Everton vs Liverpool match report: Even if he had won, the game was already up for Brendan Rodgers

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The Independent Football

There was no sign from Brendan Rodgers’ outward manner that it was all about to end so imminently. But read his words and you begin to appreciate that, inwardly, he was preparing for the worst.

Rodgers, for weeks, had been hammering home the message that Liverpool’s team is in the midst of a rebuilding process. The questions after drawing the Merseyside derby with Everton were match-focused. Until he was asked whether the resolve shown by his players displayed that at least one group at the club still believed in him. 

The answer that followed seemed like it had been rehearsed. He was calm, collected and clear with his thoughts.

“There are two points,” he began, taking a sip of water. “The first is I don’t feel any pressure. I can honestly say. There is pressure to sell newspapers and make stories and I understand and respect that. My job is to worry about the team. That is the only pressure I will feel. When you send a team out, you want them to be relentless, committed and play with no fear. They did that today.”

Whether they were or were not absolutely relentless, then came the key point, the one that suggests he knew, deep down, he was fighting to keep hold of his job.

“If we are to replicate what we did two years ago, we will have to build something,” he continued. “That will take time, whether that is me or someone else.”

He stressed that while it was his responsibility, he would “continue to devote every ounce to the club”.

It remained his responsibility for less than one hour more. After exiting the Goodison Park press area, Rodgers boarded the team bus and, upon his arrival at Melwood, he was informed via a telephone conversation with Mike Gordon, the president of Fenway Sports Group, that his reign as Liverpool manager was over. Rodgers then accepted the offer of Ian Ayre, the club’s chief executive, of a meeting between the pair where he received his final debrief. It is suggested the discussion ended amicably.

It had been decided two weeks ago by FSG that Rodgers would go. A feeling that he should be replaced began to rise in the aftermath of Liverpool’s defeat at Manchester United on 12 September.

Even victory over Everton would not have saved him, an achievement that had been beyond any of his Liverpool sides in the three previous trips across Stanley Park.

As Rodgers says, there are mitigating circumstances that would weigh against any manager in the current set-up. If Liverpool’s best players are sold each summer, like they have been in the two most recent, the club will always be in the process of rebuilding.

Yet there were many things within his power that should have been addressed. Had they been paying attention to the big screen that sits between the Park End and the Bullens Road half an hour before kick-off, Liverpool’s defenders would have seen an interview conducted by Everton’s in-house television station with Ian Snodin and Graham Stuart. According to the former Everton players, current club ambassadors, there was no doubt about where Liverpool’s problems lay.

It might have been a moment for Simon Mignolet, Emre Can, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho to bow their heads in shame and look away; Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno too. Or, possibly, Rodgers’ team-talk had been done for him. Either way, Liverpool had become all too predictable – certainly a soft touch defensively – and in the end, Snodin and Stuart were kind of right.

 

Liverpool owed Mignolet for not losing. Yet blame should be levelled at Can and Skrtel, instead, for not winning. The Belgian made two of his most meaningful saves in a long time by denying Steven Naismith and then James McCarthy using one hand while at full-stretch. Roberto Martinez, the Everton manager, commended and bemoaned the stops in equal measure, suggesting they were as good as you will see in the league this season and he was not wrong.

Yet Everton’s equaliser arrived due to an error by Can, who swung wildly at a Gerard Deulofeu cross, and Skrtel, who did not move his feet quickly enough to cover the mistake. It allowed Romelu Lukaku to enforce the ultimate punishment. It came just 50 seconds before the half-time whistle.

Though Rodgers and Martinez alleged otherwise, this was not the Merseyside derby that the supporters of either club had hoped for. A draw means Everton have now won only four derbies from 35 since the turn of the millennium. Liverpool were vulnerable and that Everton did not expose their shortcomings, implies a psychological disorder remains when facing their greatest rivals, a disorder that means they cannot prevail no matter how favourable the circumstances appear to be. 

When Rodgers applies for other jobs, his portfolio will boast of not losing one of these contests. It would overlook, of course, the fact he has not steered Liverpool to victory at Everton in four attempts.

Though he argued there had been a degree of fortune in Everton’s equaliser, it must have frustrated him that Liverpool’s lead lasted barely four minutes. Ross Barkley lost Danny Ings for Liverpool’s opener, a header from a James Milner corner; the striker’s third in five games since arriving from Burnley.

Liverpool had been the more convincing side up until that point but, in the second half, they reverted to the type of form that has ultimately cost Rodgers his job. The long balls from defence to Daniel Sturridge and Ings did not work and gradually, Everton grew in confidence, with Lukaku dominating.

“I don’t like to be extremist just because of the score-line,” Martinez said. “If we play like we did in the second half 10 times, we win nine of them.” 

The claim, conversely, was a bit extreme. But not as extreme as the announcement that followed soon after.

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