If Rodgers fails to do well in the coming weeks, he will struggle to keep the wolves away from the door.
In what was the biggest “Super Sunday” of the season so far, four of the biggest sides in England squared off in games which seek to define each club’s season. Even if it was just five games in each side had experienced different starts. The newly crowned Champions, the wounded challengers, the serial capitulators and a Liverpool side whose fortunes in recent years had certainly declined were all out to prove a point.
A game filled with emotion
With off the field issues such as the Hillsborough report and the overhyped will they won’t they handshake, the game between Liverpool and United offered much to talk about without even mentioning the game.
And yet it was the game which had everyone talking afterwards; although most of the attention went to the referee Mark Halsey who was vilified by many post game for his handling of the game. The truth is Halsey was not to blame for Liverpool's defeat, attention should focus on both sides and the errors made by the managers and players which led to United winning the game.
The Hillsborough report did threaten to cast a shadow over a game which many bill as the “biggest” in English football. I find this statement slightly ludicrous considering Liverpool’s situation, yet based on history and honours, it does have a weight which many other ties cannot contend with. The emotion before the game was strong and poignant and the unity shown between players, managers and to an extent the fans, made one wonder if the game would be a rather dull affair. Perhaps both would settle for a draw and both could exit without controversy. Yet this was not to be.
Possession is a means to an end, not the end in itself
Liverpool, as they always appear able to do in these games came out fast, sharp and lively. United were completely overwhelmed and Gerrard almost had a goal in the first few minutes. The philosophy of Rodgers, one which although I commend, I also find idealistic and ultimately flawed, appeared to be too much for United.
Much in the same way Liverpool have dominated West Brom for 45 minutes, Man City for much of the game and Sunderland before, the possession based style of play does offer dominance and makes Liverpool’s style appear impressive. Yet it flatters to deceive and the issue of Liverpool this season has been the lack of goals. Possession is ameans to an end, not the end in itself and until Liverpool start making chances and scoring goals from all this possession, then they will continue to find wins difficult to attain.
Although they had 63% possession in that first half and had eight shots to show for it, a goal was not forthcoming. At half time many would have been talking of Liverpool’s dominance, about the frustration of not converting possession to goals. But then, on 40 minutes, Ryan Giggs was dispossessed and the talking point of the half and the game was the red card.
Jonjo Shelvey’s overzealous and over the top lunge on Evans warranted a red card without doubt. Those who argue it shouldn’t be and who blame the ref for making the decision forget that the ref's job is to make the game safe and have control. That tackle was everything that referees have been told to cut out and make an example of. It was dangerous and completely unnecessary. Without doubt it changed the game, yet Halsey is not to blame for that, Shelvey’s overzealous nature was.
We do not know if 11 men of Liverpool could have defeated an abject United. The midfield was dominated by Liverpool, yet decisions made in a game influence the outcome and Rodgers must be fuming at Shelvey’s recklessness. The second half showed that United were still there for the taking and even though Liverpool scored from more slack defending from United, they just could not create and score more.
Liverpool's defensive frailties
Liverpool’s problem this season has not been possession, it appears it is ALL Rodgers does in training and like with any practice, the more you do the better you get. The problem is, Rodgers appears clearly to have neglected other aspects of the game in order to instil this philosophy.
This approach appears all too familiar to that of Arsene Wenger and his desire for beautiful football. For years Arsenal have been the best team to watch, yet have also achieved nothing. There must be a balance and importantly an understanding that football is a game involving attacking and defending. Those who neglect defending and portray it as the ugly part of the game are both delusional and ultimately failures.
Defending wins titles, a cliché yet one in which managers like Mourinho have brought huge success. Remember Mancini built his title winning side on defensive foundations. Yet Rodgers appears to have built from the front, an ideal that perhaps could work if he had the players of thequality required to score more than three goals a game.
Liverpool’s problem has been conceding goals, especially cheap and easy ones. Defensive errors from the back four and goalkeeper have meant Liverpool are regarded as defensively frail, not a good tag to have.
And so it was inevitable that United would score. Rafael’s goal was a touch of brilliance yet he was afforded far too much time to pick his spot. Kagawa’s chest back to him was unopposed and Rodgers will need to do much better on the training ground to fix the issues at the back. One wonders if he can and importantly if he wants to work on this. If he doesn’t then he can’t expect to be in the job long. There are serious issues defensively at Liverpool and a good manager will seek to address and fix them.
The penalty showed up all Liverpool’s deficiencies; Valencia had no right to win that ball in the middle of the pitch, yet indecisive play from Liverpool allowed him to steal it. He didn’t even want to score as he entered the box yet Liverpool allowed him to go to goal. And then Johnson decided, when the angle was tight and covered by Reina, to make a rash tackle from behind. Valencia had blown his chance to score and then Johnson decided to gift United a penalty. Poor decisions again from Liverpool and one which cost them the game. It was a clear penalty, of that there is no doubt.
Worrying times for Liverpool
Liverpool failed to win a game in which they dominated and the manner of performance almost makes you more worried about the future. In all except the Arsenal game Liverpool have been the better side in terms of possession, yet have been culpable to poor performances in the defensive and attacking thirds.
Mistakes and a lack of quality in both areas have led to Liverpool’s poor start and 2 points. A Liverpool fan should be worried as one fails to see where the goals are coming from in the coming months. The blame rests at Rodgers feet.
It was his decision to banish Carroll from the club, there is no Kuyt or Maxi anymore (both who scored important goals in the last few seasons). How they would love to have even one of these there now. Instead there is an over reliance on the ageing Gerrard, who cannot be asked to carry the team again this season.
Then there is Luis Suarez; the man is an enigma, he truly is. An excellent dribbler who works harder than many others, yet who appears rash and lacking in composure when it really matters. The best goal scorers make the position look easy, he makes it look like hard work and his snatched shots look like a man full of desperation.
As Liverpool have asked more of this man he has produced less. He received much of the ball against United yet failed to do anything of real quality with it. His one real moment of quality was the through ball to Borini, whose poor touch killed a good move.
Why Rodgers believes this player is capable of playing for Liverpool and leading the line makes one wonder if Rodgers really does know what he is doing? Although Borini is young, £9.5m is a lot of money and so far he has simply not impressed. Yet Liverpool have no options off the bench.
Shamefully for Rodgers he is putting much hopes on a 17 year old’s shoulders, a dangerous move for one so young. I worry for Sterling that he will be too exposed and have too much pressure on his young shoulders this season, which may damage a player who clearly has much potential.
All in all the future is not bright for Liverpool. Rodgers methods are being implemented yet are not producing results. Importantly Liverpool just do not have the squad to compete and with the injury to Kelly ruling him out for over 6 months, Rodgers squad is even more depleted.
The next three games should indicate what kind of season it will be for Liverpool; Norwich, Stoke and Reading should all be winnable games. If Rodgers fails to do well in these, he will struggle to keep the wolves away from the door.