Traditionally, November’s first week is an important one for the English Premier League. Managers new and old are being evaluated, having overseen approximately 10 matches for which credit or blame must be assigned. Every year managers at the foot of the table are under pressure, although, the manager under the most scrutiny this season is probably Brendan Rodgers. There is nothing more enjoyable than the analysis of a manager who is so fond of analyzing himself. About a quarter of the way through the season, it is time for an interim report card on the ‘Liverpool Project’.
In total, the Northern Irishman has guided his team through 18 competitive fixtures, with a record of 8W-5D-5L. This is respectable, although less so if one discards Europa League qualifying fixtures against the almighty FC Gomel and Hearts. Looking at the Premier League alone, Liverpool is ranked 12th (2-4-3) with a goal differential of -2. Based purely on results, Liverpool has performed less than satisfactorily in domestic competition.
It is unfair to claim Liverpool has faired poorly in the EPL without looking beyond the results column. By breaking down their record into 3 sections, a more accurate depiction of how Liverpool has competed can be established. Firstly, Liverpool has played 3 matches against the top four sides from last season (the Manchester clubs and Arsenal). They took one point from those matches, a draw against City where they could have won if not for a defensive error. They lost to United via a penalty when they were already down to 10 men. Only the 2-0 home loss to Arsenal could be considered poor.
Secondly, in matches against second tier teams (West Bromwich, Stoke City, Everton) Liverpool has 2 draws and a loss. Liverpool was denied a victory against their local rivals due to an incorrect offside call. An away draw against Stoke was respectable, however, the 3-0 reversal at The Hawthorns was substandard.
Thirdly, Liverpool has faced three teams who will likely struggle this season (Sunderland, Norwich, Reading). In this segment, the Reds have an impressive 2-1-0 record. The question remains, what can we deduce from this breakdown?
If it is assumed that Liverpool is a second tier team, less assumption than fact in this writer’s opinion, they have faired as expected. Against the strongest sides Liverpool have generally performed well but failed to get results. Versus second tier teams they need to improve. Lastly, Liverpool has excelled against the also-rans.
Twelfth place is not a satisfactory position for the club, even with the expectation Liverpool will not ultimately finish in the top 6. However, if each fixture is evaluated individually, Liverpool has competed at a respectable level on the field under Rodger’s leadership.
In the transfer market, Brendon Rodgers has again performed adequately. Joe Allen, for example, has seamlessly fit into the team. It may be early days for Fabio Borini, but £11.7 seems a steep price. 2 shots on target in 5 games is not the best of starts. In general, judgement on the other recruits will have to wait as they are mostly prospects. On the transfer front Rodgers is already an upgrade on the man he replaced, but with the purse strings tightened he has a difficult task.
Evaluating Rodgers depends entirely on your expectations of his squad. Advancing to the next round in Europe and an 8th place finish in the EPL would meet most reasonable expectations. Given a lack of quality depth or a true front man, this is a team with considerable limitations. Rodgers will need to invest, but soundly, to strengthen his squad. Investing soundly is not a historical trait of the January transfer window, but it will be an important period for Rodgers. Failure to secure squad depth soon will derail his progress.
So far, a C+ grade seems a fair evaluation. The results have been underwhelming, but the level of performance has been solid. The completion of the Being: Liverpool documentary should relieve some media pressure, particularly for Rodgers who starred but erred on screen. Hopefully he will have some silverware to place next to his beloved self-portrait upon the completion of his project.