It’s a sign of the times that I am not terribly surprised by the fact Liverpool have just lost. Despite the fact Palace were in the relegation zone, and despite the fact Palace had not won any of their last five games.
I like Brendan Rodgers, I think he can be a good manager and has a lot of potential, but he seems insistent on ignoring the lessons from the past.
Time and time again Rodgers is making the same mistake, and doing nothing about it. If Liverpool were getting beaten, but they were experimenting with things, then I wouldn’t mind as much, but they are not. As the famous phrase goes insanity is “repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
There are not slight issues wrong with the team currently, there are fundamental problems that are showing no signs of going away. Wholesale changes have to be made. It is a radical call, but it is one that is vital if Liverpool are to finish anywhere near the top of the table.
The final whistle blew not more than 30 minutes ago, and already the fallout is filling my Twitter feed. It is both annoying and frustrating to see this happen to Liverpool, especially after the incredible exploits that occurred last season.
What is more annoying and frustrating however, is that after every Premier League game, my Twitter feed will say the same thing. The only difference this week was that nobody was bemoaning Mario Balotelli, and that is only because he didn’t play. Surprise surprise, his replacement Rickie Lambert scored a goal inside 90 seconds. In just his second Premier League start, Lambert has now scored more league goals than Balotelli has.
This apparent favouritism towards Balotelli has had fans in uproar for some time. It is not a case of scapegoating, it is a case of facts, and the facts don’t lie. In eight Premier League starts and one sub appearance, totalling 685 minutes, Balotelli has not scored once. In that time he has had 35 shots.
As mentioned, Balotelli did not start against Crystal Palace, and instead Lambert played up top. This decision was forced upon Rodgers though as Balotelli is injured and unavailable for selection, and you can bet that when he is fit again, he will walk back into the starting XI, with Lambert dropping to the bench.
As well as Mr Why Always Me, there is the small matter of Captain Fantastic. As controversial and potentially blasphemous as this may be, it is time for Steven Gerrard to either be removed from his deep-lying defensive playmaker position, or be dropped altogether. Gerrard is a club legend, and nothing can take away the dedication, passion and commitment he has given to the club, but he seems out of his depth at present, especially in the deeper position he currently occupies.
A few weeks ago I questioned why Rodgers leaves Lucas out of the side, when quite obviously Liverpool are so frail defensively. That same argument can be made for Joe Allen. The Welshman started today and broke up attacks well, was decent in possession, and put himself about. Palace’s first goal came when Allen was off the field receiving treatment for a head injury, their second goal came four minutes after Allen had been substituted, and their third came four minutes after that.
It is no use simply playing Allen or Lucas however, they need to be played in their correct position in order to have an impact on the game. Seeing Allen in the opposition penalty area does not fill me with confidence as he is not attackingly-minded and not very creative. Like Lucas, he is at his best sat in front of the back four, breaking up attacks and playing simple passes ahead, to those who are more creative.
If Lucas or Allen are to be in the team – and I believe that it is vital that one of them is – then Gerrard cannot occupy the space in front of the defence. He either needs to be pushed further forward where he can influence attacks, or, as many are suggesting, he should be dropped from the starting XI.
It takes a big man to drop a club legend, especially when the team is not performing very well, and especially when that legend is also the club captain. Last season Arsène Wenger made the decision to drop Thomas Vermaelen despite Vermaelen being the captain. The chosen centre back partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny then proved to be one of the best in the Premier League.
Managers are not placed in positions of power in order to appease players, they are placed there in order to make tough decisions, and to make them correctly. It is easy to start Gerrard and Balotelli every game, but easy does not seem to be resulting in Premier League wins.
As well as Gerrard and Balotelli, there is also the seemingly eternal problem of Glen Johnson. For years his defensive woes have been masked by his ability to attack, but now that that has disappeared, he has been exposed as the full back that he is. Quite simply, Johnson is not good enough, and this seasons performances have further reinforced the fact he is on steep downwards decline. I would neither be surprised or unhappy to see an MLS team offer him a way out of England at some point in the near future.
Despite Johnson’s woeful displays, he is another that Rodgers chooses to play more often than not. In Alberto Moreno Liverpool have one of the brightest young talents in Europe, and yet today he was on the bench, and Johnson was played out of position at left back. Jose Enrique is able to play in that position, but he was absent today also.
On the other side of the pitch it is not even as if Liverpool are forced to play Johnson there, Javi Manquilo looks to be a decent prospect, and John Flanagan will always give 100% for the team. Johnson though appears to be first choice, and Liverpool continue to struggle.
As well as Balotelli, Gerrard, and Johnson, there is one other name that crops up in conversation when discussing Liverpool’s recent failings. A twenty million pound price-tag is not enough to save you from the criticism of the Anfield faithful. Since Dejan Lovren left Southampton and joined Liverpool, the saints have conceded five in 11 games and have the best defensive record in the league. Liverpool have conceded 18 in 12, the same statistics as Leicester City.
Lovren’s poor displays are in part down to the player, and are in part down to the point I mentioned earlier, about the lack of protection offered to the Liverpool back line. Before kick off against Palace today, both Chris Coleman and Jamie Carragher spoke of how Lovren had more protection whilst at Southampton. If Gerrard is ill-suited to protecting the defence – which I believe he is – then the defence will be left exposed, and more often than not, they are then left wanting.
Liverpool’s defeat to Chelsea highlighted just how far Lovren has to improve in order to justify his price tag, and his “commanding centre back” label. He was tortured by Diego Costa all afternoon, and looked hopelessly inadequate at doing what was asked of him.
I am neither a football manager, nor a football coach, I am simply a fan. If these consistent problems are so obvious to me, then why are they not being spotted by those at the club? If they are being spotted, why is nothing being done about them?
My early season optimism has completely evaporated. The title challenge was dead a long time ago, today was its funeral. Now, I think the best Liverpool can hope for is fourth spot, and even that may be too much to ask. For the sake of everyone involved with the club, and for the sake of Rodgers’ future at the club, change needs to be made, and made soon.