FOLLOWING a hugely embarrassing exit at Boundary Park to the League One side, Oldham Athletic, on Sunday evening everybody – the manager included, it would seem – was left fuming. As can often be the case in these situations, Liverpool FC did by no means field a ‘weakened side’.
A starting line-up that included the likes of Jones, Skrtel, Coates, Allen, Sterling, Sturridge and Suarez is by no means, not a strong side.
Given some of the youngsters involved, that may have been an argument had we been playing one of the top Premier League sides, but this was a team over two divisions below us (given their lowly standing in League One).
However, Rodgers was keen to point the blame at the young players. He spoke, clearly angry following the game, saying ‘We are bitterly disappointed. We started the first half poorly and we started the second half and got punished’. He went on to say ‘We’ve got a big week of games but our mentality in that opening period was poor and it ended up costing us. I was disappointed with the young players today I’ve got to be honest.’
When you consider that the only two ‘youngsters’ in Liverpool’s starting line-up were Andre Wisdom and Jack Robinson, it really is quite a questionable response from Rodgers to lay the blame at their door. Other young players such as Coates, Henderson, Allen, Sterling, Sturridge and Borini are all first-teamers and have played regularly enough to be considered such so the excuse really fails.
Everybody, bar Suarez, was dire in the first half. When Gerrard came on after 55′ he was the only useful looking player we had on the pitch, as Suarez also slumped into a mediocre performance, along with the rest of his team-mates.
It would seem that, with these comments, what Rodgers was attempting to do was deflect some of the criticism from himself for some questionable selections and I hope that that failed with all but his most blinkered supporters.
Against Oldham what we saw was a demonstration of the issues with his preferred system. Too often in the first half, we got swamped in midfield and the lack of a ‘leader’ in the middle meant that Oldham bullied us into submission. Playing Allen, Sterling and Borini was a mistake.
What we needed was Gerrard, Shelvey and Lucas – three players who know how to mix it up but Rodgers’ insistence on sticking with his usual formation and style largely contributed to our downfall. What we saw in the second half was a side with too little time to get back into a game that they’d already lost psychologically.
Pointing fingers will get us nowhere, though – we’re out, and we need to accept that. But some comments that the manager has made in recent days have irked me slightly, in his suggestion that we lack depth in our squad.
I agree. However, it wasn’t the owners that wanted Allen and Borini; Rodgers has worked with both and he chose to sign both, one aged 22, the other 21. He also moved to sign Samed Yesil – just 18 – during the same window.
Fast forward to the following January and we’ve just signed Daniel Sturridge – only just 23 – and are odds-on to sign Philippe Coutinho, who himself only turned 20 in the summer.
Whilst all of these players are undoubtedly talented, none of them are even close to 25 – the age at which many would say that a player begins to become ‘experienced’. So perhaps the manager needs to take a look at some of his signings before pointing the fingers at the young players already at the club when he arrived, or pointing out to the associated press that he hasn’t got a deep squad, because he can take some of the responsibility for that particular problem.
As with many Liverpool fans at present though, I’ve seen enough from most of our youngsters to be happy with their progress and I believe that most of them have what it takes to make the grade.
I also believe that, while the two cup exits we’ve already suffered this season are hugely disappointing, they also reduce the stress and pressure on what many believe to be a small and over-worked squad.
By my estimations we have a ‘first-team’ squad (i.e. those who have, or do, figure regularly in the first-team) of 20. That would be 21 if we included the long-term injured Martin Kelly. Should Coutinho and any more players arrive in the next couple of days that number would increase again.
Add in other youngsters such as Yesil, Robinson, Pacheco, Flanagan and Gulacsi who have all figured in the side (or on the bench) this season we certainly don’t have a small squad, nor one lacking in talent. What we do have, as I mentioned earlier, is a squad lacking in experience but that can be attributed to a combination of the clubs’ transfer policy, the manager’s transfer decisions and the quality of the club’s youth system.
I’ve already written a number of times this season that while the club transfer policy of signing young, talented players with a sell-on value is admirable, it essentially won’t work unless we bring in some experience from time-to-time to help bring that talent to fruition. In letting the likes of Maxi, Kuyt and Bellamy leave in the summer, we hamstrung ourselves badly in that regard.
At the end of the day though, with the two domestic cups out of the question this season, we only have two competitions to focus on – the Premier League and the Europa League. This means that we’ll most likely only be facing 4-5 (6, at the most) games per month until the end of the season and provided our more important players steer clear of injury, I can’t see us having any problems coping with that. If we do, however, then that’s something that the club as a whole needs to seriously take into consideration during the end-of-season transfer window.