Liverpool: Will Rodgers ever find some consistency?
This was always going to be a difficult campaign for Brendan Rodgers and 13 defeats in all competitions illustrates how consistency has remained painfully elusive. What will frustrate the manager even more, though, is the fact Liverpool have shown they are capable of excellent football. Occasionally, Anfield is home to devastatingly efficient and enterprising one-touch football; but the fleeting presence of that football is as quick as the passing itself.
When Liverpool are good, they can be phenomenal. However, when Liverpool are bad, they are monstrous.
And against Southampton, they were the hideous Frankenstein ogre. A distorted side with mismatched pieces which made simply walking look like a grueling and uncoordinated task. It was 90 minutes of ineptitude and frustration from the Reds with only the briefest respite given by Philippe Coutinho just before halftime.
After four consecutive victories and 15 goals scored, little needed to change for Liverpool to maintain the momentum. But with Jamie Carragher ruled out, Brendan Rodgers had little choice but to turn to Martin Skrtel, whose spell on the bench did little to reverse his poor form.
It was also recently revealed Allen awaits surgery on his shoulder after playing with the complaint since October, a revelation that surprised few given his decline this season. So the decision to play a half-fit Joe Allen instead of a similarly afflicted Lucas Leiva or a fully fit Jordan Henderson was determined by Rodgers' defiance. But against a side of Southampton's setup, it was sheer criminality.
For Rodgers, the midfield selection was either arrogant or inept. Pick your poison.
That is not to blame Skrtel or Allen solely for the defeat. In such a defeat, blame is an obsolete concept. To scapegoat them would be grossly unfair, for this was a team unified in disharmony. Heck, Glen Johnson looked as though he didn’t know the rules allowed the use of feet in football.
And the man usually to the rescue when the rest of the team doesn’t show up, Luis Suarez, was off chasing shadows. So often the Uruguayan has spared Rodgers' embarrassment this season that I imagine the manager is always gleefully scribbling onto his notepad a doodle of Suarez with a heart sketched around it.
However this past Saturday nothing came off. And more worryingly, the effort on display as a whole was inexcusable; as if the squad assumes that four wins in a row, grants you a fifth for just arriving. Evidence of something altogether larger.
And further confirmation of the inconsistency plaguing Liverpool’s mentality can be found in their Jekyll and Hyde defensive record. The Reds have conceded two or more goals in over half their league games, but also have kept 12 clean sheets.
The manager is working with the youngest squad in the league; which only got younger in January. And the symptom of this young squad seems to be a lack the mettle and resolve to approach each game with the same vigor or mindset. Too few are the veterans like Carragher and Gerrard that can be voices of inspiration in the dressing room. And significantly, Carragher’s presence will be lost next season.
The young players need to copy Carragher’s determination just as the back four needs his ear-piercing organisation. He may now be as fast a boulder, but he is still the defensive bedrock.
Brendan Rodgers has to challenge his team now to learn and adapt now before the departure of the vice-captain. It will be an urgent task for the manager to ingrain the mentality of Carragher into the squad. Eight games are left for the defensive legend, but if he can impact the future careers of the youngest squad in the league, his legend will only continue to grow.