Stoke City 3-1 Liverpool
26th December 2012
Liverpool’s yo-yo form continued with a disappointing Boxing Day defeat at the Britannia Stadium – not that it should have been particularly unexpected.
Brendan Rodgers’ decision to play the same side that beat Fulham at home four days earlier backfired and showed a naive approach from the young Liverpool manager.
Going into December, there was hope that the fixture list of Southampton, West Ham, Aston Villa, Fulham, Stoke and QPR could see a fruitful period for Rodgers’ side and have us entering January in a strong position. With just QPR of those games remaining, we sit 10th and are on the same points after 19 games as we had when Roy Hodgson was in charge.
What is most disappointing though is the manner of the latest defeat and how Rodgers appears not to be learning from his mistakes.
Let’s get one thing clear; we are a mid-table side who cannot just pick our team and not worry about the opposition. We have to take into account the opposition we are facing – that is the manager’s key job.
Yet Rodgers picked the same exact 11 at home to Fulham and away to Stoke – two more different fixtures in the Premier League you could not find.
To start young Suso and again sub him is poor management. This isn’t Suso’s fault, far from it. But Everton and Stoke have a lot in common, both are strong, physical sides. Yet Suso started both and was subbed at half-time in both. Learning from mistakes? Clearly not.
I feel for Suso because being subbed early once you may be able to accept but that’s three times now this season and no matter how many times Rodgers pats him on the face and gives him one of them awkward cuddles we became all too familiar with on Being:Liverpool, his confidence must start to be affected.
And there were other options available. The most obvious one being Raheem Sterling – who had finally been rested against Fulham. A player who is capable of being involved in the physical challenges and whose pace could do more damage to Stoke’s myriad of six foot plus players. By half-time we were struggling to get back into the game and thus Sterling’s impact was ineffectual.
There was also the option to have played Enrique further forward – who certainly revels in the physical aspect – moving Johnson to left back and Wisdom in at right back.
Earlier in the season we were impressed by Rodgers showing tactical acumen by changing tactics mid-game; Everton and Chelsea away most notably – either to combat specific threats or because the starting system wasn’t working. There was absolutely no sign of this against Stoke, despite the clear problems.
Rodgers is clearly a very positive manager, one who believes in his methods, and his players. But there is a worry that his idealism is a character flaw.
Having a philosophy is very well, but if you don’t have the players at your disposal to use that philosophy, to continue to use it shows arrogance and naiviety. We aren’t Barcelona – as much as the manager wants us to play like them. Several times we attempted to play out from the back, Stoke knew this was going to happen, pressured the ball, we got panicked and ended up giving the ball away in our own defensive third. Barcelona play the way they do because they possess some of the best players in the World, who have that style of play engrained into them since they were kids.
There is also this question now about the fact we struggle against big, physical forwards – see Fellaini, Benteke, Kenwyne Jones in recent weeks. The question being that if Skrtel and Agger aren’t playing up against these types of players in training, they struggle when challenged in a game.
We’re now nine points worse off than this stage last season. The second half of the season was poor for Dalglish last season, so Rodgers needs a good run in the second half now to catch up that points tally.
January can’t come quick enough, just as it couldn’t from the moment the summer window closed, but no signings will be able to help if the manager continues to fail to adapt his tactics and team selection based on the opposition and type of game we are facing.
Idealism vs pragmatism? Optimism vs pessimism? Realism is what is needed at Liverpool. That and leadership at the top of the football club.