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Liverpool were flying high at this time last season. The hope of a possible title challenge sprouted; Liverpool fans could sense a ‘new revolution’ encompassing the club under Brendan Rodgers.
Not only were the Reds chasing the dream of winning the league, but the club was playing an attractive brand of football and the support of the fans were very much behind them.
It seems like a long memory now. The sense of ‘missing-the-golden-opportunity’ lingered and that Liverpool will struggle to replicate the miracle of last season, sans Luis Suarez, was equally anticipated.
But very few had imagined it would turn out like this. The runners-up languishing at 12th after 12 games with 14 points on board, suffered six defeats already (four in a row), four points off the relegation zone and 18 behind league leaders Chelsea – could it be worse?
With every passing game, it seems like Rodgers is slowly losing his control over his team. To put it simply, he is losing the plot.
The sinking feeling had reached its nadir in the 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Sunday. Rodgers outlined the problems after the match, as quoted by ESPN:
“It was bitterly disappointing. You’ve seen a team low on confidence today, not quite together as a team. We need to find a solution very quickly, because it was very disappointing.
“I put the team out there, the best team to win us the game. We made a good start. You could see our passing was a wee bit tentative and then we make mistakes — mistakes you wouldn’t expect to see at a team that’s supposed to be challenging.
“Overall, that intensity and togetherness in our game isn’t there. When you don’t get the results, that affects you. We have to work harder, but we go away bitterly disappointed with the result. At this moment, we’re just not good enough.”
It is premature to discuss about his future at the moment, although Rodgers himself has fuelled this discussion, there’s no doubt he needs to get results and that too quickly.
That’s why Liverpool must win against Ludogorets, when they travel to Sofia in the Champions League on Wednesday night.
Mathematically, Liverpool still can progress to the next rounds without winning the tie. The Reds currently are 3rd in the Group B table with three points. If Real Madrid win their next two fixtures, Liverpool may need just four points to get the better off Basle, provided they improve the goal difference in that case.
Ideally, Liverpool need victories in their next two matches. Adam Lallana said ahead of the match, quoted by The Times:
“We need to stick together, it’s as simple as that. We have a tough game on Wednesday, so we all need to be together for that one. We need to win to stay in the competition, so the lads will be fighting for their lives to do that. It’s important, not just for ourselves, but for the fans, the manager and everyone involved with Liverpool.”
These are bold talks. It remains to be seen whether Liverpool can actually replicate such things on pitch; play as a unit and grab a solid result. They must. Fifth defeat in a row can shatter their confidence to dust; players and fans may start questioning Rodgers’ managerial ability, that in itself is a fatal blow.
Goal scoring remains the major thorny issue, but judging by what we saw against Palace, it was crystal clear that Mario Balotelli is not Liverpool’s biggest headache at the moment. Liverpool were without the Italian on Sunday, yet they managed to score within opening few minutes through Rickie Lambert.
The problem runs deeper. Rodgers’ team selection has come into question time and again, tactics and team set up have been ridiculously poor (he abandons the diamond system when the 4-1-2-1-2 system made them such a strong force last season), substitutions defy logic, the central defensive pair of Skrtel-Lovren, Steven Gerrard’s struggle in the holding midfield role and Simon Mignolet’s shocking performances are some of the setbacks that Rodgers need to address quickly.
Overall, he needs to get his team back to winning ways. Results and only results can instil the confidence back among the players. With few relatively easy games coming up before the mouth watering clash with Manchester United in December, Liverpool must make every opportunity count. They have a good chance to steady the ship again and get some positive results under their belt.
Above all, victory against Ludogorets will take them closer to the knockout rounds of the Champions League. That in itself can act as a catalyst from here on. Victory tomorrow will provide a sigh of relief and can inject the-much-needed confidence to get the season back on track.