You really can’t help being a tad hopeful and optimistic about the Reds’ recent change of fortunes. The Reds are now the team in form, so says pundits, as well as our very own bloggers and podcasters alike. Critics who had their teeth gnashing at Rodgers’ failure to address gaping issues that got us where we are now in the league, are more than bemused with the 180 degree turn in the way his team approaches our opposition. The collapsing defence with a certain Croatian defender at the foundation of it all has been transformed into a robust platform for building attacks, cemented with youthful exuberance and measured intelligence.
We can debate till the cows come home about how circumstances forced Rodgers’ hands into playing the cards that he was dealt with. But we can’t deny the fact that he has played them reasonably well. Results don’t really lie, do they? The Reds aren’t exactly the swashbuckling incarnation of last season yet, but there’s a big resemblance with the return of the prodigal Daniel Sturridge. Still, doubters like me and neutrals alike harbor the very same niggling annoying worry that it would all come crashing down again if and when Sturridge gets injured, as he is prone to as past seasons suggest so. But for the moment, all is well as Rodgers rides high on the waves of good form from which his hard work of training the newer recruits of last summer has produced. We cannot deny that the team is now slowly becoming the sum of all parts as intended in the summer spree. We can hope that being at the crest of momentum, and the dogged discipline of the coach at helm, would make the sum larger and more efficient than the parts intended. There is a curve on a graph somewhere that we’d hope to climb. Then, perhaps, the burden of the team wouldn’t fall onto individuals as had been very vaguely and painfully portrayed by Rodgers during Sturridge’s long absence.
Fortune smiles on the bold. And Rodgers has to take credit for being bold by going against his instincts (and some say his huge ego) to play the younger ones that had prices not needing justifying to the wider media circle and critics. In other words, he wasn’t forced to play them because of their reasonable prices, rather he played them because they were at his disposal. Can, Ibe and Markovich have performed excitingly well, even to the hardcore and critical supporters. All 3 are playing out of their more favoured positions and out of their comfort zones.All 3 have excelled, but more importantly, all 3 have excelled with obvious room for improvement as their performance trends so far suggest. We don’t know if these role assignments were by design, but they certainly enhance Rodgers’ reputation as the father-figure-teacher-coach that he was hired by FSG for.
Of the myriad of weaknesses of the squad that he had to address, the conundrum to manage time for Gerrard to be on the pitch has to be the biggest headache for Rodgers. It’s so big, it became a perpetual blind spot for him when manoeuvring through the mini CL-qualification-league campaign. Typically, like all blind spots, accidents happen and consequences are to be bared. We are where we are now, to put it bluntly, and the blind spot had something to do with it. With Gerrard’s short injury spell, it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine Rodgers being secretly relieved with this new hand dealt.
But at some point, reality has a habit of kicking in. Although full grown adults that the players are can handle 2 games in quick succession within 4 days, and being consummate professionals at that, it can get very taxing for them mentally. Games of high intensity and speed will sap the spark that the creative roles demand on a regular basis. From a visual perspective, the more observant ESPN spectator will say steadfastly that the players appear ‘leggy’. Exhaustion can take away that X-Factor. The obvious answer is to bandy about the rotation plaster. The squad that Rodgers had so surely wanted to pad up from last season should, in theory, meet these demands. But the disciple of Mourinho, who in turn was the disciple of Van Gaal, does not believe in fixing something that’s not broken. Indeed, to be in a precarious league position as we are now, Rodgers would be very wary of changing personnel for a formation that seem to get the wolves willing for him to fail off his back.
And make no mistake about it, our league position is precarious for Rodgers’ tenure as Liverpool Football Club manager. If a club legend, with a CV of a manager who has won league titles with 2 different clubs, who’s loyalty to the club itself cannot be questioned, was sacked for not challenging for the Champions League spot, then nothing can be further assumed for Rodgers. Words of ringing endorsements from the owners would mean as much as diddly squat. The precedence has been set in stone.
Getting 4th place doesn’t seem Mission Impossible lately after the enjoyable win against Spurs. Suddenly, the horizons appear Red with optimism. But it’s still walking on thin ice, with injuries from the games for challenging in 3 campaigns slowly racking up. The best case scenario for Rodgers would be to win a trophy from one of the knock-out competitions and qualify for next season’s Champions League tournament. His bosses demand only the 4th spot, but surely his personal interests in bolstering his CV anticipating the worse as precedence suggests would urge him to go all out for that one trophy. Surely.
Rodgers needs to tread very carefully. His lack of experience in the European arena should discourage him from hedging his bets on the Europa. Yet, winning the Europa trophy would kill 2 birds with one stone. Qualify for next season’s Champions League and a shining trophy against formidable European clubs with pedigree.
Personally, here’s how I think it’ll pan out. I’m putting my neck on the line here and I’ll probably get ridiculed at the end of the season, with eggs freshly smashed on my face.
Rodgers would throw caution to the wind and play the same team that produces the results he needs for all 3 campaigns. He will fall short in the league, with United piping us to 4th spot. The fixture run from now on will be dodgy for the tricky Reds and points will be dropped, exhaustion and injuries now plaguing his squad. Rodgers won’t make it anywhere near the last 4 of the Europa, his shortcomings as a shrewd tactician will harm our chances. But a trophy will be won with the FA Cup, a brilliant run and an unforgettable evening in Wembley will etch his name forever as the manager who nearly was on the cusp of greatness but fell short in the annals of Liverpool history.