Liverpool: Brendan Rodgers Needs Points, but the League Doesn't End in September
Brendan Rodgers is out of his depth.
One point from three games.
The worst league start in 50 years.
Even Roy Hodgson had a better win ratio!
The plaudits keep rolling in nice and early for new Liverpool manager Rodgers, who after three Premier League games has yet to pick up a win with his new side. He also has just had to face the added ignominy of letting his most expensive player leave on loan without being able to bring in a replacement.
On loan to a Sam Allardyce team, for goodness' sake.
It's not for want of trying, or for lack of a plan, that Liverpool have failed to win yet in the Premiership. An opening day defeat—alright, an opening day walloping—by West Brom was passed off as a "mere blip" by those in the club, while only individual errors stopped an impressive display against champions Manchester City culminating in three points.
Arsenal then presented a different game altogether; the day after the epic failure of transfer deadline day—though the window as a whole is not to be lumped into the same category—the mood was sombre; morose, even, despite the big-game nature of the occasion.
After the expectation and excitement generated by being better than the reigning title holders, Liverpool should have been firing on all cylinders with their second big home fixture against the Gunners.
Though they certainly exuded a measure of control in their first half passing and posed the odd threat—largely through the confident young outlet that is Raheem Sterling—there was a sense of something missing in Liverpool's final third play; something which wasn't solved as the game went on and which, inevitably, conjured up post-match inquisitions of Liverpool's transfer inactivity.
With a difficult visit to Sunderland next up (who are performing so well under Martin O'Neill) followed by one of the biggest two home fixtures of the season—this one against Manchester United—it is entirely plausible to think that the Reds might still not have accumulated their first league victory by the time the "games played" column reads five.
Cause for concern? Well yes, obviously. Nobody associated with the club wants to be reading the league table, however early in the season, and see Liverpool's name floating around near that dotted line signifying relegation.
But cause for panic, for fury, for an instant managerial change?
Where will Liverpool finish this season?
Liverpool have been handed a tough, tough start to the season, no doubt about it. West Brom on the opening day would have been marked down as an important game to win but it didn't turn out that way, and defensive errors since then have cost Liverpool at least two points, if not four.
But the season doesn't end in September. The season doesn't finish after five matches.
Following the home game against United—a fixture the Reds have won three out of the last four of, by the way, and can certainly do so again on September 23—Liverpool face Norwich City, Stoke City, Reading and Everton in the league before the end of October.
Though they will all pose their own different difficulties, they are all eminently winnable matches for the team.
A sextuplet of matches in December should also be viewed as a run of games whereby points can be accumulated rapidly: Southampton, West Ham, Aston Villa, Fulham, Stoke, QPR. None will be expected to be challenging for those top four spots in the league and so all should be seen as games for the taking.
Sure, further blips will crop up along the way. It wouldn't be Liverpool if they didn't; and with a new manager, new players and a new tactical system it's highly unlikely that there will be a smooth first season for anybody—with the possible exception of Joe Allen, who seems to think he's already been at Anfield for at least a decade.
But to discard a fine summer's work and the promise of what lies ahead if everybody buys into the direction Liverpool are headed, is to waste not just the past couple of months but at least two more seasons.
Liverpool are fighting to get back in the top four of the Premier League. That is the goal this year.
It may or may not happen in 2012-13, but it certainly won't if another turnover of players is required, another formation has to be learnt by those who remain and another two or three transfer windows has to be spent scrabbling about in desperation trying to convince top footballers to join a team undergoing its fourth major facelift in three years.
The Anfield crowd, and this is important, know what is going on.
Forget critics in the social media crowd. Avert your eyes from those in newspaper columns and ignore those commenting in the blogosphere, on forums and anywhere else their over-eager keyboard-bashing fingers can reach.
Against Manchester City, a dozen or 20 passes from defence to midfield, midfield to forward line and all the way back again to goalkeeper Pepe Reina was roundly applauded by the crowd.
Why? Because Liverpool kept the ball. Because they didn't give it away, with world-class players like Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany pressing and trying to challenge for all their worth.
Because the Liverpool players kept their composure, offered team mates an angle to pass to, and played the game the way their manager is instructing them to.
Other grounds, other games, other times—there would have been sighs of exasperation that a potential attacking move turned into possession with the goalkeeper.
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Not here, not any more.
Liverpool are learning a newly-improved way of playing (not an entirely new way) and that is the method which will bring success to the club.
Is the statement true? Time will tell.
But it is 100 percent the mantra and the belief of the owners, the manager and increasingly of the players—and that is all that matters.
They must be backed, to the hilt, to overcome initial difficulties and set themselves for the long haul in the expectation and the hope that when things come together—tactically, positionally and technically—Liverpool will be a better team for it, mightily equipped on the pitch to challenge the best teams and come away with the three points more often than not.
Arsenal were better than Liverpool and it was a disappointing defeat. No point trying to put a spin on those bare facts.
But they don't cover everything that is going on with the club and with the team at the moment.
The atmosphere and the reaction was doubtless compounded by the club's failure to bring in reinforcements at the latest possible hour, which was and is, and will be shown to be an error as the season progresses between September and January.
However it is not an insurmountable error, and nor was Martin Skrtel's back-pass, and nor is Pepe Reina's current form.
They are individual instances, rectifiable in the main, and certainly instances which can and must be learned from going forward by all involved.
Liverpool are still at the very, very beginning of a journey under Brendan Rodgers. Yes, maybe some fans are expecting too much too soon, and maybe some have unrealistically high medium-term expectations.
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But then again just maybe those who are trying to foresee the derailment coming early are looking at a very misguided picture, tainted and distorted by mistrust of the past and an inability to differentiate between the importance of sustainability and the false dawn of the fast start.
Rodgers needs to get points on the board sooner rather than later, because in the end winning is everything, and even the most staunch of supporters and loyal of players must eventually let doubts creep into their minds if improvements are not forthcoming.
But to be wilfully blind to the progress which has already been made—and it is self-evident—doesn't help anybody. Nor does, it must be added, purposely ignoring the wrong decisions which have been made and letting them repeat themselves in the future.
And again, that goes for all involved.
It will be a long first half of the season for some fans, given the perceived lack of attacking options on show, and given the difficult start to the season—yet it is only the start of the season, and there is a long way to go.
Stick with it, and Liverpool might just yet pleasantly surprise you.
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