When Liverpool’s line up was announced for their match at home to Norwich, Twitter could be described as being excitedly cautious. Every single Liverpool fan had the same questions – Is the decision to start Daniel Sturridge stupid or brave from Brendan Rodgers? Was it right to change an entire system? Was it a sign of change or was it merely a desperate man bowing to the pressure?
Why in a game that some labelled as must win did the Liverpool manager decide to give Premier League starts to Alberto Moreno, Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Sturridge? It strikes me as odd that the former two played a full 90 minutes on Thursday against Bordeaux. Many will argue it was to get them up to match sharpness, but if they were in your plans for a big game on Sunday, would you really risk them in a match with so many youngsters? I’m not saying it was improvised due to their performances against Bordeaux but I would query whether or not this was planned. Sakho went from not making an appearance to playing 180 minutes in 3 days.
The game began with many questions and ended with even more. Brendan Rodgers is digging a deeper hole with every passing day.
This brings me onto Dejan Lovren. The Croat hasn’t had the best time at Liverpool but it felt like Rodgers was sticking with him after the West Ham debacle. The manager gave him a big vote of confidence against Manchester United and although he was not at his best that day, he certainly was not the worst Liverpool centre-back. That title belongs to Martin Skrtel. So how do we get to the scenario in which Lovren is benched and Martin Skrtel is still starting? I saw plenty say dropping Lovren after the West Ham game would be detrimental to his attitude, but surely being dropped after seeing your centre-back partner allow an 18 year old forward (making his Premier League debut) to waltz past him would have a negative impact on the him too?
Then we have the reappearance of Alberto Moreno. Rumoured to be on his way out in the summer, he has made a few impressive cameos so far this season and with Joe Gomez needing a few games out after some inevitable mistakes, it made sense to reintroduce the Spanish full-back into the side to inject some life into a weary Liverpool left flank. This is not a knock on Gomez either, he has done a superb job in an unnatural position but it didn’t take a man with a coaching badge to see Liverpool’s lack of width on that left hand side. Gomez was reluctant to attack and Coutinho always drifts inside so the Liverpool left was a dead area. We witnessed first-hand how effective Moreno could be today, he created 6 chances in the match against Norwich. Why was Rodgers so reluctant to play him in earlier games against teams that sat back?
Daniel Sturridge returns. Again. It was the moment all Liverpool fans had been waiting for; our main man starting once again. As I mentioned earlier, was this a gamble or a calculated risk? There was no indication he would be starting this game and he had not seen a single minute of action, so to throw him in from the very beginning struck me as desperate. I wrote a piece a few weeks ago asking why Liverpool should still be so reliant on Daniel Sturridge after spending close to £80 million in the summer and this still stands. Brendan Rodgers supposedly had to write a report on how Benteke would fit in at Liverpool and I very much doubt the sentence ‘we scrape by for 10/15 games till Sturridge is back fit and we start firing’ was included, yet that is what we are doing.
I am sure this was planned, but if Sturridge was so close to a return why didn’t we see two strikers playing upfront in the previous games? Yes, we have been missing Sturridge but we’ve had Danny Ings, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi, all of whom are capable of playing as a striker but Ings and Firmino have been playing as wide midfielders. It seems drastic to go from playing 4231 to 352 because one player returns from injury and it shows a lack of a plan.
How are players supposed to believe in the tactics of a man if a style and tactic they have worked on all pre-season is changed as soon as they lose? It has happened the previous two seasons too. Start one way, lose, then drop into safe mode (which is three at the back) and regroup.
It leaves the team with no momentum, no familiarity, no cohesion and that is what we saw against Norwich.
It felt like Brendan Rodgers named his strongest possible XI and that would be enough to defeat Norwich. It was like we were playing a football game and because statistically we were better, we would beat a side that has only lost one away game under Alex Neil. It was as though fans thought Liverpool had a divine right to beat Norwich and we would simply turn up and have enough. Sadly, that’s not football; you need a game plan and Liverpool lacked that.
The buzz around playing two upfront quickly dissipated when it became evident we didn’t know how to use them. We seemed to want to go long early on and miss out Lucas and Milner in midfield. Doing this nullified Coutinho who wasn’t picking the ball up deep and meant Norwich sat deeper which in turn nullified Sturridge who had very little space to attack. People will say the Sturridge-Benteke partnership will take time but again this links back to my earlier point; if we intended to play Benteke in a two why not begin the season like that? Ings and Origi are not carbon copies of Sturridge but it’s better than starting game six of the season as though it’s game one, isn’t it?
Brendan Rodgers is known for being meticulous but you can’t ignore what’s in front of you; was this entire selection a last minute decision? We didn’t look to play to the strengths of Sturridge, Benteke or Coutinho. As a collective or individually. When Norwich played a deep line, we didn’t seem to want to pass the ball around quickly to pull them out of position. We looked static and laboured and like a team that hadn’t played together.
In a game in which Brendan Rodgers should have been showing off how he could get the best out of the squad he had built, it turned into a game that highlighted the fact he does not know how to use what he has. That could be the worst possible outcome from this game. Is he out of his depth and out of answers?