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Can we really judge Brendan Rodgers?

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Not since the days of Roy Hodgson have I felt such disillusionment with the powers that be at Liverpool. For obvious reasons, Hodgson was never an ideal or seemingly capable manager and therefore his position at Anfield was short-lived. The now-England boss never seemed to have an underlying philosophy that ran through everything he did. His team didn’t play with a noticeably unique style of play that could be clearly seen as being his own. Presently, however, Liverpool has Brendan Rodgers, who despite having a philosophy that runs throughout the club, from the changing rooms to the kitchen, you cannot help but feel that his position as Liverpool manager is slipping between his fingers.

Liverpool started the 2014/2015 season dismally and it took them until November to turn things around. Liverpool started the season with a diamond in midfield and two up-front with Sterling and Sturridge spearheading the formation that had brought Liverpool close enough to the Premier League to see their reflections in it. Then Sturridge got injured, again. Then people realized Balotelli was nothing more than a gamble that didn’t quite pay off. Then Liverpool struggled through two months of what can only be called frustrating football. Liverpool had very few chances to put away and very few players capable of doing so.

The turnaround in form came with Rodgers’ stroke of genius to change the system he had been using without any success. He switched the shape to a risky 3-4-2-1. I must admit that I don’t think the likes of Mourinho or Van Gaal would have the bottle to admit their system wasn’t working and then still change to such an ambitious and ultimately risky system. The drastic change in form was admirable. Taking a 17 points form a possible 21 since the turn of the year and going unbeaten for thirteen games meant Liverpool was sitting pretty two points off United before the fixture which saw everything unravel.

Since that fixture Liverpool has essentially seen any hopes of Champions League dashed and to further worsen that the team seemed destined to have a spot in the beloved Europa League tidied up. The only way Liverpool could avoid the competition would be if Aston Villa won the FA Cup; yet another competition the Reds have exited this term. The record stands at being knocked out of the Champions League and then the Europa League, a semi-final exit at the hands of Chelsea, FA Cup sorrow and most recently the bleakness of knowing that a top four spot is basically impossible.

Typically two semi-finals would be a great accomplishment but that would only be the case if it went hand in hand with a top four finish. The fact that this was not the case coupled with the fact that it never seems like Rodgers quite wants to burden the responsibility of a poor campaign. In his first season as manger the Reds finished seventh and it was accepted and cited as being all part of the transition period but when you have had three seasons and spent £212 380 000 on players that very few can be called a success. Seven of his 27 signings in the last three years aren’t even at the club anymore. 3 of his signings from last season arguably should be on their way out as well namely Dejan Lovren, Mario Balotelli and Javier Manquillo. Only 2 of his signings being Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho can be called outright successes despite the former’s well documented injury plight. Only 2 of his signings have come good on this policy of seeking out potentially world class players.

It could be argued that Rodgers has been constrained by the FSG’s policy of buying young players who are showing potential of being world class and the notorious transfer committee of Liverpool Football Club. Not to mention the legendary Ian Ayre. All these are indications of a lack of cohesion between the manager and the staff surrounding him. Brendan Rodgers hasn’t been granted the full extension of his buying opportunities. Liverpool has, for the last several been in a transition period that desperately needed for quality proven players to be brought in. It is difficult to pass judgement upon a man who is forced to coax the quality out of greedy teenagers and to nurture talent rather than to accept a ready-made and proven player.

You wouldn’t get away with saying that the owner’s lack ambition. I think having spent £116 million last summer demonstrates a very definite amount of eagerness for success but the scope with which their money is being used to access talent isn’t great enough. Rather than being unambitious there is a naivety to the transfer dealings where FSG is concerned. This is doubly important if their ambition is genuine. Liverpool is being seriously outplayed in the transfer market by the likes of Chelsea and the Manchester clubs all because they are prepared to sign proven players. Manchester United’s post Ferguson slump wasn’t as prolonged as Liverpool’s current slightly interrupted hiatus from Europe’s elite competition, due to the simple fact that they are capable and un-hindered by club policy to sign ready-made quality players. Di Maria, Falcao and Juan Mata are the type of signings Liverpool just isn’t prepared to make and it is ruling the club out of contention for any sort of prestigious competition.

The owners need to come to the realization that if Liverpool is going to be successful they need to be prepared to invest the money they are currently spending on players that will come straight into the squad and put the fear of God in teams in the way that Liverpool did last season. Luis Suarez, a world class player, took Liverpool as close to the Premier League title as you can get without actually winning it. The ‘Suarez Money’ that was generated from the sale of the controversial Uruguayan to Barcelona was dismally squandered on players that are mediocre when the club desperately needed to reinvest that same money into a player who would lead the club with a similar brilliance.

The season is nearing a close and it is imperative for Brendan Rodgers, despite FSG’s assurance that his job is safe, gets as much out of the upcoming fixtures. Otherwise, not only will there be awkward question marks surrounding his future, fans will have more than the disappointment of the poor season going into the summer transfer window. If FSG really want Rodgers as the manager of Liverpool Football Club and for him to succeed he needs to be granted more freedom to sign who he likes without the pandering of a nonsensical transfer committee. If Liverpool are indeed to succeed, the club’s policy of signing only young potentially great players needs to be abolished.

Aspiring sports writing currently completing final year of high-school education. Your typical die-hard fan of Liverpool. Founder of rousingthekop.wordpress.com

FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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Liverpool

Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season

Martyn Cooke

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On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.

However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.

Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.

The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.

Roberto Firmino

At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.

But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.

The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.

The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.

Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.

However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.

He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.

The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.

But that is set to change.

Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.

Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.

The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.

Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.

He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.

Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.

His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.

Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.

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Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Manchester United overcame Huddersfield Town in their FA Cup 5th Round contest.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

A brace from sharpshooter Romelu Lukaku fired Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of Huddersfield Town.

Lukaku opened his account in the third minute before netting his second of the evening shortly after the second-half resumption.

Victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. However, as the Terriers produced a spirited display after the early setback.

There was also controversy involving the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.

Juan Mata saw an effort ruled out for offside after a review, but confusion abounded about whether it had been the correct decision.

Here are three talking points from an eventful encounter, as United set up a last-eight tie with Brighton & Hove Albion…

Lukaku’s goals are a fillip for Jose Mourinho

The Belgian has come in for criticism from some quarters for his goal return since last summer’s big-money transfer from Everton.

While he may not have reached the levels of Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah, Lukaku has now scored 21 times in all competitions for United this season.

That tally was boosted by his double against Huddersfield, which showed off his best attributes.

Lukaku was too strong and clever for Huddersfield’s defence as he latched on to Mata’s through ball for the first, before putting the finishing touch to an Alexis Sanchez pass for his second.

The former Chelsea man’s performance will be the biggest plus for United boss Jose Mourinho, who is relying on him to spearhead the attack for the remainder of the campaign.

Lukaku is a confidence player, so this was a timely boost ahead of a crucial run of fixtures both domestically and in Europe.

VAR under the microscope yet again

The introduction of technology to any sport usually results in teething problems.

It is fair to say VAR has experienced more than its fair share in football this season.

Employed in some FA and League Cup matches, controversy has never been far away. This was again the case at Huddersfield.

Mata appeared to have doubled United’s lead just before half-time, but referee Kevin Friend waited for confirmation from VAR that he had been onside.

After about a minute, Friend disallowed the goal when it was judged that Mata had been fractionally offside as the ball was played.

Contention emerged when viewers saw the incident on TV, where the guidelines were clearly not straight.

In fact, they were embarrassingly wonky.

Further replays suggested – with parallel lines correctly in place – that Mata’s knee had indeed been offside, but it was a very close call and certainly not an obvious mistake by the referee’s assistant.

These technical hitches will need to be ironed out before VAR is brought in universally.

Huddersfield can be positive despite FA Cup exit

With their Premier League status hanging in the balance, it would have been understandable if Huddersfield manager David Wagner had seen this fixture as an unwanted distraction.

But there was absolutely no suggestion that they were trying not to win the match, or prepared to exit the competition without a fight.

The Terriers, who famously beat United at home in the Premier League last October, carried on from where they left off last weekend in the impressive 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Conceding so early to United had not been in the script, but the hosts regrouped quickly and caused their opponents plenty of problems.

Ultimately, the difference between the two sides was the quality of finishing.

Whereas the visitors scored with their only two shots on target, Huddersfield wasted numerous openings as they slipped to defeat.

Nevertheless, attention can be turned back to their bid for survival, without their confidence dented.

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