Brendan Rodgers is very good. We all thought we saw a miserable Liverpool performance; a terrified defence somehow supporting an attack as threatening as a sleepy hamster. We were wrong. What we actually saw was a battalion of tired heroes, the conquerors of Manchester City, the pacifiers of insurgent Burnley, those few, those happy few, that band of brothers.
“Our objective was to take four points from six in the league and get into the next round of the FA Cup,” he said. “We got six points out of six and although we are not through to the next round, we are still in the draw.” Huzzah!
But the funny thing about Rodgers is that when he says things like this, you find yourself nodding in agreement and it’s only when he leaves the room that you think….hang on…
Liverpool were terrible on Sunday. Absolutely awful with very few redeeming features. And yet Rodgers is not being entirely disingenuous when he draws positives from the week. They are recovering in the league. They are still in the FA Cup. The replay will not be easy, but had the draw been made afresh on Sunday and sent them to Ewood Park, rather than to Old Trafford or the Emirates Stadium, they would have been delighted. And a flat performance against Blackburn Rovers in the cup has no bearing on their resurgence in the league.
After the season he’s had, Rodgers can afford a bit of perspective. He may not win anything silver this year, but the experience he has gained is not without value. He has demonstrated something that few managers are given the time to demonstrate these days; that he can turn around what appears to be a terminal nosedive. As a result, Liverpool can be complete rubbish without it necessarily being indicative of serious problems.
And yet, you do wonder about this Liverpool team sometimes and the progress that have made in almost three years under his reign. The defence was not, for the majority of the game, the back three that has performed so well in recent weeks. But nor was it a collection of willowy kids from the development squad. Dejan Lovren cost £20m, Glen Johnson cost £18m and while Kolo Toure was free, his wages are substantial. How can they all look so nervous?
And why can’t Liverpool find a way of dealing with the ‘low block’? It was one thing to dash themselves repeatedly against Chelsea’s walls last season, but this was Blackburn. They are well organised and hard working, but they are hardly a rising power in the Championship. Between Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, a path to goal should have been found.
Rodgers arrived at Anfield in 2012, but he is already the 11th longest serving manager in the league, something that speaks volumes about the hysteria of modern football. Rodgers said recently that he wanted to stay at the club and build something, rather than leave for Manchester City. If nothing else, it would be fascinating to see if that can still happen in today’s game. Bill Shankly, of course, needed five years before he could deliver his first major trophy, though he did have the disadvantage of starting in the second division. Sir Alex Ferguson needed four years to win his first FA Cup. Can a manager at a big club still be allowed an extended barren period?
As ever, much will depend on perception. Crucial to Rodgers’ survival is the idea that progress, somewhere, is being made. Merseyside may be the sort of place that audibly whistles as rumours whoosh through the air, but it’s clear that Rodgers is not cemented into the dugout. While it may not be the case that Manchester City swoop for his services this summer, it is true that he has admirers there and that he was on their shortlist in 2013. And while it may not be the case that the directors will remove him if he fails to secure Champions League football, it is well known that Rodgers has clashed with them on a number of issues since he arrived at Anfield.
Rodgers talks a good game and, to give him his due, he coaches a good one too. But until he wins something, he will only ever be a couple of bad results from uncertainty. A gifted PR man, he glossed over Sunday’s disappointment with a smile. But smiles will only go so far. He needs to win the replay. He needs to at least come close to winning this cup.