Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool produced another abject performance yesterday as the runners-up from last season came away with just a point from the Hawthorns.
The FA Cup semi final was a wretched affair, but West Brom was a chance to bounce back and finish the season strongly. With the Reds needing a win to keep their chances of Champions League football alive, a draw was no real surprise.
Tony Pulis has never lost a league game against Liverpool, at home. An astonishing stat, that highlights one of Liverpool’s key weaknesses – inability to open up organised defences. Even a free scoring Liverpool from last season failed to score against sides sitting deep with an organised backline.
The away side enjoyed oodles of possession and forced West Brom to spend most of the ninety minutes in their own half. However, despite all the fluff and bluster they never really created any clear cut chances.
Following a stellar season which saw the Reds mature into one of the most fluid and mobile attacking sides in Europe, few would have expected them to morph into an inert unit with no cohesion or tempo.
While there is no doubt that Liverpool achieved well over the odds last season, it is also true that they have performed well below the acceptable standards this season. The calls for Brendan Rodgers to be show the door are perfectly understandable and perhaps right.
But the question here is, where do Liverpool go from here?
Another year zero?
A new manager would mean a fresh start, which is not too bad considering the dull atmosphere around the club at the moment. But can Liverpool afford another year zero? Anybody coming in to replace Brendan Rodgers will come in with their own ideas and philosophy. More importantly, they will need another season to implement their vision at the club. Can a club, counting on limited resources, afford to rip up their current “project” and invest into another?
Granted that Brendan Rodgers is responsible for the catastrophic season is some ways, granted that he has wasted a lot of money signing unproven players, but there is a lot more to the issue than just the manager’s failings.
Where was the planning?
The concerning issue at this point is Liverpool’s clear lack of planning last summer. After the season they had last year, the club was expected to build on it and challenge for trophies this season. Instead, they crashed out of the Champions League group stages, nowhere near top four and their season effectively ended yesterday.
Liverpool’s model of investing in youth has brought great rewards in the form of Coutinho and Sturridge. Even the rise of Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson shows the ‘Liverpool way’ is working. But how do you plan to replace the best striker in the world by investing in youth and players that are unproven?
Point is, life after Suarez was poorly planned and Rodgers is playing the price for it.
A quick look through Daniel Sturridge’s career will tell you that his obvious quality is masked with an appalling fitness record. There are few certainties in football, and Daniel Sturridge getting injured is one of them. Liverpool knew they had to invest in a forward and they did, in two.
Divock Origi was signed for 10 million pounds on the back of an impressive World Cup and the enigmatic Mario Balotelli was snapped up for 16 million. You will never get a better proof of Liverpool’s shocking transfer plan.
Granted that Origi is quite the talent and Balotelli’s abilities are beyond doubt, but can they replace Luis Suarez? This is a player who scored 60 plus goals in his last two seasons at the club. Let alone replace him in terms of goals, they cannot realistically replace him in terms of other contributions either.
While Origi’s technique, pace and mobility suits the kind of forward Liverpool prefer, Balotelli’s signing has been a question mark. The Italian has never been the kind of player Brendan Rodgers likes. He is an antithesis of Luis Suarez and everything Liverpool’s quick transitional play demands. Balotelli is a good fit for sides looking for a target man, but his questionable footballing intelligence means he should be nowhere near Liverpool’s mobile unit.
This is not Mario’s fault.
Review the wage structure?
Liverpool needed to spend big on proven quality, but their wage structure and limited ambition restricted them to placing their faith on unproven talent. Now those players might come good in time, but Liverpool cannot afford to stay out of Europe for long periods anymore.
If the reports from last summer are to be believed, Liverpool were very much interested in the services of Alexis Sanchez following the sale of Suarez. But the Chilean ended up at Arsenal and is having one of the best debut seasons from a foreign player in the Premier League.
A backup for Sanchez was Swansea’s Wilfried Bony, now a Manchester City player. The Ivorian has been a proven goalscorer in the Premier League and would have been a clever acquisition for the Reds, who are desperately looking for a number nine, someone to lead the line all on his own. However, according to Liverpool Echo, that deal never materialised because of wage demands.
It is understandable that Liverpool have a wage model and they are reluctant to abandon it. It is understandable that the club hierarchy feel that abandon their model could be damaging in the age of FFP. Looking back at the season, what price do you think Liverpool would pay now for the same players & a few extra goals? Would they accept the wage demands? I would say yes.
Past glories mean little
The manager and owners can go on and on about how playing for Liverpool is a privilege and money is secondary, but those days are long gone. This is a club that has not won the league for quarter of a century now. Even super clubs like Manchester United were forced to pay over the odds for their targets. Yes, United are commercial behemoths and it’s merely a drop in the ocean for them and it is not possible for Liverpool to match their spending. But it was perfectly possible for Liverpool to match the demands of Alexis Sanchez and Wilfried Bony.
Looking at the top four teams statistically, you stand a slim chance of finishing in the top four without a top four wage bill. Only Spurs and Everton have managed that over the last decade.
This does not mean that you need to have a high wage bill in order to play in the Champions league, but it does give a rough idea that better players, who can take the team forward, will cost you more money.
One of the main reasons for Liverpool current predicament is their worrying lack of ambition. With the new TV deal, Champions league football and the Suarez sale, one would expect them to break the bank on a marquee signing, someone who will improve the team instantly and perform week in week out.
Ambitious Liverpool sides in the past have done that time and again. In the 70s, Liverpool broke their transfer record four times and then five times during the 80s. Since they last won the title, they have broken their transfer record only four times in 25 years. Granted that transfer fees have risen exponentially since then, but so has the income.
Currently Liverpool have the fifth highest wage bill in the Premier League, and guess where they are in the table? I am not greatest believer in statistics, but they cannot be overlooked either.
Most fans tend to live in the present as far as football is concerned, but the truth is Brendan Rodgers is far from a crisis situation at Liverpool. Taking into account the Liverpool managers since 1959, Brendan Rodgers averages 1.87 points per game, which is only bettered by Paisley, Dalglish (first spell) and Benitez. With a decent finish to this season, Rodgers will easily climb above Rafa in that list.
Liverpool need to invest in Champions league quality players and they won’t come cheap. Even with a better manager, they will need to back him financially or else they will continue to lose out on targets like Sanchez or Mkhitaryan, players who can really take Liverpool forward.
Brendan Rodgers is still learning on the job and is a good young manager who makes mistakes every now and then. He has been instrumental to Liverpool’s progress over the last three years. But it is also true that he has failed miserably this season. If an upgrade is available, the owners should consider a sacking.
Will they back him financially or is it going to be the same ‘sell to buy’ scenario?
After reviewing the ambition and resources Liverpool have at their disposal at the moment, Brendan Rodgers is perhaps the right man for them. Getting rid of a stuttering plan is easy, but in this case Liverpool risk stagnation if they simply question the manager all the time and not their ambition.