Brendan Rodgers Unhappy with Youngsters Shows How Much More Work Liverpool Need
Liverpool made an early exit from the FA Cup with a Fourth Round defeat at Oldham Athletic, leaving manager Brendan Rodgers to criticise some of the younger players in the squad for failing to take their chance.
While the boss has to accept that he might have got certain aspects of the team wrong, there is no doubt that it was a case of "opportunity missed" for some of the youngsters in Liverpool's team yesterday, with the likes of Sebastian Coates and Jack Robinson in particular unable to take the chance handed to them.
Liverpool are building a team based on youth, technical ability and the desire and hunger to win.
At Oldham, only the first of those attributes were on show—until club captain Steven Gerrard, along with fellow second-half substitute Stewart Downing, came onto the pitch.
Rodgers was left suitably unimpressed with some of the starters and did not hold back in his post-match comments (as per LiverpoolFC.com).
We picked a team to come here and win the game—we know we've got a big week of games—but our mentality in that opening period was poor and ended up costing us.
I was disappointed with the young players today. We're trying to give them experience and let them see what it's like to play for Liverpool. It's not just about playing for Liverpool, you've got to be able to be competitive and be a part of a group that is going to challenge for trophies.
I thought how we reacted to that and how they performed, knowing that that's what we're looking for, was disappointing.
It's not enough to play for Liverpool and get up for the Arsenal and Manchester City games. If you're going to win trophies and go far in competitions, you need to be able to come to places like this and win. We weren't good enough for that.
The youngsters at the club should be, by now, under no illusions that the manager is going to pick them merely because they are full of promise and potential. If that potential is not to be realised against teams two leagues below the Premier League, how are they to earn their chance in the side on a regular basis?
On the other hand, the problems that Liverpool had during the game are nothing new.
Once upon a time the Reds had a fearsome midfield which would stand up to any test; now they have a good midfield on the ball but still have work to do to improve off it. Since the likes of Momo Sissoko and Javier Mascherano departed these shores, Liverpool have not had a defensive midfielder with the steel and aggression about them to dominate physical opposition.
Lucas is positionally very aware, retains the ball very well and is not shy about putting himself about when fully fit, but he's hasn't been fully fit for 15 months. He has no deputy in the squad and nobody to play alongside him, or instead of him, who will dominate the centre of the park by sheer strength and will.
Oldham were always going to try and out-work and out-muscle Liverpool, knowing otherwise they'd get played off the park, so it was perhaps a surprise that only Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson were paired in midfield.
Jonjo Shelvey certainly would not have shied away from the physical side of the battle in the game, while the front half of Liverpool's team-sheet was attack-minded but rather weak.
Raheem Sterling was playing against men seemingly twice his height, and Fabio Borini is not yet fit—making the FA Cup the perfect stage to get some minutes, of course, that wasn't a mistaken inclusion—so Liverpool didn't exactly have much power in the team.
Which makes the poor contribution of the defence all the more worrisome.
Coates and Martin Skrtel are two strong, tall centre-backs yet they were completely dominated by Matt Smith and Robbie Simpson, both in the air and on the ground. Accusations have been levelled at Brendan Rodgers by fans, saying he shouldn't have changed the defence, but Rodgers made the right calls here.
Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher are both likely to start vs. Arsenal in midweek, as they did in the last Premier League game against Norwich City. Because of injury history and age respectively, neither of them would be likely to play two games in such a short space when perfectly capable reserves are available.
Glen Johnson was injured, meaning Robinson got his chance at left-back, and both right-back (Andre Wisdom) and goalkeeper (Brad Jones) remained in place from the last game.
So there can not be much blame attached to Rodgers for the back line being named in this fashion. What is disappointing is how they failed to react to the early goal conceded against the lower league opposition; how they failed to learn from those early mistakes.
Crosses should have been stopped at source, not tried to compete in the air against the striker. More pressure should have been applied in midfield, by the forwards as well as the middle players, rather than desperately trying to scramble the ball out of the penalty area later on.
Brad Jones has steadily improved this season but against Oldham, everything he did went wrong. He failed to keep hold of at least two soft shots, his kicking was poor and he did not command his area on the deck or, importantly, aerially.
Rodgers has set about re-shaping the team over the past seven months but there is still a long way to go for this team.
The lessons the Reds' management collective should be learning from these defeats against Oldham, West Brom, Stoke City and the like are that different types of midfielders in particular are required. The trick is, of course, finding those who can provide the strength and the physicality without compromising the technical approach that the whole team must take.
As for the players, they themselves have to take a few lessons from these games too. Brendan Rodgers hasn't hesitated to pull players out of the team if he thinks they aren't contributing to the team getting the right result.
On the basis of this particular game, Coates, Robinson and one or two others have work to do to convince the boss they deserve another chance.
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