The teams who coveted Liverpool’s Champions League place watched events at Anfield very closely in the summer and, though hindsight is a wonderful thing, expected a drop off this season.
Not simply because the side would be without Luis Suarez but because they anticipated Daniel Sturridge’s threat diminishing. Their logic was that without the chaos Suarez caused, there would be more chance for opposing teams to focus on Sturridge. He would find the going far tougher.
Then there was that gamble on Mario Balotelli – “a bauble on the tree” as one opposition club privately describes him – which has not paid off. All that attacking force taken out and yet still Brendan Rodgers has felt able to play the offensive game which made Liverpool the Premier League’s most exciting side last season. They have been found out.
Rodgers yesterday admitted for the first time ahead of today’s home game against Stoke City that the ambitious philosophy has to go, with something more pragmatic in its place. “I have faith in my methods and a way of working,” Rodgers said. “We have been given a different deck of cards and as a coach I have to do what I think gets the best out of them. I have methods, a belief and a philosophy but you also have to get results and I think I am not dogmatic enough to think I cannot change.
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“I am not a fantasist. We have seen the type of football we have played here in the last couple of years and how it has grown, but that depends on the players you have. We hope to return to that but in the mean time we have to get results.”
The change may be more complex than he implies. There has never been a defensive culture at Liverpool under Rodgers and the fact that Kolo Touré is being revered as the club’s most reliable centre-half says everything about the lack of personnel. But the manager has shown an ability to adapt in the past. The philosophy he brought to Liverpool was the possession-based game he developed at Swansea. He promised to “pass teams to death” at his inaugural press conference in 2012, though when he realised quite what a force Suarez was and discovered Sturridge’s potential, he adapted the side to fit those players, Suarez in particular. The new, counter-attacking Liverpool was born. Possession was the means of defence.
Yesterday’s reflections suggest a manager ready to go back to where he started and re-teach the side the original principles. “It is a different leadership that is now needed,” he added. “For me it is maybe a return to how I was when I first came in .... a little bit more autocratic.”
He has no precedent for the position he is in as the bookies’ favourites for the sack – a dismal reflection though that is of football’s short-termism. The only crisis he faced at Swansea was the blip which threatened to ruin the promotion push to the Premier League in 2011. You must right go back to his time at Reading, in 2009, for attrition like this. He is also in alien territory in managing a side carrying a huge weight of expectations.
“I think inside me I know that I will fight for my life to be here for as long as I can,” he said. And no doubt he will. But it is Rodgers the strategist, not Rodgers the fighter, who will prevail. The next chapter in an increasingly extraordinary story will be no less interesting.
1 - Victory for Liverpool in their last eight matches in all competitions
12 - Years since Liverpool last lost four successive league matches
10 - Fewer points won from 12 games than at same stage last season (24/14)
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