The Reds' league form hasn't yet improved under Rodgers, but his reliance on the youngsters has put our shortcomings in to perspective...
Liverpool’s latest defeat, 1-0 away to Anzhi Makhachkala, followed an all too familiar pattern. Confident on the ball but lacking any real cutting edge in the final third to capitalise on their possession, and then spurning what chances they did create. Meanwhile an individual mistake at the back presents the opposition with a goal – albeit a superb individual goal in this particular instance – and they claim the win without having to for it. This has been our problem since the start of last season, and the arrival of Brendan Rodgers has done nothing to remedy our woes.
The line-up was understandable. Liverpool’s first string only beat Anzhi 1-0 in the return fixture and, with a trip to Chelsea on Sunday, the last thing Rodgers needed was to send his big guns on a trip to Moscow and risk any injuries to his key men. Plus, even defeat in Russia would leave them in a strong position to qualify from the group; they should have enough to beat Young Boys at Anfield, and Udinese are unlikely to play any of their regular starters in the Reds’ final fixture in Italy as their chances of getting through the group stage all but ended with defeat last night.
There are only so many times you can use the same old excuses before they become tiresome and the validity of the argument loses credence. Liverpool lacked goals long before Rodgers arrived, and then they lost four of their top six goalscorers in the summer, bringing in only two attacking replacements. They have won 2 games from 10 in the Premier League, were knocked out of the League Cup by Swansea at Anfield, and have lost as many games as they have won in their Europa League group. That is not good enough, not by any stretch.
All that said, there are clearly mitigating circumstances here. Brendan Rodgers was obviously (has anyone noticed how often he says obviously whenever he’s interviewed, by the way?) let down by the owners in the summer and, whilst the arrival of Clint Dempsey would not have been the solution to all of our problems, he outscored our entire midfield combined last season. The squad is threadbare, and Rodgers has been forced to put his trust in the young players, who have responded with some impressive performances.
I wrote back in August (you can read here) that although most teams dismiss the importance of the Europa League, it could be used to our advantage this season, particularly in aiding the development of our youngsters. When I wrote it I expected us to bring in a couple of attacking signings, and never envisioned that Sterling, Suso and Wisdom would become first-team regulars so soon; I dread to think what state we’d been in if they didn’t rise up to the challenge. They wouldn’t have become mainstays in the first-team football if we had viable alternatives in the squad, so in the long-run this may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
That’s why, despite generally being a pessimist, I’m surprisingly relaxed about where we are as a club. We’re not a top four club, and anyone who suggests otherwise needs a reality check. Yes, we do have a couple of top class headliners, but the supporting cast aren’t up to scratch. Luis Suarez is our only bonafide world-class player, and whilst Skrtel, Agger, Lucas, Sahin, Johnson, Gerrard and Allen are all extremely talented players who could get in to many top sides, the other members of our squad aren’t yet at that level – but this current crop of youngsters has the potential to be.
I really enjoy watching us play despite our offensive impotency, and it is far more tolerable seeing us lose with a young side full of players, many of who have come up through our youth system, than it is seeing an overpaid, mediocre second string full of expensive flops (unfortunately we’re not quite rid of all of them….yet) lumber about looking disinterested, which is what we’ve been subjected to in recent years. Apparently Liverpool have used 30 different players in the Europa League this season, and whilst some of them are no longer here, it shows how willing Rodgers has been to give the younger players their chance to shine.
We should be looking to emulate the formula that Manchester United have used so well over the past few decades. Their big money signings have been ably supported by a constant stream of young players coming through their youth setup, and those who eventually were not quite up to scratch were sold on for a tidy profit. Whether after sanctioning big money moves for little return, FSG are willing to do so again, particularly when these relatively cheap younger players have been far more productive, remains to be seen.
Liverpool’s squad is in dire need of serious reinforcements, most urgently in the January transfer window but also beyond that in the summer. It is unfair and unhealthy to rely on a bunch of teenagers to win us games every week; they should be carefully nurtured and be used to supplement more established, talented players, particularly those who can regularly score goals. Until we sign more of the latter, we better get used to the Europa League as we won’t be making the step up to its bigger brother any time soon.
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