With Liverpool currently under-performing, Tom Gatehouse looks at the man in the hot seat, Brendan Rogers; and discusses the reasons for the Reds’ current plight.
‘Istanbul’ seems like a very long time ago. That enduring night eight years ago, the epitome of the victory for the immense underdog, immortalised Liverpool for all time; but it has now become a fond, but distant memory for many fans. Yet, that same ideal, that same underdog mentality, can be applied to the Reds’ current situation. Sat eighth in the table, out of all domestic and European competitions, Liverpool remain the underdogs, fighting desperately to return to the big boys’ table.
When Brendan Rogers took over in the summer of last year, there was a sense of optimism slowly perforating the minds of Liverpool fans everywhere. Here was a man, fresh from his heroics with Swansea, who could come in and reinvigorate the Reds’ expensive, poorly assembled squad, and have them playing effective, entertaining football, and return Liverpool to the glory days. But there was certainly work to be done.
‘King’ Kenny Dalglish put Liverpool back by about five years, it has to be said. His gung-ho attitude in the transfer market, namely his odd penchant for buying average British players at massively inflated prices, filled Liverpool’s rota with a plethora of substandard talent. And while many fans would have liked to see a metaphorical ‘Noah’s ark’ situation take shape with the majority of the squad involved, it is just not financial viable to do away with so much, so quickly, knowing full well that they would have to be immediately replaced for even more money.
So, instead of panicking at the enormity of the job at hand, especially internally with the state of the squad, Rogers went about his early business with an infectious optimism. Effectively tweaking his squad of those deemed surplus to requirements (including the loaning of Andy Carroll to West Ham, and the shipping out of the inconsistent Charlie Adam to Stoke), and bringing in some fresh faces, Rogers dealt with what was immediately necessary. He also found real talent nestled in the place he knows best.
Having started out as a youth team coach, Rogers developed a keen eye for young talent, and is not afraid of putting his faith in them. Raheem Sterling, the 17 year-old in his first season in the first team, has been a revelation. Showing off his speed and box of tricks with real freedom, freedom afforded to him by Rogers, the young man has shone, earning him a call-up to the full England squad. Suso, the 18 year old Spanish attacker has also looked promising, having joined the first team from the youth along with Sterling.
Despite this initial steadying of the ship, there is no getting away from the poor results that have peppered their current campaign. An embarrassing FA cup exit at the hands of lower league Oldham, coupled with the easily relinquishing of the League cup to eventual winners Swansea at Anfield, and an early exit in the Europa league against an under-performing Zenit St Petersburg must show that this season is an immensely disappointing one for Rogers’ Reds.
Their league form has also been full of frustration; with promising performances against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City undone by terrible home defeats to Aston Villa and West Brom. A paltry three away wins, less than relegation threatened Wigan, is a real cause for concern.
While there is real promise to be found in the ranks, there are still some players who are not pulling their weight. Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing have caused Rogers some real headaches this season. Downing in particular looked to be one of the first out the door come the January transfer window, but he was spared the axe after showing improvement. It may be the case that Rogers’ optimism and trust in his players could actually stunt the growth of the team, as Downing, and arguably Enrique, are not quite at the level expected for such a high profile club.
The same could be said of Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen, and Fabio Borini. Both Allen and Borini worked with Rogers before Liverpool; Borini at Chelsea and Swansea, and Allen also with Swansea. Both however, have so far failed to live up to expectation, and seem like expensive risks for a team under construction.
However, the January acquisition, another former Chelsea player, Daniel Sturridge, is showing real promise. Sturridge has been labelled selfish in the past, and not a team player; but his new partnership with the brilliant Luis Suarez looks potent, making Liverpool much more of a threat going forward. Throw in the mercurial talent of Coutinho, the 20 year old Brazilian signed from Inter Milan, and it is clear that Rogers is slowly creating an attacking frontline rich in agility and free-flowing aptitude.
The Liverpool stalwarts have little to be ashamed of, despite the Reds’ form. Steven Gerrard, despite a slow start, has again shown that he is still one of the league’s premier midfielders with a series of typically rambunctious displays. Pepe Reina, who has watched many of his fellow Spaniards from the reign of Rafa Benitez depart, remains a force in the Liverpool goal, despite a few unsavoury lapses of concentration. Jamie Carragher has soldiered on at the ripe old age of 35, putting in strong shifts at the back. Glen Johnson has shown glimpses of why he is often considered one of the best attacking right backs around; and Luis Suarez has finally found his shooting boots.
The Uruguayan was initially known for his incredible shot per game ratio, with only a small percentage of his efforts finding the net. This season however, he has scored 29 times in 38 games in all competitions. A real candidate for player of the year, his sparkling performances have lit up many a dreary night for the Liverpool faithful the past year.
While the situation remains dire on the stats front, there is much cause for continued optimism around Anfield. Gone are the days of full trophy cabinets, for now. Liverpool are not to be written off, there will be a second coming, and the talent is there for all to see. Brendan Rogers is facing an utterly crucial transfer window this summer, as he must make sure his side strengthen in key areas, while keeping the vultures away from the likes of Suarez and Sterling. It may be that a European birth, of some sort, may be the only way forward now.
Brendan Rogers speaks of guiding Liverpool into a top 4 finish this season, and retaking their place in Europe’s premier competition. While this is very different to 120 miraculous minutes plus penalties in the sweltering Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Turkey, the improbability of the outcome remains the same. While not even the most foolhardy would bet on this coming to pass this season, you can be sure that while they have the undying support of the Anfield faithful, and keep the spirit of the likes of Steven Gerrard and the soon to be departing Jamie Carragher flowing through the team, Liverpool will eventually claw their way back up and may soon experience the joy and glory that they are so accustomed to.
What are Liverpool fans’ thoughts on the current state of the squad? Is Rodgers the right man to lead you back to glory? Get involved in the comments section below.