Brendan Rodgers today argued that Liverpool’s players rather than his tactical system were responsible for the defeats that have all but extinguished their Champions League ambitions.
The Liverpool manager pointed out that his top scorer this season had found the net only six times in the Premier League, while in the games against Manchester United and Arsenal, the play had been far too sluggish. He added that “solutions needed to be found” for Liverpool’s lack of bite in attack ahead of Wednesday’s FA Cup tie with Blackburn.
In Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool possessed the Premier League’s top two goalscorers last season with 52 between them. This time around the five strikers on Liverpool’s books – Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini have managed 14 between them.
“We are still trying to find solutions at the top end of the field,” said Rodgers. “Our top goalscorer has six goals – we have three players on six – so we have to find a solution to that but when everyone is fit and available we are able to compete with this squad.”
Rodgers also denied that managers like Arsène Wenger and Louis van Gaal had worked out the radical 3-4-3 formation that propelled his side to within touching distance of the Champions League places with 10 wins in 13 games before defeats by United and Arsenal.
“Our possession just hasn’t been good enough; that has been the key to it,” he said. “We have to build the game quickly and there is no excuse for not doing so at the Emirates because the pitch is so wonderful. It was the same against Manchester United and in the first half at Swansea – the speed of our game hasn’t been there and nor has the speed of our passing.
“Against Arsenal, we didn’t start well, got back into it, and then defended poorly. I don’t think it was anything to do with the system; we just didn’t pass the ball quickly enough.”
However, as Rodgers knows too well, Sturridge is rarely fit and available for a whole season and with Martin Skrtel and Emre Can suspended for the FA Cup quarter-final with Blackburn, he has as many worries in defence.
Dejan Lovren, who for £20m was supposed to be the centrepiece of a rebuilt defence, was not considered good enough to replace the suspended Skrtel at Arsenal but will play at Ewood Park.
Should Liverpool finish with the FA Cup, which would be only their second piece of silverware in nine years, the season could be counted a success.
However, the Liverpool manager knows that once it is over, the club will have to address the question of how an organisation that is fifth in the Premier League in terms of wages and turnover regularly breaks into the top four in the table.
“That is not the attitude we want at the club,” said Rodgers when asked whether fifth was Liverpool’s natural position. “We have to fight to get in there and, whatever the barriers that are in front of us, we have to do everything we can to break them down.”
Liverpool spent more than £100m in the summer to bolster a squad that had to compete for the title and in Europe. However, too many players have failed to make an instant impact.
“You bring in players with the intention of them all doing well,” said Rodgers. “What you cannot vouch for when they come to a club of this size is how long that adaption process is going to take.
“You can be a very good player and not hit it off for some reason, or it just takes time like [it did with with midfielder] Lucas Leiva. It didn’t happen for him early on in his Liverpool career but he ended up doing well and the supporters appreciate the role he plays.
“It is just unfortunate that these players need time, and you don’t get that in modern football.”
Rodgers was adamant that, despite reports to the contrary, the team meeting at Melwood on Easter Sunday did not turn into a slanging match as to who was responsible for Liverpool’s recent failings.
The meeting, he said, was routine. “This was no different to a whole host of meetings we have had here all year. Those meetings helped us to recover from a bad start and win 10 games out of 13.”
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