Thursday 18 January 2018

Brendan Rodgers' mixed messages leave Reds in a muddle

When it comes to Brendan Rodgers’ public utterances, he usually creates more questions than answers
When it comes to Brendan Rodgers’ public utterances, he usually creates more questions than answers
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

When certain managers speak, it's not difficult to realise that everyone listening, and even the person themselves, don't really believe what they are saying.

Jose Mourinho, like Alex Ferguson before him, chooses the diversion technique where a bad performance is clouded by a random diatribe about a referee's weight or a medical professional's football knowledge, which sets the news agenda rather than a focus on why his team dropped points.

Reporters will be criticised for not asking the right questions but, if the post-match mood took him, Mourinho could turn a question as innocuous as "what day is it today?" into a complaint about a penalty not being awarded. The answers are pre-determined before the question has even been asked.

Arsene Wenger, too, will often turn a specific question into an overview about the state of the global game. It may be very interesting - but it's not what he was asked.

All three know that they are playing a game, the journalists and everyone listening know what they are doing but the ability to say enough to fill space but not enough to leave you exposed is one of the great secrets to managerial longevity. And it's one Brendan Rodgers has yet to master.


Before Saturday's game against Manchester United, Rodgers described last season's 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford as "probably the best defeat I've ever had" because "I saw enough that day to know that we had got our identity back again".

Rodgers, obviously, wasn't happy to lose the match but even for a man prone to David Brent moments, attempting to spin a heavy defeat as some sort of managerial eureka moments took some believing.

Rodgers then recalled the subsequent good run of results last season without mentioning their abrupt and stunning conclusion when they failed to show up in three of their biggest games of the season against United, Arsenal and Aston Villa.

It was difficult to fathom just how poor Liverpool were in those three games which is why Rodgers description of the defeat to West Ham a fortnight ago suggests he is no closer to solving their inconsistency.

"It's very difficult taking a performance like that because you wonder where it comes from, particularly because we hadn't showed signs of that in the opening three games," he said ahead of Saturday's defeat when, again, the team looked confused by mixed messages.

Before the game against West Ham, Rodgers spoke about how Christian Benteke gives them the option to be more direct and, with seven points from nine games, he was happy that this showed his pragmatic side.

On Saturday evening, the tune changed and Rodgers called on his players to be technically braver and better in possession even though several of them seemed to want the ball out of obligation rather than desire. Despite this, Rodgers contended that his team aren't "building the game fast enough".

Perhaps Rodgers is clearer in what he wants when speaking with his players on the training pitch and in the dressing room but, when it comes to his public utterances, they usually create more questions than they answer. Prior to the game against Arsenal, Rodgers talked about how his team weren't going to dominate possession but were planning to dominate the space.

Back in the Sky Sports studio, Ed Chamberlin asked Jamie Carragher the question everyone was wondering: "What does he mean by that?". Carragher's response was the answer everyone was thinking: "I don't know."

If Carragher, an intelligent player and pundit, couldn't work it out, the batch of players in the Liverpool dressing room for whom English isn't their first language are certainly going to struggle.

After the Arsenal game, Rodgers half-joked that the decision to disallow Aaron Ramsey's goal was correct because his shirt was offside yet the earnestness with which he delivered the line suggested a man who believes admitting that his team had a bit of luck is a sign of weakness. This came a week after what Rodgers described as an "excellent decision" from the linesman to allow Benteke's goal to stand despite Philippe Coutinho being in an offside position which, under new interpretations, meant that the goal should have been disallowed.

Judging from their opening five games, Liverpool have worked hard on set-pieces and perhaps Rodgers was desperate for somebody to ask him that question after the Bournemouth game so he could answer it in great depth in praise of the summer's coaching efforts.

Yet it's even more difficult to take a manager seriously when he attempts to praise officials when their bad decisions go in his team's favour before questioning even less debatable ones that go against them, as he did regarding United's two opening goals on Saturday.

Both of his full-backs were in poor positions for the opening goals but Rodgers chose instead to focus on the roles played by Ashley Young and Ander Herrera because it didn't suit his narrative that his team had defended well.

But with Marouane Fellaini up front, this was a game for Liverpool to be bold and press United high up the pitch because there was no pace in their attack to get behind them.

Instead, they chose to sit back and defend deep when the defeat against West Ham demanded a reaction to suggest that Rodgers was close to working out where such flat displays were coming from. That is, after all, a fairly basic requirement of his job.

With the Europa League and the Merseyside derby on the horizon, Rodgers needs a response quickly.

On their website, Everton simply have the words "No Explanation" alongside the derby fixture because it needs no additional promotion.

If Liverpool haven't improved dramatically by then, "no explanation" to explain what is going wrong simply won't be good enough for Rodgers.

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