Consistency Remains Brendan Rodgers Biggest Challenge
At least, we might surmise, the waves of panic might be starting to recede from lapping against the walls of Anfield now. On Sunday afternoon, Liverpool put in about as complete a performance as could have been hoped for considering their wretched start to the season against West Bromwich Albion eight days previously in holding Manchester City to a two-all draw in front of the television cameras. There was plenty for Liverpool supporters to be optimistic about, as well. The debut of Raheem Sterling, after three appearances from the substitutes bench, showed off a player with a sack of potential, while Joe Allen, whose signature from Swansea City for £15m raised eyebrows at the amount of money paid, put in about as accomplished a performance as Liverpools midfield has seen since the club started its slide down the Premier League table a couple of years ago.
There is, of course, one big “…and yet” to add to all of this. Two teeth-gratingly basis errors handed Manchester City a point. These are the sort of errors that a manager can hardly account for, a flap by the goalkeeper and a back-pass made without due care and attention, but they did end up costing Liverpool the full three points that their performance deserved and manager Brendan Rodgers will be more than aware of the fact that his team cannot continue to make mistakes like that on a week-in-week-out basis. After the second weekend of the Premier League season, however, Liverpool supporters have more to look forward to than they might have expected after the carnage of the opening day of the season.
This feeling of Jekyll & Hyde about Liverpool is something that has come to characterise their recent, fallow years. It has frequently felt in recent times as if Liverpool are a team capable of beating anybody in the world or losing to anybody in the space of a few days of each other. Last season, in amongst home defeats at the hands of West Bromwich Albion, Fulham and Wigan Athletic came league doubles against Chelsea and Everton and an FA Cup win against Manchester United. Last season for Liverpool wasn’t, as some would choose to reimagine it, a lengthy, unbroken series of unmitigated disasters on the pitch for this team, but one of ruinous inconsistency. They had enough about them to make it to two cup finals and, indeed, to win one of them, but such characteristics tend to be ruthlessly exposed in the Premier League these days – certainly more so than they were in previous years – and it is this trait that may turn out to be the one that Rodgers will have to address if he is to reposition the club back in the Premier Leagues top four or five.
It has been clear from the point of his arrival at the club that Rodgers intends to emulate Swansea City’s successful possession game at Anfield, and that this season for Liverpool might well turn out to be one that requires the clearing out of some long-established dead wood at the club. Jamie Carragher, a player whose best days have come to look increasingly beyond him over the course of the last year or two, now seems unlikely to be able to win back a regular place in the team, whilst Steven Gerrard is starting to look a little ragged around the edges as well. This needn’t, however, be anything for Liverpool supporters to have to feel as if they should mourn. All footballers have a finite shelf-life, and keeping them beyond that usually ends up doing no-one – not even the players themselves – any great favours. And the good news for Liverpool is that, in the form of such players as Sterling, Joe Allen, Sebastián Coates and Jonjo Shelvey, there is the nucleus, perhaps, of a Liverpool team that can perform with greater consistency being built. There are no guarantees, of course, and this season might yet turn out to be a transitional one for Liverpool, but it feels like a a transition that the club needs to make.
It is very early in the season to be attempting to extrapolate long-term trends from the couple of matches that the clubs of the Premier League have already played, but there are also causes for optimism elsewhere that Liverpool supporters can take heart from. Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City have all stumbled to some extent so far in their opening two matches, and with this being the celestial neighbourhood into which the club wishes to re-establish itself, then those dropped points at The Hawthorns a week ago on Saturday may not turn out to be the disaster that they seemed when the full-time whistle blew on the opening day of the season. Whether Liverpool can capitalise on the inconsistency of others, however, comes down to two obvious factors, one of which is beyond the clubs control and the other of which isn’t. Liverpool FC cannot control the performance of other clubs any more than it can control the passing of the seasons, but it can at least arrest the inconsistency of the last couple of seasons, and if Brendan Rodgers can manage this is line with their very best performances then the club is plenty capable of challenging again for a place in the Champions League.
The opening two matches of the season, however, have shown the extent to which this Jekyll and Hyde personality can affect the clubs prognosis and it should go without saying that Rodgers needs to marshal the positives from last weekend – of which there were many – if the alarm bells that were ringing this time last week are not to go off again. It is in this sort of detail that the difficulty with of managing a club of this size can be seen. To pull it of occasionally is not enough. Consistently cohesive, entertaining and winning football is the minimum requirement at Anfield and the jury will likely remain out until there have been firmer signs that the team has shaken off the nagging suspicion that they can put in the sort of performance that they managed on Sunday afternoon on a regular basis rather than merely as a teaser for what they might be capable of. If Brendan Rodgers can manage to pull this off, he will deserve a seat at the top table in the history of the clubs managers, and last weekend there were signs, albeit tentative ones, that he is capable of doing this. That key ingredient of consistency, however, remains his greatest challenge at this moment in time.
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