Much has been abandoned at Anfield lately and last night Brendan Rodgers abandoned his own philosophy as his side went in search of the winning goal his side required against Basel.
Resorting to throwing Martin Skrtel up front as an auxiliary centre-forward, having withdrawn the only forward named in the matchday squad at half-time, reeked of desperation – it also showed a complete lack of plan.
It showed clearly that there are deep issues at Liverpool.
The irony of Rodgers’ side limping out of the competition they did so well to get back in after five years out due to the excellence of two of Europe’s finest forwards, doing so without a forward on the pitch.
It was almost like that Europa League game back in the early days of Rodgers’ tenure when Adam Morgan and Samed Yesil were called upon, such was the dearth of attacking options available after Andy Carroll was shown the exit and the club failed to bring in Clint Dempsey.
Two years later and Luis Suarez has been sold with the club having failed to bring in a suitable replacement.
Rodgers now has exiled Fabio Borini, refusing to even name the Italian among his subs despite him being fit in the last four games.
Nobody is suggesting that Borini is the solution, but to not name him even on the bench smacks of stubborn egocentricity – “I’m the boss.” Exiling the player in this manner is sabotaging Liverpool and hurting the club. There is no benefit to be had from not naming Borini in the squad. At the least, he offers movement up front, something Liverpool so often lack this season.
Indeed, Borini could have been used prior to this must-win game in order to give Rickie Lambert the much needed rest he so clearly requires. Last night’s match meant it was six starts in 16 days for the 32-year-old. No wonder he no longer has the energy even to get onside and was hooked at half-time.
With Borini – a player who Rodgers was eager to sign for the club upon his appointment – abandoned, Rodgers named just two players from his eight summer signings in the starting eleven – and they, Dejan Lovren and Lambert, were only starting due to injury to Kolo Toure and Daniel Sturridge.
£25 million man and Rodgers’ No.1 priority signing in the summer, Adam Lallana, remained as an unused sub.
£12 million left-back Alberto Moreno was, somehow, dropped for Jose Enrique. Rodgers corrected that mistake at half-time, thus wasting a valuable substitution in the process.
With Borini and his new signings abandoned, it was then another demonstration of how the fast paced, attacking and pressing football of last season has also been abandoned. Yet again we were served up a turgid first-half display completely devoid of any creativity, quality or inspiration.
These poor first half performances – the last two home league games haven’t seen a single shot on target in the opening 45 on either occasion – must be happening for a reason. It’s happened too many times this season for it to be coincidence. There is a serious managerial problem causing them.
How The Kop longed for a fast and furious, high intensity opening we became so accustomed to last season, blowing sides away in the opening half hour of games. And how we so often saw Rafa Benitez’s sides set up on big European nights to surprise often superior opposition – pressing relentlessly and getting the crowd going to create an uncomfortable experience for the visitors.
There was none of that, instead Basel had the freedom of Anfield to pick passes around Liverpool’s double-pivot midfield of Lucas and Joe Allen.
Alas, the half-time changes were much needed and for his brief cameo Lazar Markovic actually looked half decent. Likewise, the decisions made by Rodgers after the sending off made sense, switching to three at the back and bringing on Coutinho for Lucas who was on a booking.
Shortly after Steven Gerrard’s trademark free-kick with 10 minutes to go, Rodgers decided to leave Skrtel up front, completely going for broke. The Slovak almost scored the winning goal in stoppage time with a near-post run that Liverpool’s forwards this season haven’t been making.
It was interesting though that Rodgers took the decision to leave his centre-back as the big target man up front, happy for his side to launch balls towards him as his side chased the game.
Rodgers is man famed for his ball retention ideologies and patience in possession. Yet this showed the complete opposite. Yes, desperate times mean desperate measures.
Speaking back in 2012, shortly before his appointment at Anfield, Rodgers told Match of the Day of his Swansea side: “For the last five minutes, for some reason, we kicked the ball long.” Admittedly, this was said about his side in a match they were winning at the time, but the philosophy of Rodgers has always been to be patient and pass, not resort to long balls to a target man.
That philosophy was abandoned – much like, seemingly, any plan has been this season.