The burning ambition at Anfield is for Liverpool to be Champions League regulars with the potential to win the Barclays Premier League. But, after a wretched day against Aston Villa, they are clearly some way from realising that dream.
Are Liverpool heading for mediocrity? Or is there sufficient talent to ensure the mistakes are corrected and progress can be resumed? A huge summer beckons and there is no margin for error.
For all the praise that came Brendan Rodgers’ way last season, when he masterminded an unexpected and thrilling challenge for the title, the manager must accept criticism. Like his team, he has underperformed. Yes, he deserved credit for arresting a mid-winter slump. It was smart to change Liverpool’s formation to 3-4-3, sparking an impressive 13-game unbeaten run in the league. But he has not made a mark on the games that matter.
At Wembley we saw a prime example. He switched systems (from 3-4-2-1 to 4-3-3 to 4-1-4-1) but Liverpool never found a rhythm. This was not an isolated case. Changes had to be made after a poor start during the 1-1 draw with Basle that led to Liverpool’s exit from the Champions League.
There have been other issues. Picking an experimental line-up in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid last November was perplexing. He was outwitted by Louis van Gaal when Manchester United visited in March — it was a mistake not to start Steven Gerrard — and Mario Balotelli’s signing has given Rodgers a problem that he has not been able to solve all season.
Rodgers is innovative, thorough and, crucially, still learning his trade. His teams can have style and he has absolute faith in his ability. So, too, do Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners. His future isn’t even up for consideration.
But that doesn’t mean the pressure is off. Managing Liverpool comes with great expectation and Rodgers must provide the right answers come August.
Then there are questions about the club’s transfer committee. It grates at Anfield how much focus is put on the committee, which comprises Rodgers, chief executive Ian Ayre, Dave Fallows, the head of recruitment, chief scout Barry Hunter, Michael Edwards, the director of technical performance, and FSG investor Mike Gordon.
Yet of the 17 players they have bought at considerable cost over the last two summers, only three — Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can — could be said to have delivered.
Tiago Ilori and Divock Origi, on loan at Bordeaux and Lille respectively, remain unknown quantities but many have been duds, such as Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto, Balotelli and Lazar Markovic. Others — Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana — look overawed. This is another world to Southampton.
Wasting money in the market is not a new failing — Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish made mistakes — but this is on a new level. If Rodgers is under pressure, then so are the men recommending players.
FSG do not accept failure lightly. They have dispensed with two managers (Hodgson and Dalglish) and one director of football (Damien Comolli) since taking over in 2010 and will not hesitate to act if they feel things are going askew.
Gerrard is going, Glen Johnson will follow, Brad Jones, Brad Smith, Jon Flanagan and Kolo Toure are out of contract. Fabio Borini has no Anfield future and nor does Balotelli. Rickie Lambert must leave to get regular football. Lucas Leiva may choose to pursue a new challenge.
Raheem Sterling is at loggerheads with Liverpool over the new deal he has been offered. Jose Enrique, Martin Skrtel and Jordan Henderson have 12 months left on their contracts. Liverpool have agreed a new deal with Henderson but Skrtel is thinking about what he has been offered.
Put all that together and it doesn’t paint a settled picture. Rodgers did not want another window like last summer’s, with a raft of new faces, but that looks unavoidable. Signing the right players is key but in the likely event of not being able to offer Champions League football, how easy will that be?
Concluding deals has been a serious problem. In the past two years, Liverpool have tried to sign Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa, Willian, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Alexis Sanchez without success.
James Milner is on their radar, as is PSV Eindhoven’s Memphis Depay, the 21-year-old Holland winger valued at £25million. Sami Khedira’s wages are out of Liverpool’s range. They will also look to bring in a striker, but do clubs in upheaval make smooth progress? No.
Absent at Wembley, just as he has been for much of the season, was Daniel Sturridge. It has been a wretched campaign for the England forward, one decimated by calf and thigh issues. Missing the semi-final will have done nothing to help his mental state. Without Luis Suarez, this should have been the year Sturridge took centre stage. Can he do it next season? He has the ability and goalscoring instinct but he will be no use to Rodgers if he is not fit for the major games.
And finally there is the squad’s spirit and attitude. Jamie Carragher has said one of the qualities of Liverpool’s greatest sides was ‘finding a way of winning’ when the chips were down. That, however, was then, and now it is different. At Wembley, it was clear the travelling Kop doubted the character of this squad.
Much focus has been put on Gerrard but it is risible to pin any blame on him for the defeat by Villa. He didn’t have the swagger of youth but, even at 34, he still looked the one who would save Liverpool, with a late header that was cleared off the line and a pinpoint ball to Balotelli.
He has set the example, so who will do it when he leaves? There is a flaw in Liverpool’s mindset. Unless they toughen their resolve, they will continue to fall short.
Rodgers has declared that losing can be a catalyst for success. In 12 months, he must hope his words are proven prophetic.– Daily Mail
Original source: The calamity that is Liverpool