Date: 18th January 2013 at 4:00pm
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IN the big games Brendan Rodgers has an awful record. At times we have played well and it seems we’ve been beaten by a poor refereeing decisions. But more often it has come from poor team selection or a player mistake that could have been avoided by better preparation.

Rodgers says that his strength is his coaching, improving players, but a big part of winning the big games (not your QPR’s and Norwich’s) is simply getting team selection and tactics right.

Against City we played well and should have won. The key moment was when Skrtel, with us leading 2-1, ran up the left side looking for a pass. Not comfortable playing a left footed pass to the available fullback, and with midfielders not offering an option infield, he turned back and played a ball back blind.

Yes, he should’ve looked and this is an individual mistake. But Allen, who’s main strength is apparently making himself available for a pass, neither was available square nor had dropped deep in the vacant space left by Skrtel to give him the easy option short pass back. This is a straightforward movement of your deepest midfielder when a centre-back advances – to fill in and be available for the pass back. Something that Rodgers should be coaching to any defensive midfielder. Busquets does it naturally, Lucas when he returned always does it, but Allen didn’t and so Skrtel’s mistake cost us 2 points.

Arsenal, a team that plays the best pass and move game in the league, a team who can really stretch the legs of the fittest opposition, is not a team against whom you should make your Premier League debut when you’re not fit. Nuri Sahin, technically very talented, was asked to play a pressing and chasing game against an in-form Gunners team. The result was we were chasing shadows all game and when Rodgers belatedly substituted Sahin, the game was already lost.

Man Utd at home. Yes we were robbed. Of all the big games we’ve played, we played best in this. Jonjo Shelvey’s red card cost us the game. Yes, Evans should’ve been sent off too, but any fan watching Jonjo early this season could see this was coming. Jonjo’s penchant for diving into tackles and getting yellows always put him at risk of a red, and with the higher temperatures in a Man Utd game, surely a more experienced manager would’ve been at Jonjo to calm down and warn him of the dangers of going airborne with his tackles in the present climate.

Perhaps I’m being harsh on Rodgers here, but prior to the United game I can’t have been the only fan wondering whether Shelvey would finish a game he was picked to start for reasons of violent conduct.

Chelsea. Let’s face it, we were very lucky to draw this one. Chelsea should’ve been out of sight in the first half before we literally got a goal out of nowhere. This was a period in which Joe Allen was increasingly lucky to be finding himself in the starting 11 and it was a near miracle that his inability to protect the back four hadn’t led to more Blues goals.

Sahin, now fully fit, was being shoe-horned into a number 10 role he’d never played before to accommodate the Welshman. Kenny won twice at Stamford Bridge in his short second tenure. Rodgers managed to bring in his two top targets (Allen and Borini) to improve the 1st team and we were lucky to escape a hiding.

Off to White Hart Lane. Allen and Henderson were mysteriously preferred to Shelvey and Sahin. Some comical defending against the brilliant Bale and our net was bulging again. The key against Spurs was to set up the team to stop Bale and Lennon providing width, but Rodgers’ insistence on only ever playing 4-3-3 allowed Spurs to attack down the sides at leisure.

Since FSG took ownership our most difficult opposition has been Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham but with AVB taking charge there was an opportunity to set out a marker against one of our main rivals for 4th place. But with such a conservative team selection we were inviting pressure and few could argue Spurs didn’t deserve the victory. In this game we did have our fair share of possession but as Rodgers should realise – it’s goals that win you games not possession statistics.

ManU at Old Trafford. The toughest of tests. The old master tactician Fergie keen to put one over the old rival. A United team without Rooney that still has goals aplenty, but many defensive weaknesses as well. Rio is not the player he used to be. Vidic was brought back not fully fit due to Evans’ unavailability. Neither Carrick nor Cleverley are experts defensively and De Gea is still error prone. What is Brendan Rodgers’ solution to take advantage of Man United weaknesses?

Play Allen as our furthest forward attacking midfielder.

I’m not going to rib into Joe Allen in this article. But he has been struggling for form even in his preferred role so to play him in a role that he is least familiar against the league leaders at Old Trafford is quite simply stupid.

Rodgers no doubt had the idea that Joe would help maintain possession, like he did so in a good performance against United at Anfield. But to do this with Shelvey and Henderson on the bench, both who have much more experience in this role was ludicrous. Personally I was desperate for Sturridge to start alongside Suarez, as Carrick was always likely to struggle against Luis. I was pleased, like most fans, to see Daniel introduced and in addition to scoring he caused lots of problems for the United defence with his movement and interplay with our Uruguayan.

It’s understandable that Rodgers was wary of starting the two together in such a high profile game before they had played together, but it’s unjustifiable to start Allen in the position he was played. Unsurprisingly Allen put in a lipid performance, unable to get on the ball, show any offensive passing and regularly being out muscled.

Rodgers may be a good coach. He’s certainly been a student of the game, going to great lengths to learn different coaching techniques by travelling and observing other coaches and consolidating his own thoughts on how to develop a team into a huge dossier that he impressed FSG with. But this will be of little help to Brendan if he is unable to effectively pick a team to win the tactical battle on the pitch.

Last season Kenny beat Arsenal at the Emirates, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge twice, United in the cup, Man City at the Etihad and Everton, including in a cup semi-final. He did that with a team that is supposedly worse than the one we presently have.

To my mind our poor results against the big teams this season has been primarily because Brendan Rodgers has been outthought by the opposition manager.

Ultimately we can only judge our season properly when it’s over. Our record at Old Trafford is awful anyway and Rodgers is hardly the only manager to be outfoxed by Ferguson. But if we are to improve this season Brendan needs to analyse his own performance at least as much as those of his players. It’s not just the cards you are dealt, but how you play them that wins you the game.

You can catch more from me on my own blog:

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