Brendan Rodgers: Three matches to make a season
By Chris Higham
Following Liverpool's shocking loss to Oldham Athletic last Saturday in the FA Cup 4th Round tie it wasn't long before the Twitter troops were on the march against manager Brendan Rodgers. Many fans were amazed to see that he had not fielded his strongest line-up for such an important game.
Liverpool now have a series of crucially important matches against Arsenal tomorrow, Manchester City on Sunday, and West Bromwich Albion the following Sunday. For Rodgers, he has three matches to make a season.
When Rodgers first walked through The Shankly Gates at Anfield last summer, he was welcomed with open arms by a fan-base that had been tormented by two years of torturous performances in the English Premier League. Successive seasons under Roy Hodgson and the iconic Kenny Dalglish had produced some Cup success but not the League improvement that regulars on The Kop wanted to see. If the club was to return to contending for the League title each year, Rodgers had work to do. The Irishman's squad was a compendium of ageing veterans, inexperienced but talented youth and a couple of world class players thrown in for good measure. It was immediate from the start that he had a problem. There was no depth of quality. Once he got past his starting XI, quality and class dropped off considerably, and so this season, his main task has been to recruit affordable, talented players to help shoulder the work for their best players Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez.
Plainly evident at Oldham last Saturday was Rodgers' dilemma. His side haven't beaten a Top 10 team in the Premier League this season but he clearly had to look beyond the Oldham match. Priorities were established and Rodgers sent out a side which lacked Gerrard, Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Lucas, and Stewart Downing. The fact that he had four strikers on the field at one time indicated he was gambling on overcoming the League One side with an attacking formation, but sadly for Liverpool, it backfired as Oldham ran out 3-2 winners despite Gerrard's introduction in the last half-hour. Fans took to Social Media immediately to voice their complaints. "How could Rodgers not field the same side that dispatched Norwich City 5-1 at Anfield the previous Saturday?". The answer is rotation and that will be the key for these upcoming games.
No team in today's English Premier League can afford to play their best side each and every week. Players tire markedly with consistently playing twice a week so managers have to move their players around like pieces on a chessboard. Sir Alex Ferguson has established himself as the master of rotation during his success at Old Trafford, but even he will admit, there are pitfalls. Get it wrong, and you can start a results slide that might eventually cost a trophy or worse, drop your club down into the dungeons of relegation survival. Rodgers has a golden opportunity in the next two weeks to catapult Liverpool deep into the belly of a the fight for Champions League places for next season if he can navigate his way to success against these three sides. He has to be looking for 6 points from these games at a minimum. Anything less, and Liverpool will fall too far behind the pack to make their season anything more than just another mediocre League campaign.
I don't yet feel myself that Liverpool have the quality to consistently contend for a Top 4 spot, but with the addition of Daniel Sturridge, and more recently Coutinho in the January window, Rodgers could be just two weeks away from transforming Liverpool's season from mid-table also- rans back into a Top 4 spot for this season.