BY ALEX HESS
“As long as the performances remain decent, the results will improve with time”
IT’S a line that, in its various manifestations, has received regular airings in and around Anfield for over twelve months now.
It’s spoken, of course, in response to the disparity that’s haunted Liverpool’s league form over this period: the disparity between performances and point-accrual, between general play and final score. Indeed, the mantra has been repeated for so long that it now almost seems tautological – it’s truth requires no justification, it simply is. The problem is, if you look closely, logic actually suggests the opposite: the fact that the above line has been repeated for so long contradicts the argument itself. Because, let’s face it, it’s been a while now, and the results are yet to improve.
Part of the difficulty in explaining this performance/result discrepancy is that only one side of it is measurable. Results – goals; points – are objective fact, while the quality of a team’s ‘performance’ is far more abstract.
What ultimately constitutes a decent performance is completely subjective, but the fundamental questions that have emerged as far as Liverpool are concerned question are: how well can they actually be playing if they hold so little sway over the scoreline?
When does bad finishing turn a good performance become a bad one? And, ultimately, should fans continue to simply turn up to witness one good display/bad result after another, safe in the knowledge that, one day soon, the footballing gods will suddenly heave Liverpool’s points-to-performance ratio into some kind of rightful equilibrium?
The short answer, of course, is that there is no short answer.
Firstly, it’s unfair to equate the poor results of this season with those of last. For one, the Premier League’s famed fixture computer has been painfully unkind to Liverpool’s opening run of games, and so their first five results are unlikely to be especially representative of the eventual 38. More inherently, though, the Rodgers recipe for poor results is quite different from Dalglish’s 2011/12 blend.
Into Kenny’s pot, generally speaking, went wilful attacking, fairly abundant chance creation, and a substantial measure of comedy finishing. Thus far, Rodgers’ Liverpool create less opportunities than Dalglish’s, but exert – or at least aspire towards – a greater sense of midfield control, and of patient authority.
For the purposes of balance, the comedy finishing remains, supplemented by the introduction of defensive and goalkeeping calamities, but underneath this chaos lies a more consistent, perceptible tactical model than we ever saw last term.
The defensive errors can be reasonably expected to be banished sooner rather than later. Good players, after all, aren’t immune to bad form, and the early-season dips of Pepe Reina and Martin Skrtel shouldn’t yet result in any panic (although Jose Enrique’s displays very much should do).
When we look at the bigger picture, the team’s ongoing adaptation to Rodgers’ much-trumpeted ‘philosophy’ needs to be accounted for.
It’s a progression that has been palpable with each passing game, and is a source of encouragement. Much has and will continue to be written about the various complexities of this process, but the most reductive truth, as we saw against United, is that Rodgers’ Liverpool are improving – and so, in theory, should their results.
But, despite it all, the inescapable fact is that the old failings remain, and remain prominent. The utter inability to translate intangible ideals such as ‘dominance’ and ‘control’ into the cold hard currency of goals and results is a depressingly familiar tale, and it emphatically will not remedy itself – at least, not fully.
That said, Fabian Borini is likely to improve as he learns the system and the system learns him. Borini’s strengths – namely his willingness and intelligence – are the sorts that are only properly exploited within a grander setup, and in this respect there are strong parallels between him and Dirk Kuyt.
Borini should eventually perform a comparable function: clever pressing and the off-the-ball dismantling of defensive units. Goals will come too, of course, though perhaps never freely. Luis Suarez, however, is likely to remain Luis Suarez: a fine technician and on his day a world-class attacker (and, crucially, another selfless workman) but reliably erratic in front of goal.
The first team boasts not a single reliable chance-converter (and one should be the very minimum), nor a clique of three or four who can share the burden.
The painful truth is that no Liverpool player, beyond Suarez and Borini, and arguably Gerrard, would be unequivocally banked on to bag more than five league goals this season – let alone 10 or 15.
It’s an astonishing position for such a club to find themselves in – certainly a far cry from the Torres-Gerrard-Benayoun-Kuyt quartet which returned 48 league goals in 2008/09 – and one that needs to be addressed before results truly begin to reflect so-called encouraging performances.
And it’s at this point that on-pitch matters become inextricable from off-pitch ones. Optimism about the manager, about the players, and about the coaching setup seems well-grounded, and indeed should continue – there’s a reason that Rodgers’ name is sung around Anfield despite the absence of a league win so far – but Liverpool’s translating of performances into points will only become truly efficient once a more coherent arrangement exists between management and ownership.
Liverpool’s efficiency off the pitch will ultimately dictate their efficiency on it. For over a year now, both have been embarrassingly low. January – and ultimately next summer – will mark the club’s chance to reverse this fact. Until then, expect dominance, expect silkiness, and expect an upturn in results. But expect a glass ceiling.
“the fact that the above line has been repeated for so long contradicts the argument itself”.
Re the line itself. If we put in performances that suggest par with the best sides in the country, then yes, given it’s inevitable we’re going to play poorer sides, then it’s reasonable and logical to expect an improvement.
We know we need better finishing. It’s a case of either be patient til January, whine til the pressure on the manager becomes relentless, or just support what the club’s trying to do through blind faith (a hybrid of the first maybe, but not the same).
I personally can’t see, 5 games into a league season, the point of this.
With all due respect Alex – it’s very well written.
What doesn’t make sense about the line you quoted, Roy? The line (about results getting better) has been repeated for so long precisely because the results haven’t come. Clumsily worded on my part maybe.
I guess I didn’t have *a point* to make as such. If there was one, I guess it’d be to weigh the footballing positives thus far under Rodgers against the off-field negatives. (Admittedly more for purposes of catharsis than originality – sorry for that!)
I agree, Alex, we seem to hear that line after every game. We have been saying it for so long (when Kenny was in charge as well) that it contradicts itself.
Will we still be saying it half way through the season? With 5 games left to go?
Can’t help but wonder where we’d be if we had signed Dempsey.
I agree No point to this post, it starts sowing the seeds of a doubt that is not there with us fans 99% of us anyway, Patience is needed this season and we’re not the top 4 team we used to be and we have to bridge that gap with our style of play under the new manager, i like the rest of Liverpool FC want to see us return to winning ways and a healthy return on points but I’m under no illusion that this season will be a hard one to bare at least the first 6 months and anything better will be greatly taken. I remain patient and trust the manager, others should follow suit and we stick with the Rebuild as we see it, Rome wasn’t built in a day either will we. YNWA
For me, football does not have a categorical imperative. This isn’t philosophy, no matter how much Rodgers says it is, and we cannot sacrifice results for an ethic for long. In football, you get punished with loss of revenue or, worse, relegation.
I’d rather see us playing sexy football and winning than poor football and winning, but I’d rather see results and ugly football than no results and sexy football.
At some point soon, you have to question the link between possession and goals. It seems it is more about strikers, and we haven’t got ’em.
So someone thinks Borini is a lock to score 6 or more goals this season? That’s news to me!
Until the refereeing issues are dealth with we will win nothing.
On sunday, the defeat came about because of an unforced error. Suso having no one to pass to in front of him placed the pass towards Agger who was slow to react. Any other time he would have collected.
Last night, the winning goal came from suso having optons in front of him.
This is crucial , how often is the only outlet Suarez and before him Tourettes? (Joke)
We need to give options to the player with the ball by intelligent movement in the final third. If you can do it sexy, great but if you do it scruffy great also.
The answer to the question, in my view, would be a minimum of 6 months – only then could we assess where Liverpool are going…
We’ve been getting results… haven’t you been watching the Europa League? Maybe we should just have the first team regulars play the other competitions so we can be quickly dispatched. Then we can fully focus on the league season.
Seriously though, the referees… How do we get such horrific calls against us at Anfield?
Winning is VERY sexy.
The fact that between Sterling, Wisdom, Suso, Assaidi, Shelvey and maybe Robinson, we’ll have almost 1/3rd of a first team, match day squad, for the cost of a few buttons come the end of the season, bodes well enough for me.
My patience for watching kids learn the ropes, and make mistakes along the way is far greater than that for watching 100+ m worth of over rated ‘talent’ struggle to counjour up anything consistant.
With each day that passes , i see more clearly what the board intended with this new direction and lack of closing day purchases. if Clint had joined, would sterling have played as much as he has? That point alone could have been the catalyst for a renewed hoped and drive from the young players.
Suddenly the door is open, and you can be sure that there are a handful of other young players, who have the talent to replicate Raheem’s transition from reserve player to first team regular.
Equally important to talent is the knowledge that there is a way through, that the path is not blocked by a managers over priced signings, who need to be played to save a job and prove people wrong.
i can only imagine the buzz amongst the kids now. the hunger and excitment is palpable.
Along side that, the early indications regarding BR’s signings are very positive.
in Joe allen we have a top class player who could be with us for 10+ years(and get better and better when he’s able to develop his natural game).
in Sahin, we have one of the best young players in the world , who would likely stay around if things go well.
Assaidi makes a mockery of Downing. around 13% of the cost of downing, and already showing more reasons to be cheerful than downing has managed in a year+. He looks like a supurb sub to bring on AT LEAST if not direct competition for Fabio’s place.
As for Fabio, he will be a solid cog in the machine, and at some point start getting goals. He’s young, he’s just had an unexpected move thrown on him(after clearly prefering to stay at Roma) but he does have the game intelligence to influence matches.
Throw in Yesil and that makes 5 out of 5 promising signings. Things already look better than they did last season.
i would say its a given that 1 or 2 decent signings will arrive in january. Be it Walcott, Villa, llorente or players barely known to us, they will likely nourish this blossoming project further.
im not saying rodger’s is on par with Klopp, but the idea behind the appointment is identical(there were strong whispers that Klopp was the favoured appointment but acceptance that he would not leave dortmund).
it took klopp 3 seasons to get things moving, and there is a chance that this project will take as long -if not longer. That is something we have to get used to. That is the position we are in not having oil coated sugar daddies. That is where we have landed after 3 chaotic years.
All i know for sure is that, if, come the end of the season, we are playing beautiful, exciting football, and have integrated a handful of young/cheap players(who are top class) into the match day squad, ill be happy. with or without trophies.
This brave new world may not be an instant hit, but we have a duty to get over our need for a quick fix-its brought us only trouble and lots of dross in the past 20 years. with the exception of Rafa’s reign.
Our problem (well my problem anyway!) was that I couldn’t support Rodgers without feeling disloyal to Kenny Dalglish.I just felt he was short-changed over the Suarez business and got no support from the Club.
He had made a massive change from the Hodgson days and was moving forward.We were playing good football and had some tough luck along the way.
But how long can you go on blaming bad luck?There had to be something lacking.I think Kenny wanted to get players relaxed and playing football and rather than being stifled by tactics he wanted them to play their natural game and enjoy it.
Anyway, you have to go through some pain in doing that and sacrifice results.Ultimately you pay the the price for results;regardless of your philosophy.
I think Rodgers has picked up the gauntlet at the right time.Kenny changed attitudes but now Brendan Rodgers can capitalise on that.
From what I’ve seen lately,he has introduced a will to win,especially with the younger players.
So,now I’m quite hopeful,especially after the result and performance against West Brom the other night.Those lads were playing with hunger and desire;but they were enjoying it without fear.
So,I think Brendan Rodgers knows what he’s doing and more power to his elbow!
Dalglish will always be a legend in my eyes.But Rodgers gets my full support now!
After watching Norwich, I’m convinced someone would have to put a hand grenade down Suarez’ shorts. for it to be a pen. The best part was the Norwich player pleading not to be sent off, even he trhought yhe outcome was inevitable……….
I thought he was trying to get Suarez booked for diving!