IT OCCURS to me that this is an example of a game where a match review might need to be that bit more of a match report. We have a non-televised game in the UK where around half of Liverpool’s travelling support have chosen to stay away in protest at ticket prices.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a non-televised game any more and so I’m writing this having watched the first half in a Liverpool bar. Worldwide television rights and the money they generate are one of the reasons it is a genuine shame the Liverpool end is half empty tonight. Worldwide television rights is one the reasons why the powers that should be terrified by that end being half empty. The product suffers and simultaneously you can’t put the streaming genie back in its lamp. Football is a communal experience done right and we shouldn’t be losing that to needless greed.
The result of the game itself means we need a review as much as a report. Another unsquarable circle. Let’s have a go.
Liverpool’s first half had a load more incident than many of their recent games. There were two or three excellent saves from Mignolet at one end, the second save in a double especially agile and leading to Johnson clearing acrobatically off the line.
It wasn’t Johnson’s best contribution in a typically Curate’s Egg of a half. It was the most Curate’s Egg half ever. More a tray of 12 Curate’s Eggs. His best contribution came when he burst down the left linking with two Liverpool players before he hit the byline, held it up and rolled it across the box. Either a lack of physics or footballing common sense meant it wasn’t forced over the line and Liverpool were to go into the half-time interval one behind.
Balotelli’s first half was full of curious movement, much of it unnecessary, spiralling away from dangerous areas between the sticks and instead showing, showing, showing. Too much showing but he lacked urgency in the defending which led to Hull’s opener. Liverpool pushed out aggressively in a very un-Liverpool manner only for Balotelli to dawdle and play Michael Dawson onside. From 10 yards he made no mistake. You’ve probably seen that goal by now. Balotelli didn’t last into the game’s final quarter and yet again he failed to be effective and Liverpool failed to give him the opportunity to be effective.
There is an issue around who your best player, your main man, is in a football team. Your main man dictates how the football is to be played and if your main man isn’t your striker — and Balotelli is a long way from Liverpool’s best player — then the side needs your striker to be a natural foil for your main man. All football teams have a focal point, someone they play towards and it tends to be the best player. Liverpool’s currently is Coutinho and the issue around Balotelli, Lambert and Borini isn’t so much exactly how limited they are, more that they and Coutinho are not suited to each other and Coutinho, perhaps not rightly but definitely understandably, doesn’t want to defer to them. He doesn’t want to tailor his game to their shortcomings. Your number nine doesn’t just need a massive ego, he needs everyone to tug their forelock accordingly. Does Coutinho (and Sterling and Henderson) look at any of Liverpool’s centre forward options and feel that is an adequate response? What? I serve you? No. You serve me.
This leads to Coutinho and his sidekick Sterling growing increasingly frustrated with what is around them. At least Henderson tends to have forward passes to this pair to play. These two look up and have nothing. Balls are played that don’t take into account the limitations in front of them. The game takes place too much between the two of them and it leads to both taking pot shots as they did often in the second half. The one good piece of genuine quality from Liverpool second half which led to a chance — Coutinho feeding not Balotelli or Lambert but Henderson whose pivot and shot was excellently saved by Harper — was indicative of the football Liverpool’s best players want to play but the football their cast of supporting characters cannot play.
Further, your best player being an attacking midfielder who likes to drop deep and get his hands dirty — a false 10 if you want nonsense — is an issue if nothing is ahead of him. That we haven’t seen Coutinho as a false nine since Newcastle is puzzling. He showed discipline there and was high enough up the pitch where taking three players out made a bigger difference. Had we, in lieu of that, seen Sterling lead the line with Coutinho off then that would have made greater sense, though neither has the goals we need for either of those roles. Being honest though, Coutinho is a midfielder. But the only way it makes sense to play him as a midfielder is if he has at least one striker and one other forward/attacking midfielder ahead of him demonstrably in his class. Him having footballers strikingly inferior ahead of him isn’t going to end well.
Emre Can toiled again in a role which is exceptionally unorthodox. A full back who tucks into centre midfield. He’s in a little trough where he isn’t good enough in either capacity. First half he got caught the most square on I have ever seen any footballer. He seems happier at centre back where he has the whole pitch in front of him. It may be worth popping him there from now until the end of the season.
Until the end of the season. Five games suddenly feels like a lot of games. Can we play them all in five days? It’s such a turnaround from last season. Last season was the most excited me and almost everyone I know had ever been watching The Reds. To go back to what starts this piece, watching The Reds felt like a communal enterprise — we were working together building cathedrals in the sky. It was exactly what supporting Liverpool was meant to be. Dramatic, dynamic and fundamentally heart warming. It was what you got on the tin, something that had looked exceptionally unlikely for the longest time. For arguably the first time since the arrival of Hicks and Gillet, the football club had a thumping forward looking identity and unity of purpose. As this season has taken its toll, that’s dissipated in every sense, on and off the field, amongst the club’s employees and its supporters. And all are downright unacceptable, verging on keeping me up at night.
On the field, the reversion is almost complete. In the three seasons — Benitez’s final, Hodgson/Dalglish’s split season and Daliglish’s full season — before Rodgers’s arrival, Liverpool had lost on average one in every three league games. They are likely to be around that this season (though have already surpassed the points totals of 2010-12 and are more likely to surpass 2009/10 than not).
Rodgers had created the side he’d said he would. Whether it seemed wise or not — how I scoffed at him saying he’d return Liverpool to their history of attacking football, we’re the arch-pragmatists you know, son — he worshipped at the altar of goals. Little did I know that goals, goals, goals are as much about pragmatism as clean sheets. I was blind, but now I see. We were moving on up the table and doing so with an exuberant panache I’d never seen from any Liverpool side when I could have a pint to toast it. Having craved a brutal, mechanical Liverpool there was the great leap forward of the antithesis of that. Being able to put the ball in the back of the net is the most pragmatic thing in football. Almost everything else (wilfully) misunderstands the word. And now on the other side of that Damascene conversion, it’s horrific to see that bright light extinguished to just a flicker, Liverpool reduced to a side without a Plan A, just constant, whirling Plan Bs.
The constant remark from the curmudgeonly has been that it was Suarez not Rodgers. It would be naive not to take the Uruguayan’s ability into account . This would count for more had he scored more than 11 league goals in 31 games under Dalglish in Kenny’s only full league season (he gets 23 in 33 and 31 in 33 under Rodgers) and had he been firing Rodgers to the heights from the manager’s arrival.
The reality is Liverpool were toiling during the first half of 2012/13. Liverpool surpassing two points per game stems from the arrival of Sturridge (and Coutinho), January 2013 to September 2014. Having two genuine quality forward options in the squad, to dovetail, to alternate when injured or banned, having that weight of attacking class meant Liverpool were able to take regular points off the poorer sides.
That Suarez was capable of greatness doesn’t mean Liverpool and Rodgers were reliant on it. What they were reliant on, like most sides capable of going at two points per game, was constant threat. You don’t need genuine world shaking greatness for constant threat in this mediocre league, but you do need two or three very good striking options. This season Liverpool have had a snifter of Sturridge and a smattering of Sterling, but nowhere near the weight of numbers required. Liverpool are a dreadful fifth and I’ve no real idea how they are a dreadful fifth.
But worse is off the field. A supporter base which had unified like we’d never seen before inside the ground on league match days, truly great league match days, and off it around the world has become fundamentally ratty and nasty in less that 12 months. Less than 12 months ago North John Street was getting closed down because of The Reds. This was the night the season finished. Less than 12 months on we appear to have fallen back to what perhaps we might just have to accept is our default position of dreadful, belligerent snides.
This is not just to the manager but to a number of his best players, who haven’t shirked at any stage however bad it has got. The unpleasantness is everywhere.
To focus on the manager, though, thinking there might need to be a change of manager is completely understandable. I don’t think there should be a change, I think I’d much rather see goals bought than anything else change at Anfield and regardless who is in charge Liverpool need to completely renovate their four centre forwards.
However, wanting there to be a change, deciding that the Liverpool manager who brought that unity and sheer delirious joy should go is something which should bring about sadness, not snide and yet this seems to verge on the impossible for too many of our supporters. I’ve only ever wanted two Liverpool managers sacked (Hodgson aside as he doesn’t deserve the job title) and when that feeling descended for both Houllier and Dalglish I was melancholic. Two men who had given us great days. The former was also subject to horrible abuse and he had nearly died on the touchline. Why should it be any different, I suppose.
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The good news from the game is off the pitch. The Reds might have missed out on all three points but the chink of light is what we are, as a group of supporters, able to do when we act with thought and as a collective. The boycott is quite an achievement and those involved can feel rightfully proud of themselves.
Groups such as Spion Kop 1906 who want to enjoy their football and have us enjoy ours and the wonder of this football club without being charged the earth for it are worth their weight in gold. On the pitch and off the pitch, we are, as ever, an unsquareable circle here in Liverpool. Tra-la-la-la-la.
Boycotts, protests, snides and good managers under massive pressure. Let’s party like it’s 2009.
We’re the maddest football team in the land. Yes we are.
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Some good points Neil. I’d take Klopp at the drop of a hat, but not because I don’t like Brendan. He united us for a season and got us playing great, great football. It was the most fun I’ve had watching us since the late 70s.
I’d take Klopp because I fear the wheels are coming off, because he’s available and because he’s an upgrade. I’m not calling for Brendan to be sacked, but for Klopp to be hired: there’s a difference. If it happens I’d wish Brendan well. That’s as it should be. He’s worked hard for the club and brought the smiles back for a while.
Hear, hear. Confusion, deflation, a vague, unwanted sense of ennui – all present, and all should be damned to hell. I think if Klopp wasn’t available, there would be less heat around Rodgers’s position – it’s like that, and the end-of-season slide, has caught him in a perfect pincer. But on balance I think you’re right: he should stay, but by God we need goals. Somehow, we need four all-dancing, all-singing forward next season, starting with the unlikely prospect of us somehow sourcing Suarez Mark II. And a decent all-round midfielder with some ooomph about him.
One thing though Neil: what about the manager’s body language and general demeanour lately? The coded messages in the pressers becoming less coded? Do you think he might have a feeling that his job is actually on the line, despite the soundings just last week that this wasn’t the case? And isn’t it part of the job spec to rise above that and just keep bloody going?
Do you think he might have a feeling that his job is actually on the line, despite the soundings just last week that this wasn’t the case?
Yes. From his comments lately he’s obviously aware of the clamor for Klopp. A manager who plays a similar style to what BR claims to want to play and has had much more success.
And isn’t it part of the job spec to rise above that and just keep bloody going?
It is. It’s no secret, I think, that the pressure is getting to him this year.
Don’t know what this “snide” business means so I’ll ignore it.
Generally we need better players and less tactics, imo. Better players playing to an effective system that works. Week in, week out.
Changing tactics week to week must be a big ask for the players but Brendan changes tactics two or three times a game. It’s too much.
We need better players, leaders, goalscorers all over the pitch.
And less tactics.
I’d understand if you were saying “we need less tactics and more strategy”, and I’d probably agree. Just saying “we need less tactics” is a bit prehistoric though.
Prehistoric? Is it, why?
Constant change, which is what we have just now, is a recipe for disaster and that’s what we are seeing in the results. Same happened at the beginning of the season until the 3-4-3 was happened upon. No surprise that when we stuck to that we got results. We get a couple of poor results and it’s back to the drawing board – various formations, players playing out of position, going back to combinations of tactics and players that didn’t work first time around. It’s incompetent and naive.
I’m with James on that, not really sure what the snide thing is about, unless by wanting a manager replaced your being snide?
I wanted Houllier replaced by the end and I wanted the Hodge replaced before he even took over. I still think Benitez was sacked for everything other than football reasons and I hate the people who did that to this day!. Is this snide? I dunno!??
Or is it a saying that I’m missing the meaning on??
I have felt Rodgers has ditched the 3421 system too quickly after the defeats against Man Utd, Arsenal and then Villa, I feel he just needed to tweak the system to get us winning again. He has gone back to a system 433 or 4231 with Balotelli as lone striker which hasn’t worked, we are basically back to square one to around the problems we had in November! To make the 3421 work we do need key players like Sakho, Lucas and Sturridge back in the side, and make sure our attack has all the pace we have available. For the rest of the season I suggest all our pacey players start at the same time minus Sturridge(injury), they are Moreno and Markovic in the wing back positions, Sterling up top centrally with Coutinho on left and Ibe behind on right hand side, this leaves two central midfielders in Lucas and Henderson, and back 3 of Sakho, Skrtel and Can. When teams are pressing such that we can’t send the ball to our midfielders and attackers we need to tweak instead of going back and playing at the back we need to use Sterling and Ibe’s pace in sending long balls in front of them to chase, that way we can gain territory in oppostion final third. These long balls must not be any old long balls they need to be aimed towards the corners of the pitch so even if Ibe and Sterling can’t get to it we can win easy throwins to attack! This is i would suggest a tweak or a plan B without Lambert or Balotelli!
Constant attempts to substitute consequences with reasons.
Lack of strikers: reason or a consequence of the transfer budget spent on a defender and midfielder who weren’t really a necessity for the squad?
Lack of goals: reason or a consequence of the set up that doesn’t allow quick attacks?
Slow build-up play: reason or a consequence of wrong tactics and players being confused and playing out of their natural positions?
Team looks disheartened: Reason or a consequence of the players being thrown under the bus by their own manager and tired of his NLP, of him playing his favorites, etc.?
Young players have not lived up to the expectations: Reason of them being simply poor players, or a consequence of being mismanaged?
Fans negative and “snide” – Reason (Fans are tw**s) or a result of them seeing lack of integrity in the manager who is more focused on building up his CV, on deflecting responsibility onto someone else and on his own PR than on the coaching and getting his tactics right, and getting fed up with that and losing belief?
It isn’t a question of sacking Rodgers and then looking for a new manager. It’s about upgrading him with a Klopp or a Benitez which no sane supporter can complain about. If we can’t get them, we give Rodgers another year.
Kevin Keegan made Newcastle fans dream for a while with beautiful football, but long term his deficiencies as a manager were obvious. The same can also be said of Rodgers when you accept his awful record against top 4 teams – 5 wins in 28 – and his awful attempts to get over mediocre hurdles in Europe.
I think some have built up Rodgers in their own minds to be much more than he really is, and the objective reality of his limitations isn’t easy to accept.
No one’s ignoring the weaknesses of the last few years. Rodgers has been poor in Europe. Some people have weighed that up with the strengths he’s displayed and decided they would stick where others might twist.
Benitez finished beneath Everton in the league during the time when there was only a ‘Big 4’. Everyone lost the plot over the FA cup exit to Burnley where Traore back heels it in. Houllier played some turgid footy to 5th and 4th (just beating out Newcastle and Charlton with a mind-bogglingly low points total compared to today). Kenny’s league form went to pot during the cup runs. These were all great managers. Managers we loved.
They were also managers who had won big things. Rodgers hasn’t, and it makes a big difference.
So LFC policy should be to appoint managers who have won things, only? Bit ironic we’re after Klopp given his status when he joined Dortmund.
So, you’d have Roberto Martinez over Rodgers, for example?
Good job we didn’t have such a policy when Shanks, Paisley, Fagan (I could go on) were appointed
My long-arse comment below explains much of my view but basically, I think Rodgers’ near miss for the title we all crave last year and the footy we were playing therein has won him enough credit in the bank with me for the time being, despite his shortcomings this season. If it hasn’t for you it’s fine because it hasn’t for a lot of people.
“I think some have built up Rodgers in their own minds to be much more than he really is”
Wel, let;’s face it, he’s a pretty good salesman type – there’s something of the blagger, the bluffer there. Last year, I think, was one of those times when he was bluffing with what pretty much turned out to be the best hand. This year, the hand hasn’t been anywhere near as good, and the deficiencies have come to the forefront – he’s been caught holding a 2 and a 7 offsuit, in poker parlance.
He’s had not as long, of course – but remember how we lambasted Moyes for so long as someone who hadn’t won anything, at both Everton and Man Utd..
Well maybe Rodgers is heading down that road too. Perhaps he just isn’t a winner..
Let’s not forget that Swansea won something the year after he left, and have not fallen off a cliff since – Rodgers was, I think, just one in a line of a succession of 5 or 6 good managers in a row for them.
At Liverpool, I’d like to think, the bar is a little higher – and Klopp certainly provides the silverware. Both had terrible starts to this season, Rodgers recovered sooner but slumped again while Klopp brings his team to another Cup Final. For Rodgers, 3 years, a few semis, but no finals. And a terrible, terrible record in Europe.
This is (sadly?) modern football now, mangers don’t stay as long in jobs, and I have seen precious little this season to see that Rodgers deserves another season. New signings were a major impediment – 7, and I don’t think one of them has really been an out and out success.
I’d say that Klopp’s record is comparable to Benitez when he joined us. He actually has a somewhat bigger profile than RB did then, probably due to his charisma, the fact that football is more global now, and the CL final appearance. And let’s not forget that Rafa took over a team there that had just reached successive CL finals, so I think Klopp’s achievements better it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend getting rid of Rodgers if he doesn’t want the job, but I wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, either….
Couple of points on the match:
All those rating Lovren’s performance should take a look at that desperate lunge on the halfway line that almost cost us a goal. There’s a good player in there somewhere but his judgement is fucking terrible.
L’il Phil: he’s been one of the few shining lights this season but seeing him playing throughballs in front of Rickie Lambert is heartbreaking. People like to blame Rickie, but its just a bit fucking thick.
Yeah, I remember that lunge. Not good, but how different to Skrtel letting himself be robbed near the sideline leaving Hull with a 2 on 1?
Defenders’ mistakes are always afforded disproportionate attention for obvious reasons and no defender eliminates all of them all of the time. Lovren has done well recently and is looking better – and crucially more confident – with every game. His season reminds me of Mertersacker’s first at Arsenal when all the wise pundits were telling us this guy couldn’t play in the EPL, almost as if they dish out 80 caps for Germany to any old bag of shite.
I suspect all those who wanted Lovren drummed out just a few games ago were the same people calling for Lucas to be sold after his rather inauspicious start to his LFC career. How many times do we have to be caught out calling it too soon on a player before we stop doing it the next time, and the next, and the next…
Agree (from afar, very afar) with the context of the piece. I was lucky enough to have a season ticket for just two seasons – call them ‘The Collymore years’. Snideness is nothing new. It was being expressed from the seats of the upper Centenary way back then – more at the players than the manager of course, and never at the board as we knew with cast iron that they had our best interests at heart. Always. Well…
Anyway – I want Rodgers to stay and be armed with three good strikers – he has shown, unquestionably, that we can fly high if he has the proper tools. The problem is twofold..
1) Can he be trusted to choose quality strikers for which we will need to pay gazillions of pounds … and
2) Do we have the money to buy these lads?
And all this without CL? – Not no chance, but small chance.
But could Klopp or Rafa or whoever do better with the same hand?
Not no chance, but still – small chance.
“But could Klopp or Rafa or whoever do better with the same hand?”
Yes, Rafa could definitively do better with the same hand. Without a shadow of a doubt, imo.
Feel like I’m blowing smoke because I commented on Gareth’s piece last week saying how much I agreed with it but this was a very good match report/review/state of the club address indeed, Neil.
People can like or not like a manager, want him gone or not want him gone. For instance, pauloffinland in the first comment has a perfectly reasonable opinion that I could see myself sharing if we were to carry on our poor run till the end of the season while, and get on this, not feeling the need to be rude to people who might disagree with him or character assassinate the manager.
What I really wish would have been knocked on the fucking head with a hammer post H&G, pro vs anti-Rafa and Hodgson was the need to go into meltdown by reacting to everything like hysterical angry heads at all times – it’s just tiresome more than anything; I sometimes wonder where people find the energy from – or worse still, to be unpleasant, passive-aggressive snides. I liked us better when we left all that kind of half-sneering-behind-your-hand behaviour for United fans to do.
Just on Rodgers, and this kind of ties into why Rodgers=Hodgson ad Rodgers=Brent fellas do my head in, I really don’t want Liverpool to just become a sack-the-manager-after-one-disappointing-season club. Maybe I’m naïve and times must change but our fan culture to me is about backing the manager. If we’re not going to try and compete with the top clubs in Europe for the managers who are proven winners or really stretch to fight the richer clubs in this country over the signing of elite players, at least we can be true to some sort of identity while we try to find a different route to cracking the whole playing for top honours thing.
I remember listening to your 2011/12 end of season podcast and being as upset as you probably can be over togger. I understood but vehemently disagreed with your opinion (it can be done, Chis Mc) on wanting Kenny gone. The club legend deserved a second chance to put things right in the league. After five years of some great times and under the off-field circumstances, the proven world class manager we had should have been allowed one bad season. And in my opinion, even though he hasn’t lifted any silverware (would be a bit gutted for him if he got the bullet as a trophyless Liverpool manager) Rodgers deserves a chance after one lacklustre season for his contributions last season.
It’s not the early to mid 2000s anymore but Houllier was given another year after one poor season then let go so we could get someone who was more than likely to be an upgrade. In hindsight, I love that fact even more than I loved Houllier as a kid.
Gerrard didn’t get to lift it last year, but if you can turn nasty against this manager who harnessed that football we played, which resulted in that winning run and the buzz it brought back, I don’t want to know you.
Idiots will say “well Hodgson didn’t get time and took pelters” to justify themselves but if ‘exception that proves the rule’ means anything, it means Hodgson as Liverpool manager. The ultimate footballing anomaly that crept through the net amongst everything that was happening at the club at time.
Fuck it. Let Brendan carry on with the league, draft Rafa back in for Europe and let Kenny sort the cups. Hodgson can do the interviews and press conferences because we all seemingly need something to fume over at any given moment. He does shite all else for most of the year now anyway.
(Soz everyone for the meandering essay of a comment.)
Great post Tom M and I’m with you 100% on the fan culture thingy, apart from you know who I’ve always found it hard to have a go at any Liveepool manager.
Nailed it, pal.
Sacking Rodgers would mean we’re getting our 5th manager in 7 years for next season. That’s starting to get into Spurs territory and is, frankly, embarrassing. We used to laugh at clubs like this. Anyone wanting Rodgers gone can ask Spurs fans how this ‘sack your manager every other year in the quest for top honours’ lark is working out for them.
3 years isn’t *that* short a tenure by today’s standards though – it’s the combined 2 years for Kenny and Woy that weally skew the figures.
Brendan has certainly improved the club, where we are now to where we are then – but he has spent a bolt load of money (mostly badly) to go that, and he’s obviously going backwards rather than forward at the moment.
Chelsea have given no manager 3 years since Ranieri, ask their fans how this ‘sack your manager every other year in the quest for top honours’ lark is working out for them.
Removes fist from mouth.