So much criticism has come from Liverpool fans this year given Brendan Rodgers’s relative in-experience in management; despite the Northern Irishman’s wealth of experience in coaching for over twenty years, Rodgers has only been the top man for five of those years.
Brendan knew he was walking straight into the lions den that Anfield has become of late; his first press conference was impressive, yet in the background the club was in an internal shake up – new scouts, new coaches, and new transfer policies. The ‘operational issues’ he cited after the debacle that was the end to the summer transfer window, the early mistakes that saw Liverpool start the campaign in frustration, the open letter from John W Henry, the documentary all fans would soon learn to curse Being Liverpool – a hit in the US, an embarrassment for anyone Scouse or in the UK, didn’t give the Northern Irishman the best of starts.
And yet it would be fair to say, in my opinion anyway, he’s managed to get through the season and come out with some credit. Liverpool finish the campaign in the top 4 for goals scored in the league and we’ve conceded as many goals as the Champions of England. There’s a tactical pragmatism that’s crept into Rodgers’ side that none of us expected; the early on tika-taka has seemingly gone, yet we’re now one of the best passing sides in Europe (8th) and those above us include Bayern Munich, Manchester United, PSG, Milan and Barcelona.
The reality is, with all of that said, nobody gets any prizes for winning the passing. The stats tell a story of a side improving technically and tactically, but not being able to consistently deliver the performance level they needed to really push on this season. The cup runs have been, to say the least, woeful. The Luis Suarez show was not enough to put us through.
The problems in dealing with big, strong centre forwards have been continuing to hurt us all season. Benteke and Lukaku are still words that are not spoken of lightly by Liverpool fans and let’s not mention Stoke. The defensive mistakes that saw Liverpool throw away a grand total of 12 points (Everton A, Man City H/A, Arsenal A) that would have seen Liverpool knocking on the door of the top 4, if not marching in it; 4 Games, 4 big mistakes. It’s amazing when you look at it like that.
As we enter the summer we should take with us a renewed hope that with a few quality additions Liverpool can push on and make a challenge at the top of the table next season. There’s no way we’ll win the league, but a fifth or fourth place finish shouldn’t be out of our reach.
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2012/13 saw impressive debut seasons from Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Suso. The revelation of the final day of the season saw a remarkable debut performance from Jordan Ibe who skipped past the QPR players with a confidence and skill which belies the fact he’s 17, never played in a senior game but looked for forty minutes like one of the most composed players on the park. With other notable debuts coming from the academy, Liverpool fans can once again believe that the Academy is brimming with talent and it’s starting to produce the goods which is players fit to wear the Red shirt and the Liverbird on their chest.
However complacency should not cloud our judgement, this is a squad in need of a massive injection of quality; mistakes come not just from bad luck but from players not good enough to compete at the top. All sides will improve next season and despite the confusion that new management will bring to City, Chelsea and United nobody should underestimate how soon hope can be turned into despair. Our very own fall from grace after 08/09 should be a memory that serves well for the fans as well as the club. Liverpool who were arguably one of the best sides in Europe that season through bad judgement well and truly fell of their perch. A promising end to a season counts for nothing if form cannot be continued into the next.
Another sign of encouragement for fans should be Rodgers statements of late; he’s come out and admitted he needed this experience and the ‘grace’ of a transition season. He said recently: “This year has provided a great learning curve for me and I look back and see that it was learning that I needed. I knew the expectancy of the club but going into next season, I am a much better prepared manager for that. We want to make significant improvements next year in the points total because the reality is we are 30 points behind the leaders and 11 points behind the top four.
“But I’ve seen enough and if we improve our mentality in the summer – by signing players who have that consistent winning mentality – we can then improve again, like we have done in the second half of the season
That’s the job of the recruitment team and the club to identify those types of players. They might not always be the best players but what we need in the second year of this project is to find a great level of consistency. There is a process of getting into the top four and becoming champions and that is consistency.”
He also told talkSPORT recently that he felt Liverpool should be pushing for trophies next season which again as fans we should welcome. I don’t subscribe to the often touted phrase that Liverpool is all about winning trophies as it implies some sort of divine right to the fact that we should be champions regardless of what we do. Success can be bought, however more than often it is earned, just look at Manchester City this season.
However, I do feel that the club’s standards should always be to win, win more and keep winning but for that to happen we’ve got to earn the right to compete and to finish on top, not just because we are Liverpool, but because we’ve worked hard, grafted and earned our success on the pitch.
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As a fan who loves the club as much as the next person, I feel the same anxiety and fears and most of you reading this. Every game I spent mostly biting my nails, cheering like a loon, holding my head in my hands in despair. The TV’s nearly taken a leap out of the window on more than once and I’ve nearly fallen off my seat in the stand in rage.
Yet on more than a few occasions this year I’ve been blown away by some of our play; our signings in Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho have shown what shrewd investment can do for what seems on the face of it a fairly average side. And the quality of Luis Suarez has been a joy for all to see. Keep working on the mental side of his game, more importantly keep hold of him in the summer and we’ll be a force to be reckoned with, of that I’m sure.
So for once in a long, long time there’s positive signs coming from the club. Ian Ayre stating on the final day of the season that Liverpool were backing the manager and will back him in the summer once again.
The challenge the club have now is to keep moving in the right direction, not only in backing the manager but doing all it can not to isolate some of the support that’s been so crucial to our success over the years. The great man Carra said himself to the fans today ‘you’ve dragged us over the line more than once over the years’ – this is crucial if the club are to succeed going forward; football without fans really is nothing after all.
Now Rodgers must keep learning and adapting if he’s to be ultimately successful at his tenure in the hot seat at Anfield; having a philosophy is fine, but it’s only good if it achieves results… Take note Brendan the countless long balls from Gerrard, Enrique and even Wisdom setting up some great goals from Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge; the ability to retain the ball is ideal, but to split a midfield to break the deadlock can be the difference in any season.
If you don’t believe me just ask AVB who’s shaking his head realising that at Everton he was maybe just too predictable, too reliant on his star man to always do the job. Or even look back to what Graeme Sounness used to do back in the glory days! Sometimes the tried and tested methods work the best, the teams that play the football are the ones that will come out on top.
One last thing I would add to the above, as much as the target should be to push on next season we have to give the players and the manager the kind of support they need. Liverpool may well sign some quality in the summer, but if there’s one thing it’s clear we need to improve on his mental strength. Dr Steve Peters, the world renowned psychologist now employed by Liverpool said recently:
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The goals should be ‘Let’s do the best we can, be prepared as individuals, be prepared as a team, make sure we get everything right.’ These are the goals because you can control these. At the end of the day you can’t do better than your best.”
The thing is players to perform at their best need a mental freedom in order to deliver.It may take Liverpool some time to get back to the standards we all know, expect and want from our club, however we can’t control what other teams do and we can’t control the environment we find ourselves competing in. So let’s back our team, yes demand the highest standards, but allow for once the manager time to keep showing this improvement on the long road back to recovery. Hopefully that road is one that also lead’s to glory.