BRENDAN RODGERS: “That was part of my reflection when I left Reading, that I did veer from my philosophy under pressure for results, I wasn’t being true to myself. I can adapt and be pragmatic of course, but I had success all my life as a coach working with players and developing them in my way — which is not just the right or wrong way, but how I operate, what I’ve devoted my life to, what I’ve rehearsed a million times on the training field.”
The first question critics of Brendan Rodgers usually fire off is ‘what exactly is his philosophy?.’ It is the one that saw him, as Swansea manager, applauded off at Anfield in November 2011 before being appreciated again in the reverse fixture on the final day of that season.
It is explained in the 180-page dossier he submitted as he switched dugouts less than a month after that encounter. It was present when Liverpool, against all logic and expectation, were within touching distance of the 2013-14 Premier League title. The vision is one that “excited” Luis Suarez, “enhanced” Jordan Henderson and helped transform Raheem Sterling from a tricky winger, to a tactically astute £49million player. It’s the very philosophy which underpins the impressive work of Garry Monk and Eddie Howe. That is admired by Manchester City. And has the 42-year-old constantly mentioned as a future La Liga manager.
But it is certainly not what was witnessed against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Rodgers preaches intensity — suffocating opponents with and without the ball, attacking aggression, quick transitions and fearlessness. All those facets were AWOL on Saturday, and confusingly, it seems as though that was upon instruction. Liverpool were happy to let United play, and happy to contain them. Liverpool were happy to be Chelsea 2013-14, instead of Liverpool 2013-14.
When the season kicked off, it made sense for the club to prioritise results in the four games before the international break. New players and a different coaching set-up needed to settle, but not at the expense of points. The plan worked for a trio of those fixtures, but West Ham’s ballsy attitude undid that approach within three minutes at Anfield, and there was no answer. Only two more questions from the visitors. Plan B became Plan A, and Plan A is seemingly sunbathing on a tropical island.
It was meant to be all change after the two-week interval, with no better fixture to bring the house down than United away. Arms aloft at Old Trafford has never been easy. Liverpool have only won 16 league games at the ground in 119 years over 82 trips. But result aside, it was about putting in a performance that made everyone sit up and pay attention again — for the right reasons.
Instead, what we got was softer than melted brie. The Reds were painfully timid. Painfully inept. Painfully invisible. For much of the match, the enemy may as well have had a walking kickabout by themselves. A poor display from a poor United team still resulted in a no-sweat-required 3-1 triumph. How do you accept that? You don’t. You never do.
The club are stuck in a scenario where conceding one goal leads to letting in more, while everyone is as Lost as the TV series to where the response is going to come from. Philippe Coutinho can only supply so many worldies before he gets picked off. And the worse Liverpool are, the sooner that happens.
Annoyingly, the mistakes are a repetition of the start of last season. Slow, safe approach? Check. Waiting on Daniel Sturridge to dust off his cape and come to the rescue? Check. Enshrouding strengths and exposing weaknesses? Check. The tools to fix that depreciation were only unpacked in mid-December.
“I knew I needed to be radical because we were so far off from where we wanted to be,” admitted Rodgers.
“When things weren’t going so well, there was that period of thinking while trying to stem the flow, which was going a negative way.
“The way I work is about being innovative and creative. I can’t then go and watch my team go and slug out a result. We can do that. We’ve shown that but it doesn’t give me joy.
“I love the beauty of football. It’s why from a young age I’ve enjoyed seeing skilful players beat people. But also understand you have to work to defend well and be competitive.
“My natural environment is out on the training field and it was about putting in place something the players can fully believe in. You can see their belief in it and how it’s working.”
Listen to yourself, gaffer. Please.
It is now mid-September, and Rodgers desperately needs to revert to what he knows, what he is brilliant at, and what got him the Liverpool job. Not just before Christmas, now. Before it all turns into The Crisis. Before good players start believing they’re as shite as social media tells them. Before bad mistakes become certified habits.
The Northern Irishman reinvigorated the coaching staff during pre-season with Sean O’Driscoll and Pepijn Lijnders, two fellow exponents of brave, aggressive football in and out of possession.
“Playing safe maybe the easy option as it stops the onus being on players if they make a mistake, but how many ‘safe’ teams have won trophies over the years?” is a line from the former. And from Lijnders: “The first team wants players who are able to open up games and speed up the attack. We are working on a daily basis, individually and collectively, on those offensive, productive, creative and attractive qualities. With guts, courage, faith and a great heart, we look for fast individual and collective actions to get behind the defensive line.”
You’ve got three intelligent, innovative minds who oppose fearful football, and yet, that is exactly what Liverpool are serving up. That’s even before chucking in the influence of the respected Gary McAllister.
Finding new ways to win is not a negative, unless if in doing so, you are constantly shunning the route which has revealed success. The club spent £32.5m on a powerhouse with aerial prowess, yet have delivered less crosses into the box than any other team (15). There is too much that makes you scratch your head, and too less for your hands to applaud instead.
Supporters are losing faith, and for the majority, this statement is already in the past tense. Liverpool need to bring back the belief, and quick.
Rodgers’ “unswerving belief” in his way deserted him at Reading. It took a walk at the start of last season. Now, under more pressure than ever, it seems to have sidestepped him again.
“I want to see great attacking football with creativity and imagination, with relentless pressing of the ball.”
We want to see that again too, Brendan. Grab the wheel and make it happen.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo