DEPRESSION hovers over Anfield.
Another grim evening watching a group of players under-perform. For Carlisle, now read Sion.
Last night’s dismal proceedings were summed up by the need to introduce Philippe Coutinho on the hour. It smacks of desperation; the cavalry sent in to rescue another gormless performance. When Coutinho then offers a half hour of passes into no-man’s land, with Divock Origi and co on a completely different wavelength, it underlines the futility of the exercise. If the upcoming Merseyside Derby entirely justified a virtual second-string selection, seeing Liverpool’s one creative spark dragged down to depths plumbed by most of the dross on show last night makes little sense.
Brendan Rodgers is under pressure. The most quoted sentence in English football right now, certainly around these parts. His post-match interview on Thursday betrays a man acutely aware of his perilous position. He is composed, but noticeably flat. He talks of missed chances, highlights a defensive error but speaks of “another rebuilding job”; one which he says rather unconvincingly, he will “take forward, hopefully”.
He sounds like a fella who has had the life kicked out of him.
Fans forget the inspirational pre and post-match Rodgers of 2013-14, the little street-fighter who for months consistently refused to rule out the league title when it would have been easy to manage expectations and speak of qualifying for the Champions League. When thousands lined the streets to welcome his team to Anfield week after week, it wasn’t just because Luis Suarez was banging in the goals. It was as much about belief and that belief came from the top.
“Make us Dream”, we asked, and dream we did until the cruellest twist of fate turned it all into a nightmare.
Rodgers is a shell of the ebullient little man who fronted up to those microphones in the midst of that glorious spring of 2014. Leaving the tiresome personal stuff aside, his critics talk of him speaking now to “save his skin” but he’s hardly coming out fighting. When he spoke last week of being a better manager than he was three years ago, it sounded utterly unconvincing. Three years wiser you might expect, but instead three years more downtrodden, more paranoid, more exhausted.
Rodgers recently spoke of the “hysteria” around his position but it’s largely in his own muddled head. If Brendan wants to understand real hysteria, he wants to talk to Rafa Benitez. When every aspect of your management, from micro-analysis of a hitherto unheard of marking system to the way you celebrate a goal, is criticised day in, day out by ex-players, panellists and journalists, and snowballs into a relentless agenda that brainwashes an entire fan-base, you can sanely argue to be in the midst of real hysteria.
Rodgers isn’t a “fraud”. What he is, is a young coach with bright, tactical ideas that are being dimmed and becoming more confused by the day. Where once he exuded energy and confidence, he now seems lethargic and scared. You can see it in his teams. Set up to be solid at Stoke, to stifle at Old Trafford; safety first the maxim winning out over goals.
At Anfield, when Rodgers was at his best he sent out his players to maraud, to swarm the opposition, to go for the throat. You could almost hear the inspirational words spoken in the dressing room, so evident was the instruction in the rampaging style of play.
Now though, Liverpool are limp and insipid. Chances are created (and spurned) but there’s no concerted intensity or urgency. There is no ramping up of pressure, just patient probing that ebbs away into incoherent, over-complicated approach play and zero end product.
The defensive instability in terms of system and personnel continues to undermine any sense of attacking purpose. A lack of conviction up front; an absence of a killer instinct in front of goal has seen leads squandered and performances slowly unravel. This is a squad performing in the image of its manager; confused, timid and beaten.
In the stands too there is mounting apathy. The ubiquitous clamour for a change of manager on the forums, airwaves and social media hasn’t yet manifested itself in terms of open revolt inside the ground. The natives are more resigned than restless but that could soon change with Goodison Park on the horizon.
It is hard to see a way forward, long-term for Brendan Rodgers at Anfield. For him and Liverpool supporters, the derby is a terrifying prospect at the weekend.
Everton, and in particular Roberto Martinez are riding the crest of a wave in the wake of Monday’s comeback at West Brom. The Everton psyche is never stronger than when they look down on Liverpool in the league table. The Blues will be licking their lips at the prospect of putting distance between themselves and their detested neighbours.
If Everton have an Achilles heel, it is that they often crumble under the burden of derby favouritism. Rodgers has to cast off the cloak of angst and diffidence and jump on the Blues’ deep-rooted insecurities. As much as Evertonians will be confident, years of disappointment and derby disaster gnaw away on the inside.
Liverpool can’t afford to acquiesce to an Everton side pumped by the occasion and home crowd. There can be no repeat of the conservative approach that led to the wishy-washy showing at Manchester United.
Rodgers has to inject a verve and brio into his dressing room that fights fire with fire. Kick some fucking arses. Invoke the spirit of Ronnie Moran and Joe Fagan.
For the first time in Brendan’s time here, there’s no Steven Gerrard to help deliver the parochial call to arms. Embrace that challenge and be the man that sends a Liverpool team out prepared to fight and play in equal measure.
He knows that his job is on the line, and that a defeat could sound the death knell to his management but he must somehow walk into that away dressing room on Sunday with the swagger and conviction of old.
On Sunday, Brendan Rodgers stands as a man alone. If he feels cornered, it is time to come out swinging.
There is no place for a draw that just delays the inevitable. Beating the Blues curries much Red favour. So Brenno, one last roll of the dice. One final drink in the Last Chance Saloon.
Attack, Attack, Attack.
Up the Reds.
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo