Rodgers Under Huge Pressure at Liverpool after WBA Defeat

by Willie Gannon

Despite huge levels of pre-season expectation and hope, Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool FC’s season has begun in the worst way possible after West Brom inflicted a 3-0 defeat upon the Reds in the opening game of the season.

Going into the game the ex-Swansea boss would have wanted a minimum of a draw to start his campaign in earnest. However, lethargic play, naive player selection and an opponent who did not read the script all combined to leave Rodgers and Liverpool under severe pressure right from the off and facing a huge uphill battle to finish in the top six come May.

The result, Liverpool’s worst opening day defeat since 1937, a 6-1 defeat to Chelsea, came thanks to defensive errors through undisciplined marking, lackadaisical play across midfield and defence, questionable team selection from Rodgers and poor finishing from Luis Suarez.

So despite a summer of sweeping changes it was a real case of “the more things change the more they stay the same” for the Reds.

West Brom forced the early pace as a nervous looking Liverpool, sporting a 4-2-3-1 formation, settled into the game. But with new signing Joe Allen pulling the strings in midfield the Reds began to put the Rodgers passing game into play and were actually the better team for long periods, if not the more dangerous.

The reason for Liverpool’s lack of bite up front was Luis Suarez.

Time after time the Uruguayan international, who recently signed a new long term contract, was able to dribble his way into superb goal-scoring positions but his profligate finishing meant the scores stayed level at each and every opportunity.

Suarez, as a player, has an incredible skill set and is gifted with an extraordinary ability to wriggle past a huge number of opponents in tights spaces before working out angles for shots or passes.

However, at the highest level and in the tightest of games, his finishing is below the required level at a club of the stature of Liverpool FC and this can be reflected in his current tally of 18 goals from 54 games.

With Suarez struggling for goals, despite arguably being the best player on the pitch, leadership and inspiration was going to have to come from somewhere else if the Reds were going to win this game.

Unfortunately, Lucas, new signing Allen and Steven Gerrard in central midfield were being out-battled by the superb Youssouf Mulumbu while defensive pairing Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel were being a torrid time by Shane Long.

Much has been made of the famous Barcelona six-second rule over the summer and how Brendan Rodgers was going to impose this upon his new charges. But when push came to shove it was the ex Liverpool coaches team that embodied the work-rate and desire needed to succeed at the highest level in the Premier League.

Steve Clarke was fired by Fenway Sports Group alongside Kenny Dalglish at the end of last season.

When given the chance Clarke’s team closed Liverpool down very quickly and most often at the back and it was here that much of Liverpool’s game came apart.

Rodgers, one of the highest rated coaches in England after his incredible two seasons with Swansea City, made two cardinal errors in his team selection to face West Brom.

The first was in selecting Glen Johnson at left back when the player is clearly uncomfortable with the ball on his left foot and as a result when he was closed down quickly he either gave the ball away cheaply or was forced inside where other Liverpool players were placed under pressure.

The second was a very similar move whereby Stewart Downing, a left sided player of average ability, was played on the right hand side of midfield. This selection immediately rendered the English international as an impotent force as he could never work the space to cross the ball in with his right foot and when he too was also forced inside he ran into trouble and a waiting West Brom ambush.

West Brom, for their part, well deserved their win despite Rodgers saying differently after the game.

Rodgers has a huge task on his hands in judging Liverpool after this game. The Reds were very, very poor and allowed West Brom to dictate the game for huge sections.

They were also poor in general defensive positioning, particularly from set-pieces, and overall they allowed their opponents far too much space to play.

The new Liverpool’s manager’s style is most reminiscent of Arsene Wenger’s style at Arsenal and in thoroughly dependent upon a fundamental belief in their system and their passing ability to create chances and win games.

However, when this style, one of the toughest to teach or learn, fails it becomes incumbent upon the team to defend as a whole together and this is something Liverpool did not do well against West Brom.

And this is most worrying.

Defending as a team is one of the most basic tenets of the game and each and every top class coach organises this part of his team before any other. The foundation for defence, as well as attacking, is work-rate and in this aspect Liverpool were found wanting.

The first goal came from poor marking at the edge of the box following a fourth West Brom corner of the first half. Rodgers, curiously, allowed his team to leave Zoltan Gera on the edge of the box all by himself and in acres of space and when he picked the ball up following a poor headed clearance there was only one thing on his mind as several Liverpool players tried to charge him down.

The end result was a thunderous half-volley giving the Baggies the lead right on the stroke of half time.

One would have felt that Rodgers may have changed things slightly at during the interval but if anything Liverpool seemed to come out far too relaxed and once again they allowed West Brom to dictate the tempo of the game.

Sensing blood, Steve Clarke’s team went about the business expertly and exposed the Liverpool central defensive partnership’s lack of pace as Shane Long raced clear only for Daniel Agger to nudge the Irish international in the back as the pair entered the box.

Agger rightly saw red for his lazy defending but Long missed a truly dreadful penalty. However, mere seconds later Martin Skrtel was also found guilty of terrible defending as he dallied on the ball in the box. Long raced in and dispossessed the Slovakian international who then tripped the Irish man for a second penalty in two minutes. And the second goal as Peter Odemwengie fired home.

This goal took the life out of the Reds and you could visibly see their heads fall and when West Brom extended their lead to 3-0 it was no surprise.

In the end Liverpool’s players walked off the pitch with a resigned look on their faces.

If things do not radically improve, especially with Liverpool facing a very tough fixture list between now and November, we could be seeing that resigned look on Brendan Rodgers’ face. In more ways than one.

20 Responses

  1. Dee says:

    A very negative approach for an article… are you frustrated with your life or what??

  2. Bill says:

    Long tripped Skrtel from behind and then the cheat dived. But being Irish Willie you will see it differently wont you?

  3. Martin says:

    Some good points, but rubbish description of the first goal. Clearing header was of normal standard, marking players 10 yards outside the box is not normal and the closing down of Gera was quick and good. His thunderes once in a lifetime halfvolley was just a good quality piece of footballing. Critizing Liverpool for that goal is a joke

    • The clearing header was poor.

      Players, especially defenders, are trained not to head the ball back into the centre of the pitch from set-pieces.

      Players should be marked and covered regardless of where they are standing on the pitch, especially on the edge of the box during a corner.

      The closing down was not good. If it was good then Gera would not have got his shot off. Also, Johnson turned his back on the ball which is also something players are trained not to do as deflections from a half turned players often result in goals.

      Charging down is done head on when done properly.

  4. Rob says:

    “with new signing Joe Allen pulling the strings in midfield the Reds began to put the Rodgers passing game into play and were actually the better team for long periods” followed by “The Reds were very, very poor and allowed West Brom to dictate the game for huge sections.”
    So which was it? I suspect you are yet another internet journalist with little to no insight and even less credibility.

    • It was both.

      West Brom dominated the first ten minutes.
      Liverpool dominated from 11-40.
      West Brom 41-45.
      West Brom 46-60.
      Liverpool 60-70.
      West Brom 71-90.

      I suspect you are a sore Liverpool fan, but cheer up things will get better eventually.

  5. J75J says:

    That defence was the third best in the league last season!
    Johnson has played plenty of games at left back and has scored goals using his left foot one of them being scored last week against FC Gomel. Also Downing has played right wing many times in his career mainly at Villa where he had his best seasons he also scored against against Gomel from the RW! Only thing you got right is Suarez and his finishing but we still created chances for him to be 3 up before Gera scored who hadn’t scored at home for FOUR years!
    Your right about you do wtite hysterical aspects of the game! Writers like you which cause the hysteria that is ruining the modern game! ONE bad game into the season and you are writing like 10 or 15 games have gone! Hysterical !

  6. Tim says:

    glen johnson not comfortable on his left foot? u obviously didnt see his left footed volley against gomel! hes played fine at left back plenty of times. why would he play downing on the left now? little point without andy really wouldnt fit the system hes using him as a wide forward so he can cut in and shoot on his left foot. also who the hell is daniel skrtel?

  7. Mark says:

    What a terrible article, first and foremost… Daniel Skrtel????? Secondly, you are the first person I’ve come across that has said Daniel Agger was rightly sent off and if you watched the replay the incident was outside of the box and Martin Skrtels “penalty” was the most ridiculous decision of them all, he clearly couldn’t see the player and was clearing the ball and there legs got tangled, no way was it a foul! A poor piece of journalism in my opinion

  8. Brad says:

    Agree with the penalties & the general lack of vitality in the team’s performance but I think it’s more than Suarez’s inability to convert.

    I think Johnson put in a fairly good performance but the lack of a clear link to Borini (who was anonymous for most of the game). If Borini were more involved then he’d have provided an option on the flank for when Johnson cut in, thus alleviating the crush in the centre.

    Downing has showed glimpses of what he can do when he cuts in but he’s clearly lacking confidence (which is something that you can say about the entire squad). We need another player who can occupy that role, such as a Johnson or Walcott. I’d like to see Borini occupy the central role. He might prove a better fit while also giving Suarez that extra bit of space to really utilise his impressive ball control.

    A big problem was the lack of fitness in Lucas, coupled with a really poor performance from Gerrard. Normally the criticism of Gerrard comes down to him trying too many ‘hollywood’ balls, and/or taking on too many roles. This time it was his short passing and close control that let the team down. Too often moves broke down at his feet, most notably the 2nd goal. I think we’re all hoping that it was just a bad day, or maybe a lack of trust in the two wide players forcing him into decisions that he shouldn’t have made.

    The defending was poor and you can’t argue otherwise. Yes, sometimes that first penalty won’t be given but that’s just the luck of the day. He pushed him and Long went down like 90% of players would in that position.

    Skrtel’s was the worse of the two. There’s a difference between keeping the ball and dallying on it. He tried the latter and then payed the price. No complaints.

    There are plenty of wrinkles to iron out but any talk over the future of the manager is far too premature.

    • Nice comment Brad, and I have to say I agree with you on everything – especially Borini and Gerrard.

      • Brad says:

        Thanks Willie. There’s a new article up on The Anfield Wrap that also highlights the problem with Kelly at right back. A central defender shoehorned into the full back role. At best he’s the type who will bomb forward and try to put in a cross. Ask anything else of him and the play is likely to break down.

        The flanks are an issue and have been for the last decade. There’s clearly something in the water that makes LFC managers concentrate on central midfield to the exclusion of everything else.

        Sahin would have been a nice addition to the midfield but ultimately I’m glad that he’s destined for Arsenal. Perhaps it will see a shift in focus with regards to any upcoming purchases/loans.

  9. Don Boglioogi says:

    Did you finish writing the article and then change the phrasing to make it more “sensationalist” afterwards? Back Page Football indeed.

    Why stop there though? Why not leave reality altogether and start writing about how Brendan Rodgers exploded in the middle of the pitch just after the final whistle?

    “to leave Rodgers and Liverpool under severe pressure right from the off and facing a huge uphill battle to finish in the top six come May.”

    Really? After one match? After dropping 3 out of the possible 114 points on offer? If this is supposed to be a parody of tabloid stories, then full marks. If not, I’d seriously reconsider this type of writing style.

    • Look at Liverpool’s first 20 fixtures.

      They are easily the toughest in the EPL this year in the way they are structured.

      Losing at WBA, in the manner they did, leaves Liverpool down points and therefore under extra pressure to achieve results to get them into Europe.

      I consider Liverpool one of the biggest jobs in world football and the manager is always under pressure, but this year to achieve a top 6 finish; Rodgers is under huge pressure. if that is the target.

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