LIVERPOOL 1-3 Aston Villa. Nightmare result. Many people will say ‘in fairness to Villa…’ but no, this result was nothing to do with Villa. They practically only needed to show up on Saturday because we had already bent over the barrel and had our pants down in expectation.
There were a number of factors that contributed to the result as well and I’ll touch on those later, but first I really believe that Brendan Rodgers needs to show some kind of tactical nous besides the tried and tested ’4-3-3′.
I think that besides swapping to a 3-5-2 in the second-half at Stamford Bridge and, I seem to remember some variation on a 4-4-2 in the Europa a few months back, the manager has yet to show that he learned anything during the years he must’ve spent getting his badges.
It’s a bizarre situation really because, while we’re all united in our dislike of Mourinho, you’d think that a young, impressionable coach would learn a lot from somebody who knows how to tweak his side almost as well as Benitez does.
But a lot has been said about Rodger’s attitude and his ego, so perhaps he picked up nothing from working under a world class coach. Because during Saturday’s defeat, he did very little other than look slightly bemused. He barely flinched as Villa’s second crossed the goal-line and he must’ve forgotten his notepad because he wasn’t even making any notes.
I realize that this will come across as a knee-jerk reaction to a defeat but it really isn’t. I’m not calling for his head (at least not openly!) but I am asking that he shows that he can adapt his tactics to the opposition. I’ve never been a fan of manager’s changing their tactics to suit the opposition; you should make the opposition adapt to your tactics – it shows a confidence and strength that will seep through to the players.
However, during a game, when it’s clear your original ‘plan’ isn’t working, you need to change things up a little bit. Anybody could see today that our formation and attitude played right into Lambert’s counter-attacking philosophy. And while the Scot can have some credit for that, Rodgers should’ve learned his lesson at 1-0. He didn’t.
At 3-0, still, nothing. The only changes we saw were in terms of personnel and neither Henderson nor Cole did anything to warrant coming on. I appreciate that Shelvey wasn’t having his best game but without him, we’re generally a man down in the box at all times as he’s one of the few midfielders we’ve got that will actually support Suarez in getting forward.
What I would like to have seen was a response to Villa’s counter-attack. It would also have been nice to see a change-up in midfield too. Nothing drastic, just a slight tightening up of the midfield, is all. Given that Lucas was playing only his third game since his return, giving him a bit more support would’ve been nice.
We’ve seen it too many times this season: the middle ’3′ in Rodgers’ preferred formation often leaves us swamped or over-worked (and, at times, both) in midfield and we get overrun and when it’s obvious that the wide players in the front 3 aren’t doing enough to chase back, it’d be nice to see a substitution or two and a few harsh words, rather than the embarrassingly typical post-match ‘the players were terrific… ‘.
In what has been his worst season in memory, Gerrard was lazy getting back, lax with the ball and his set-pieces were abysmal. This has been the case for too long yet, he still takes most of our corners and free-kicks. He really does need to learn how to lift the ball over the first defender.
Some people may try to say that he isn’t being utilized correctly by his manager but it isn’t that simple, I’m afraid. Gerrard is our captain – he should be leading from the front (figuratively, of course, as he’s not up front) but at the moment he’s usually going missing for larger swathes of the game.
I could forgive his wayward corners, his sub-par ‘Hollywood passes™’ and his constant squandering of possession at crucial times, if only the effort was that of the Gerrard of old. I know he can’t be the old ‘box-to-box’ Gerrard that we knew and loved but some tangible effort here and there wouldn’t go amiss. Even a Steven Gerrard at 75% will terrify most opposition; at the moment he’s not even at 40%.
On Saturday, even the goal was serendipity, appearing to just deflect off him as it went in. The time has come to drop the captain but, as with Hodgson and Dalglish before him, Rodgers is too in awe of Gerrard the ‘legend’ to drop Gerrard the ‘man for poor form’ and it’s costing us, as we often look like we’re playing with ten men.
Finally, this persistence with Downing at left-back has gone beyond a joke. In fairness to him he wasn’t solely at fault for any goal against Aston Villa and at times he got forward into decent positions. But putting him in that unfamiliar position seems to unsettle the entire back line. The winger has played at (or been switched to) left-back in 4 of the last 6 games and the Reds have conceded 8 goals in those four games.
After his switch to left-back against West Ham last week Liverpool let in two goals within 16 minutes, having looked comfortable at the back with Enrique until his withdrawal after 27 minutes. Again, this is not particularly a problem with Downing, more so that he clearly doesn’t have the faith of his three fellow defenders so the whole defence becomes more unstable.
Obviously, the entire team and the manager are all to blame for the weekend’s result. But there is no doubting that Rodgers could’ve stemmed the tide at 1 (or even 2) nil. The look of ‘I don’t really know what to do… ‘ did not fill me with confidence. Many will point solely to the players today but a great tactician is worth at least 2 or 3 top class players; particularly when he knows how to best use every single player at his disposal and in that respect, the manager was left sorely wanting for the visit of Villa.