Liverpool’s woefully inconsistent displays this season, culminating with a 3-1 loss at Stoke on Boxing Day, has opened up some difficult questions.
Brendan Rodgers arrived at Liverpool with a philosophy that has stuttered and failed to ignite. Is now the time to face reality and admit that one-dimensional tiki-taka doesn’t suit the players Liverpool have or can attract?
As we draw to the end of the first half of the season, is it wise to impose a system on players that are not tactically able to deliver it?
Take Wednesday night’s game vs. Stoke as an example. It was transparently obvious that Stoke would press high and be physically strong, yet Rodgers chose a set-up that was physically weak and chose to implement a pass-from-the-back mentality that enabled Stoke to regain possession inside Liverpool’s defensive third. Why?
Liverpool were off the back of an excellent demolition of Fulham, but Fulham sat back and invited Liverpool on; couple this with the weakness Fulham displayed and it was evident that Fulham contributed to their hiding as much as Liverpool’s passing and pressing did.
Brendan Rodgers does have a very well-drilled system that adapts itself to an open opposition who like to play at a slower tempo. When faced with opponents who press high and hard, the system falls down. There is no Plan B.
Opponents now know that to nullify Liverpool you need to press high, not give them time on the ball and be physically strong. This was a tactic used by Swansea in the Capital One Cup to good effect, more so by Aston Villa of late and Wednesday by Stoke City.
Rodgers has been brought up on a coaching diet of pass-and-move football that should be suited to the Anfield surface; however, it has on more occasions been worked out by opposition managers and has led to a frustrating day at the office.
A more drilled 4-4-1-1 would have stood up to the Stoke test and last week’s Aston Villa drubbing.
Oussama Assaidi gives a creative output that would stretch defences as they try to contain both him and Raheem Sterling. Steven Gerrard is more influential playing in a forward role behind a front man, as he proved when he supported Torres to devastating effect.
There has been a distinct lack of high pressing by Liverpool under Rodgers; this is concerning as his philosophy of football demands it, as does winning the second ball and being physical, both of which are also lacking in the Liverpool side of late.
As we look to January the arrival of Daniel Sturridge may bring extra goals but the question that needs to be asked is "why Sturridge?" There is no way to dress it up; Sturridge is a mediocre player. He is third choice at Chelsea; he’s no marquee signing.
Liverpool have sunk to their lowest points tally after 19 games in a very long time. Last season Kenny Dalglish was judged to have had a disastrous season, but after 19 games under Rodgers Liverpool have shipped 11 more goals and lost three more matches.
The defensive frailties need to be addressed, bar Jose Enrique, as the back four and goalkeeper all have played in the Champions League and were robust enough to resist attack from Europe’s elite.
The tremendous work that Steve Clarke has produced at West Brom is also another indicator of just how much his presence has been missed on the training ground. Clarke was influential in stopping the rot under Hodgson when he came in as Dalglish’s No. 2.
Whilst the calls for Rodgers to be sacked are somewhat hasty, the reality is that his side only sit three points better off than the team Hodgson took into December 2010 that cost him his job.
Liverpool are playing football in the wrong areas; they have a mediocre squad (bar Luis Suarez) and the calibre of player they can currently attract shows just exactly where the team have fallen to in the past four years.
There is great evidence that what Rodgers wants to achieve is just that—achievable—but history is littered with managers who refuse to adapt.
The most successful managers at Liverpool have all been able to adapt a winning team. Rodgers will need to realise this quickly if he wishes to be uttered in the same breath as those who have tread before him.