Ever since Rafael Benitez left Liverpool, fans have seemingly lurched from one crisis to another, even if that word is thrown about all too loosely these days. From struggles with ownership and transfers to constant managerial upheaval, Anfield has rarely looked like a fortress since the Spanish manager’s departure.
For a time, Liverpool fans could have merely considered these tumultuous times a mere blip, pointing out that other titans of the game such as Inter Milan and Juventus were also undergoing difficult periods. Those sleeping giants awoke courtesy of smart investment and canny managerial appointments, the argument was that there was no reason Liverpool couldn’t do the same under Brendan Rodgers. After all this club could still beat anybody on its day. Witness how Chelsea and Manchester City were dispatched en route to the League Cup triumph last season, or how Manchester United were knocked out of the FA Cup.
However this season even these hollow victories are no more. Liverpool recently attained the heights of eight place (dropping to 10th after losing at the Brittania), where they ended last season and where this squad’s ceiling seemingly lies. Liverpool average around 1.3 points per game. They’ve averaged around that ever since Benitez left barring one brilliant spell under the returning Kenny Dalglish. Upper mid table is the limit of their current ambitions, and they’ve been playing like it.
Currently, the highest placed opponent to have been put to the sword by Liverpool is Norwich City in 11th, and the Canaries were in the midst of a horrible run when the Reds were fortunate enough to meet them. Liverpool’s other victories have come against sides lying 12th, 14th, 17th, 18th and 19th. Fans have become used to being elated at the thrashing of minnows one week and suffocating against competent sides the next. Last season Liverpool’s problem was that they didn’t kill sides that other teams beat handily, they more than held their own against the big guns. This season that’s all changed. Liverpool average a miserable 0.43 points in their games against the top seven sides in the table. Last season the corresponding figure was 1.5 (It was only 1.29 points per game against clubs finishing below Liverpool). If this season’s figure would have been boosted by deserved wins at Manchester City and Everton, then surely perspective would still be gained by the thrashings handed out by Arsenal, Tottenham and West Brom.
Most fans believe in what Brendan Rodgers is trying to do. He has a clear style of football that the public can get behind and the manager certainly can’t be held responsible for all the upheaval going on at the club before he arrived. But there is no escaping that this transition season could have been handled better. Instead of building on what was already here, a defense that conceded only 1.05 goals per game and an offense that had lots of possession but little scoring prowess, nothing has improved substantially and the defense has regressed. Liverpool now concede 1.37 goals per game, and in games against the top seven that figure goes up to 2.
Liverpool have at times demonstrated a humming offense, and at least they seem to be playing with a clear plan, but the most important part, results, or at least several clear steps in the right direction, still haven’t materialized. On the evidence of results against the sides Liverpool will have to jockey for position with should they ever want to stand on the top of the table again, the Reds are slipping further and further away from where they want to be.