Liverpool's demise: Have the Reds missed their shot at success?
As we draw to the close of the season the race for the title and indeed the race for fourth seem to be at an end. Chelsea are 7 points from Arsenal with a game in hand and will probably grind out the results in typical Chelsea fashion. Arsenal, Man U and Man City all lie in the remaining top four spots and will probably finish there- in what order though, we don’t know. A couple of weeks ago Liverpool were the form team in the league and were predicted to take fourth spot but following losses to Man U and most recently Arsenal, Liverpool’s hopes of reaching the top four now seem bleak. In fact Liverpool’s season can be split into three periods: initial struggle, resurgence and now capitulation. If, as seems possible Liverpool finish 5th or lower, where does this leave the club?
Following the loss of Luis Suarez in the Summer, Liverpool spent and spent big; bringing in Lovren, Balotelli, Moreno, Lambert, Markovic, Emre Can and Manquillo (albeit on loan). Lovren was brought in to stabilise a struggling back four but if anything it looks like he has struggled the most. Lovren has been so unimpressive that Rodgers switched to a back 3 implementing Emre Can as a centre back. Moreno seems to be a good attacking defender, but has struggled defending. Markovic has been unable to get into the starting XI unless he plays as a wingback. Lambert has assumed a role as a squad player. Manquillo has been sparingly used and the less said about Balotelli the better. Brought in to score goals, Balotelli has fewer league goals than Hector Bellerin. To compound all this Liverpool lost Sturridge, struggled to defend and were eliminated from the Champions League.
With the newly changed formation of 3 at the back and two wing-backs, Liverpool seemed to have finally found their rhythm. With Coutinho, Sterling and Henderson, the driving force of Liverpool’s resurgence, they pieced together an incredible run of form. Albeit being knocked out of the Europe League by Besiktas, Liverpool only lost once in the league from November 29th – March 16th. Moreover, their earlier struggles at the back evaporated and Martin Skrtel led a fairly solid defence. Emre Can matured into an adequate centre back, Moreno was given less defensive duty and Sakho (although risky with the ball) performed to a good enough level. Liverpool were proclaimed the form team in the league and looking likely to snatch fourth.
Fast forward to now; Liverpool have now lost two in a row to top four rivals. Sturridge doesn’t seem 100% and neither Sterling nor Henderson have signed new contracts. While the focus of this article is not on Sterling, I will say that he is one of the best young talents in the league, if not in Europe. Such a talent leaving the club will be a huge loss to Liverpool, who also have not signed Henderson to his contract. The scouting this summer is going to be crucial. Liverpool cannot afford – in all senses of the word- to sign poor players, players who don’t fit the style of the club and who aren’t in the most needed positions. Rodgers is partly to blame for this. Let’s remember that this man declined to sign Sturridge originally and later only signed him through necessity. It seems Rodgers also bought the much maligned Balotelli to be the one manager who could change him, Balotelli has always had the talent, but as everyone knows his attitude is difficult to manage. Rodgers panicked and took a gamble on him and it hasn’t paid off. The one thing Rodgers did do well was switch to a back 3 to give more protection to his goalie. However, as of late Liverpool seem to be too easy to play against. The formula goes; stop them playing fast initially and put them under pressure. Sterling doesn’t seem the player he was last year and Coutinho is too inconsistent- one game he can brilliant and the next he is invisible.
These last few weeks are going to be Rodgers’ toughest. He needs to install confidence in his players, restore the faith of the fans and finish the season as best he can. Rodgers constantly talks as if he is a multiple league title winner. He talks of Liverpool’s great history but what he might be better doing is looking towards the future where he might be able to make some history for himself. Liverpool haven’t won a league title in 25 years. History can help players sign for the club, but success keeps them there. Rodgers needs to be shrewder with his signings and maybe rather less self-confident Liverpool are a great club, but they might be a great club without him soon if he continues not to deliver. As Ray Houghton said, Liverpool will have to spend well to be competitive in the league. For Rodger’s sake, I hope he does, as I don’t think Europe League football and the sale of their best players are going to cut it with the owners. Judging by this year it seems Sanchez has made the right choice.
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