’s agent, Marc Kosicke, such as, “The Premier League is very exciting…not only the top four, there are still other great clubs”, and, “In Germany there is a clear separation between manager and sporting director and I think in principle this is very good” will be music to John Henry’s ears. Especially when you consider that Liverpool were keen to employ a sporting director before Brendan Rodgers persuaded the FSG hierarchy to abandon that idea in favour of him.
Liverpool kick off their campaign away at Stoke where, as we’ve explained, they’ll hope to gain some revenge for the 6-1 defeat they suffered there on the last day of last season.
After that it’s a home fixture against Premier League new boys Bournemouth, before the Reds hit the road again and head to The Emirates where they’ll hope to revenge their 4-1 defeat from last season. There seems to be a theme here, which involves Liverpool hoping for revenge after some heavy defeats…
After Arsenal comes another London club in the form of West Ham, they’ll be Liverpool’s second visitors of the campaign. Then it’s a trip along the M56 to face the old enemy, Manchester United.
There’s a little respite after the trip to Old Trafford, but only a little bit. The Reds host Norwich, though sadly Luis Suarez is no longer around to have his own goal of the season competition against John Ruddy, then they play host to Aston Villa. On paper that should be an easy enough fixture, with the Reds given a chance to get their own back after the FA Cup semi defeat. Yet Villa have a good record at Anfield in recent seasons and no one will be overly keen to welcome the Villains to Merseyside this time around.
The Merseyside derby is scheduled to be the first game in October, and normality has been restored with the first derby being at Goodison, after last season’s anomaly that saw the first one played at Anfield. The rest of the October fixtures go Spurs away, Southampton at home and Chelsea away. Thankfully it’s mathematically impossible for the Reds to have to make a guard of honour for Jose Mourinho’s team as they did last season.
November sees Liverpool host Crystal Palace, before it’s a trip to The Etihad in order to take on the team that finished ahead of the Reds when they came so close to a first Premier League title in 2014. The month is rounded off by the visit of Rodgers’s former team Swansea – presuming he’s still in charge at that point.
The busy month of December starts off with Liverpool having to head to the North-East to take on Newcastle before returning to Merseyside in order to play host to West Brom. That comes before 3 fixtures against teams that have either only just been promoted or else struggled in the relegation battle last season. It starts with an away game against Watford, then Leicester City travel to Anfield on Boxing Day and Liverpool head back to the North-East to face Sunderland just two days later.
January starts in London for Liverpool, with West Ham being the first game of 2016. Arsenal could well come back on the coach with Liverpool to Merseyside, as they’re at Anfield in the next game. On the back of the visit of Arsenal Brendan Rodgers might be hoping for a bit of a break, but there isn’t one. Straight after the Gunners it’s the Red Devils at Anfield, as Manchester United would love to repeat their feat from last season and beat their old rivals on their home turf once again.
Away to Norwich and away to Leicester City are the next two fixtures, before Liverpool host Sunderland and then travel to Birmingham for the return match against Aston Villa.
The month of Valentine will be rounded off for Liverpool by the visit of Everton, with Rodgers desperately hopeful that he’ll be able to send Jurgen Klopp a love letter or two with a return address of Melwood. The Reds will then host Manchester City before heading back down to London for a game against Crystal Palace. This time it’s Chelsea who could join them on the coach back, with Mourinho’s team due at Anfield after the Reds have played The Eagles.
Liverpool then go on to face Southampton at St. Mary’s before hosting Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke in succession. Away to Bournemouth, home to Newcastle and away to Swansea are the matches that see out the month of March for Liverpool.
That leaves just two fixtures left to play for the Reds, starting with a home game against Watford. After The Hornets have been to Anfield it’s Liverpool who hit the road, finishing the 2015-2016 season at The Hawthorns with a game against West Brom.
What Does It All Mean?
Right now it feels like it’s all doom and gloom for Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers. As far as fan and press reaction is concerned, the Reds will be lucky to get through the first 5 games with more than about 4 points.
Yet football changes quickly and if Liverpool were to come through games against Arsenal, Manchester United and Stoke with maximum points then the table will have turned. There are plenty that feel as though the players gave up on Rodgers at the end of last season. There were numerous moments of shoulder shrugging, of players looking lost and confused on the pitch.
If there is any truth to the notion that the players wouldn’t be overly bothered if another manager came in to replace Rodgers then we’ll soon find out. Disappointing performances on the pitch combined with crowd unrest could see Rodgers’s head on the chopping block reasonably early doors. Chants for Klopp raining down from the Kop after the first defeat or sign of difficulty will place insurmountable pressure on the Liverpool boss.
But Jose Mourinho took his Chelsea side out last season with the specific aim of having the league won by Christmas. Liverpool’s first 7 away games are against Stoke, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City. Win all, or even half, of them and the Reds will be in a strong position heading into the winter months. It also means, of course, that all of Liverpool’s top 4 challengers will have to come to Anfield in the second half of the season.
If Rodgers and the Reds can survive a truly torrid start to the season then maybe, just maybe things may not be so bad after all.