You won’t find a Liverpool fan who didn’t find Saturday’s 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa humiliating. It was a devastating loss, particularly after Liverpool had picked up three successive victories in all competitions. This was supposed to be another solid home victory as Rodgers marched his team up the table but clearly Paul Lambert and his Villa side didn’t read the script. Rodgers was quick to blame fatigue but there are far bigger problems at Liverpool.
There is no doubt Raheem is one who does need a breather. I’ve thought about it over the past couple of weeks. Joe is another one. If we’re honest, there are a few who could do with that breather, especially mentally. It’s something I need to have a look at.
It’s an assessment that is hard to disagree with but it begs the question of why it wasn’t dealt with before the game. Liverpool had a whole week off while Villa had a midweek cup tie to negotiate. If Sterling, Allen and others were so tired from an admittedly hectic early season schedule that they couldn’t start a match after a full weeks break surely the manager should have done something before the match.
It’s not hard to believe that Allen is tired because he’s played almost every single minute since he’s been here, but the truth of the matter is he’s been extremely ordinary for the last few weeks. The same can be said of Sterling who besides an exquisite pass to Joe Cole against West Ham hasn’t done much of note. Suarez hasn’t scored or provided an assist since Liverpool beat Wigan 3-0 way back in mid November but what more do you expect when you have a striker who needs to play every game because Liverpool don’t have any back up.
Gerrard has looked lethargic for the past two seasons and Lucas should really be being eased back in following his injury. Yes, Joe Cole was once upon a time a good player and he scored a good goal against West Ham but if he’s Liverpool’s big saviour coming off the bench you know that the squad is dangerously thin.
Is Rodgers to blame for that? Not really. Fenway Sports Group didn’t provide him with anything like the funds necessary to compete across four major competitions. To make matters worse, senior players like Maxi, Kuyt and Bellamy, players who would have been really useful in times like this, were offloaded and not adequately replaced. Reducing the wage bill is clearly a priority for John Henry and Werner but they’ve shown just how naive they are and perhaps where their priorities lie in their two year ownership of Liverpool.
Does this mean Rodgers has done nothing wrong? Absolutely not. He started the season so brightly (not in terms of results) but in terms of the decisions he was making. Sterling, Suso and Wisdom were all promoted to the first team and four promising players were signed: Allen, Sahin, Assaidi and Borini. Players who had had their chance last season were quickly sold, loaned or dropped and it felt as if there was a breath of fresh air sweeping through the place. Suarez was scoring again and Rodgers was making brave tactical decisions and proving himself to be forward thinking. The problem is, over the last few weeks, negative traits that we’ve seen in previous managers have begun to emerge.
There’s stubbornness evident in his continued selection of Allen despite completely ordinary performances. In Rodger’s mind Joe is clearly supposed to be the poster boy of his Liverpool regeneration but it just hasn’t been working of late. The £15 million signing has started 21 games for Liverpool in all competitions this season and not scored one goal or provided a single assist, despite being moved further up the field with Lucas’ return. In just 12 games Nuri Sahin has scored 3 goals and claimed 3 assists, yet even before his broken nose he’s found himself warming the bench. Even the positives of Allen’s game, the way he used to dance his way out of trouble or never give the ball away, have completely evaporated of late.
Suso has been inexplicably dropped after impressing in most of his appearances while Sterling has been moved to the right hand side were he’s completely ineffective, and more often than not looks uncertain and puts in aimless crosses to 5’11 Luis Suarez. Whenever Liverpool need to change a game of late it’s not the bright, imaginative play of Suso that’s called upon but the past it talents of Joe cole.
Downing has done ok in recent outings but he’s playing an awful lot for a player who’s been told he could leave in January. Wisdom was excelling at right back and in Enrique’s absence yesterday Wisdom would have provided a much greater defence against the physicality of Christian Benteke.
Despite his immense reputation, Gerrard has been absolutely ordinary for the best part of two seasons but his undroppable status continues to effect the side. Maybe he just needs an extended rest but right now he is getting picked on reputation alone when in actual fact he’s one of the worst offenders.
What people loved most about Rodgers was his boldness and fresh approach. He trusted the kids and the kids repaid him with energy. But now, he doesn’t play the kids, Assaidi and Sahin rarely get on the field and like managers before him he’s beginning to rely on overpaid, experienced players when it’s clearly not working. The only logical explanation is certain players are being put in the shop window but with every bad performance their value surely decreases further.
Liverpool shouldn’t have won against West Ham. They got very, very lucky indeed and perhaps that contributed to Saturday’s defeat. It was the falsest of false dawns. This squad is still horrendously thin and we are very much seeing the results of that at the moment. Rodgers had naively suggested before the game that Liverpool should be aiming as high as 2nd place this season. 4th place would have been a stretch but 2nd place was ridiculous. This should have been an early warning sign that the Liverpool camp was vastly overconfident and getting ahead of themselves, but most fans were quietly optimistic that the Reds would win against Villa.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This squad, while solid with a sprinkling of promising youngsters and one of the best forwards in the world is not good enough to compete for a top four place, and certainly much weaker when those promising youngsters are never played.
It needs reinforcing with world class players in January. Many of them won’t come to Liverpool because we can’t offer them Champions League football but there will certainly be the odd diamond in the rough that Liverpool must snap up. The likes of Tom Ince and Daniel Sturridge are not going to change anything.