Typical Brendan Rodgers. On a final day that should have been all about Hull City, Newcastle United, Mike Ashley, Sam Allardyce, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Steven Gerrard, Liverpool’s manager still managed to make himself the big story. And how.
That paragraph is written slightly in jest, but you won’t find many Liverpool supporters laughing. A season which promised so much has delivered nothing better than a kick in the crotch extended across the entire campaign. Rodgers’ side dropped 22 points from one season to the next, and their Champions League campaign was the dampest of squibs.
To lose at Stoke was predictable, for Liverpool have been limping towards the finishing line. But to lose like this? To concede six goals in a Premier League game for the first time? To suffer their worst league defeat since 1963? Last-day matches are supposed to be dead rubbers, and yet this seemed to be the most symbolic result of Liverpool’s season. They weren’t just beaten, but pulverised. Memories are long, and patience is short with Rodgers. Last season’s capitulation was seismic, but that’s far more palatable than miserable acceptance.
“The supporters have every right to be angry,” Rodgers said after the game. “That first half was awful. I take full responsibility as the manager. We have to go away and fix it.” Unfortunately for Rodgers, actions speak louder than words. He’s quickly cementing a reputation for the latter without the former.
This has been a difficult week for all at Liverpool, the back pages filled with Raheem Sterling’s ambitions to leave the club. Rodgers will no doubt consider those developments to have been distracting to his side’s preparations for the trip to Stoke. There is nothing to excuse such a pitiful performance. Farewell, captain. Please remember the better times.
It was a performance to embody the season in microcosm. Liverpool were at sea defensively, and almost completely lacklustre in attack. There was place too for Rodgers’s tactical ‘creativity’. Emre Can picked as right-back, Philippe Coutinho on the right wing, Steven Gerrard as the furthest player forward. False nines, false hope.
Liverpool’s result, combined with Tottenham’s victory, also has a lasting negative effect. Should Aston Villa win next weekend’s FA Cup final, Liverpool must play a Europa League qualifier on July 30. It’s not the perfect pre-season preparation.
Ian Ayre and his transfer committee can share plenty of the blame for this season’s emphatic regression, but it is not his responsibility to create a team which can defend above an abject level. Liverpool have spent too much money on too many players who have impressed elsewhere for it to be a fault purely in those individuals. The buck stops with the manager.
“Defending is not hard to coach,” said Rodgers on April 28. “It’s very easy to set a team up to defend.” That only makes the concession of five goals in 23 first-half minutes all the more unpleasant. The Liverpool manager has a wonderful ability to insert his foot into his mouth whilst continuing to talk.
Another Brendanism came in early April on the subject of Sterling’s desires for glory. “Raheem’s ambition is to win trophies and that’s perfectly aligned with what we’re trying to do,” says the Reds boss. “This is one of the great clubs.”
Unfortunately for Rodgers, that simply doesn’t compute. If Liverpool are “one of the great clubs” (and note the use of the present tense), Sterling’s ambitions would be sated. The 20-year-old and his agent have declared a PR war, but Liverpool are running low on ammunition.
One can’t help thinking too that a “great club” does not stomach performances such as those returned by Rodgers this season. Liverpool’s greatness (aside from reputation) lies in the past. Pretending otherwise is an unhelpful facade.
Rodgers now faces a review with his bosses to assess the damage of this campaign. The previous intelligence was that his position was not under threat. A worst league defeat in 52 years might change that.
Closer to ninth than fourth. An awful run to end the campaign. A lack of regular game plan or regular system. A star player wanting to leave. Work to be done in the transfer market. Other high-profile managers available. A woeful final humiliation to leave a bitter taste in the mouth. It doesn’t look good.
“If the owners want me to go I go but I still feel I have a lot to offer here,” was Rodgers’ final post-match message. An eternal optimist had finally been forced into grim realism. Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish were both sacked after taking ten points from their final nine league games. Both have two points on Rodgers.
A few weeks ago I wondered whether Brendan Rodgers would be remembered as the manager who took Liverpool back to the big time, or the man who squandered the resultant spoils. It’s a dilemma that those inside Anfield must now mull over. The latter camp is growing stronger in number by the day.