A few months back I wrote a blog post for The Boot Room entitled When the Soul is Gone.’ Today, on the morning after Liverpool got hammered 6-1 away to Stoke City, I got an email from a Man United supporter saying that Pool fans must be hurting. That has got me thinking – is this hurt for Liverpool, or just an extension of the numb haze that the club has been cast in for much of the past thirteen months?
Since that fatal stumble by Steven Gerrard in the match against Chelsea on the final Sunday of April 2014, there has been a mood of delayed post mortem at Anfield. The errors were there before that game, but masked over by three men with the same initial playing out of their skins, Sterling, Sturridge, and Suarez. There had been defensive issues throughout the season, and a question of what would happen if Liverpool’s burst out of the blocks didn’t produce goals. Tactically, mid-season, Brendan Rodgers achieved something that you often see with newly promoted teams or those under new management, getting results with a system unfamilar to opponents.
The problem is that once the system gets exposed, it becomes harder to get results with it. Liverpool’s 2014 season came to a shuddering halt with a double exposure by two very different strategists, Jose Mourinho and Tony Pulis. Probably, Mourinho’s was the most tactically considered and deliberate- without taking anything away from Crystal Palace (as if a Charlton man would ever do that). Yet the strategies were simple, either soak up the pressure, or apply a similar amount of pressure, testing a highly suspect Liverpool defence.
Come the summer, most people expected Liverpool to sign a couple of defenders and a quality striker to replace Suarez. The midfield seemed satisfactory and yet this was where several key signings were made. None of these new signings made a major impression at the start of the season and last year’s runners-up found themselves out of contention for the top slots. Then Brendan Rodgers changed the system to 3-4-3, and despite an initial blip in the form of a 3-0 defeat to deadly rivals Man United, Liverpool’s fortunes took a turn for the better.
This change in fortune continued all the way into March and another meeting with United, where the Anfield side were even billed as slight favourites at home. A poor first half, and then a Steven Gerrard sending off, culminated in a 2-1 defeat and a likely end to top four ambitions. After that the season unravelled, with a heavy defeat to Arsenal, and an FA Cup semi-final knockout blow by Aston Villa.
Stories emerged of Raheem Sterling wanting away from Liverpool, in the weeks when Steven Gerrard’s more dignified departure should have been making all the headlines. That too turned into something of a disaster, with a series of defeats and none of the Roy of the Rovers endings we associated with his career in the middle 2000s, and even parts of that almost glorious 2013/14 season.
Then on the last day of this season, Steven Gerrard’s final game, Liverpool go and lose 6-1 at Stoke City, leading to a tirade of abuse for Brendan Rodgers and his team, plus the trending suggestion of game, set and match for the manager. Whether it is or not, I guess we’ll find out in the next few days, or weeks.
It’s not so much about Stoke or one game. In the last couple of years we’ve seen some crazy scores in the Premier League, 4, 5 or 6-1 defeats for teams who come back and inflict the same a few weeks or months later.
For Liverpool fans it seems to be more about whether or not they can trust Brendan Rodgers to guarantee that there won’t be real hurt inflicted at some stage by the likes of Man United or Everton, defeats that you don’t live down when the curtains have been pulled on an end of season matinee. That’s where the real hurt could come from, another summer of Rodgers making a set of poor signings, and failing to acknowledge his mistakes. There’s no doubt he’s a great tactictian and if given time, the players will be able to adapt to a range of systems and come out far stronger and more versatile because of it.
It’s just a question of whether or not he has that time, if a fourth season of no success might just be a step too far for the board and many supporters. I get a feeling that it already is after the Stoke match, but we’ll have to wait and see. Personally, I’d like to know his plans for the transfer window and then decide, so we get a sense of who he’s thinking about signing, and getting rid of. Rumours of Lambert for Benteke, for example, sound great but then you’re left asking why Lambert was bought in the first place, and who will be this summer’s Lambert.
By knowing Rodgers’ plans, we’d get a gut feeling of how things might turn out for the year ahead, and if like his former mentor Jose Mourinho in the summer of 2014 he can learn from the season past, and bring in exactly the right pieces of the team jigsaw. If it’s another summer of throwing eggs at the wall and seeing which ones stick, then it might be time to go!
Maybe then the numb feeling will disappear and the nightmare that has been taking place since that fatal day of April 27th 2014 can come to an end. Liverpool can get back to being a team that no matter how far they might be from the title, they don’t collapse without a fight, and especially not when there’s a cause to fight for, as on the last day of a club legend’s career. Liverpool need back their old passion, however they get it. Anything is better than being numb to the hurt.
Paul Breen is the author of The Charlton Men novel available on Amazon.