By Ben Feltham
IT’S funny, but it seems that for the entirety of Rodgers reign Liverpool fans have been searching the Anfield pitch, or TV screens or wherever for an answer to this almost existential question – is this progress?
It’s an earnest question, and the objective truth is, we can’t yet say. We’ve sacked the club’s most revered living soul (and split the fan base in the process), recruited a ‘chancer’ or a visionary (depending on your point of view), had outgoings, incomings and non-stop chatter, but ironically LFC find themselves on the exact same number of points as this time last year (in fact the similarity between this year and last year across the board is pretty uncanny, as the below demonstrates). The point is this – our season has yet to be written, and without wanting to deal in hyperbole, this season will be defined by the last 11 matches and how much of that 33 point pie we can eat.
last season: –
Played – 27
Won – 10
Drawn – 9
Lost – 8
For – 30
Against – 26
Points – 39
Goal difference – +4
Played – 27
Won – 10
Drawn – 9
Lost – 8
For – 49
Against – 34
Points – 39
Goal Difference – +15
The progress question is an important one because it’s the path FSG have articulated/spun (certainly latterly) as the message to the faithful. The anti-sugar daddy approach that most fans can get behind. The promise wasn’t a quick fix return to years of domination, no, it’s been a message you could label in different ways, but a catchall term to my mind is progress. And it’s a promise that the high stakes move of Kenny to Brendan is intrinsically tied to – well on the nine month anniversary (pregnant pause) almost to the day into this epic dice throw… the jury’s out.
So often Liverpool’s managerial debut seasons emerge as something special, extraordinary even – Fagan and the treble; Kenny’s first full season in 86 brings us our first ever pure double (the first for any player manager in the history of the top flight); Benítez’s first campaign is synonymous with one word, Istanbul; Kenny’s second coming brought its own heady joy after the gloom of Hodgson and was, in its own way, quite remarkable – as, some would argue, was his (second) first full year in charge with two cup finals and a league cup.
Brendan nearly got the inkling of that against Zenit, 3-0 down on aggregate with 50 odd minutes to go, faux comparisons aside, it would have been something had we come back from that as we so nearly did. Instead though, progress is the clarion call of the faithful. Maybe that’s a good thing, progress is self-evidently something we can build on, we haven’t always been able to build on the remarkable, and it’s the build, above all, that is paramount.
Doubtless we each have our own opinion on how much progressLiverpoolfootball club are making under Rodgers, but objectively? Well it’s impossible to say. We sit on 39 points after 27 games, to a point the same position as last year; and we’re a walking dichotomy; on the one hand we have an underground movement putting up some persuasive arguments that say our run in compared to the three or four teams above us will see us rise up the table, some even hold onto the dream of a hugely unlikely CL spot; on the other hand you put that against a team that’s only been one thing all season- inconsistent, and you can easily see us lose as many of the remaining games as win and finish in a similar position to where we have in the last 3 years. And in this dichotomy, your viewpoint will either feel ‘we’ve only beaten one top ten team all season’, or conversely ‘we’ve been desperately unlucky with two draws against City, robbed against Everton away and Man United at home and picked up decent points at the Emirates and the Bridge’.
A plan of action
As well as defining our season, these last 11 games can, if we box clever, help us determine our summer needs. With our attacking options approaching minimum requirements, with the purchase of electric Sturridge and the frankly Brazilian Coutinho, many fans are putting a lot of scrutiny on our backline, and rightly so. The best Liverpool, or for that matter Arsenal, Milan, Man United and countless other great sides were built VIA a great backline.
There seems to be a feeling that a big dominant centre half would be a fillip for a team too often beaten up by brawn from opposition strikers. Scour the leagues of Europe and beyond, but possibly we have the prototype in the Liverpool ranks; yes I’m talking about Sebastian Coates. I want to talk about Seba for a second, as it seems everyone but his mum has written him off. I’d like to take issue with that – has he been exposed in the minuscule number of games he’s had of late, yes, but hang on….
Coates arrived here as a league title winning, starting CB for the South American champions (a team ranked third in the world at the time) in a tournament where he was crowned young player of the championship; all this by 21, so basically he’s the Uruguayan Wilshere, except he’s won things. Yes he looks underweight and looks like he wants way too much time on the ball (an issue Xabi Alonso fought to overcome), but these are all fixable issues. He’s 22, in a position where you’re often still improving into your thirties; is he good enough right now? Maybe not but let’s not write him off just yet. I would use these last 11 matches to loan him out to a top flight team that he’s going to get games every week – Wigan springs to mind, we could loan them Sterling too as a sweetener. We may need to go out and spend 20 million on a world class CB, but how gutting would it be if we later found out we’d been ‘Piqued’.
It’s time to come clean, I’ve pitched this progress poser as neutrally as I can, like a dispassionate pundit on the Sunday supplement, but the truth is I’m too bound into this movement to leave it there.
I’m a believer; I’m a believer in what we’re doing, I believe in the manager, the tactics, and have to reluctantly admit to being educated to a degree by the FSG buying policy as I note we’ve got the best under 23 squad in the premiership bar none to my mind; I believe in the football we’ve shown and the direction we’re going.
So is this progress? Well the head says we must wait and see, but the heart knows it is.