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Brendan Rodgers must ask some difficult questions over Liverpool future

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There was a time, in 2012, when everything Brendan Rodgers touched turned to gold. Then with Swansea, Rodgers was the leading light in a new era of managers utilising cutting-edge technology and a continental tactical approach to help the Welsh side storm the Premier League.

He gave an interview with the Guardian just before the 2011/12 campaign drew to a close. Swansea had one game remaining against Liverpool with a shot of finishing in the top 10. They would just miss out on that goal, but it didn't take the sheen off an otherwise pristine season.

He spoke of 'zonal pressure', 'our style of tiki-taka', 'recycling possession' and his 'philosophy' at a club which out-passed every single team in the league that year. He was a man on the cusp of something, doing it in a way that the Premier League hadn't seen before, with a club who didn't have their own training ground.

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"I like teams to control and dominate the ball, so the players are hungry for the ball," he said. "I believe if you give a bad player time, he can play. If you give a good player time, he can kill you."

A few months later, after turning down Tottenham and the chance to potentially work with Harry Redknapp and England, he was announced as Liverpool's new manager. 

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How it came to pass that Rodgers went from the bright young thing in British management to the maligned figure that he is today is a remarkable story. The 3-1 defeat against Manchester United on Saturday evening felt like a low point in a reign filled with more than a few, especially off the back of the defeat against West Ham before the international break.

Liverpool, with seven points from their first five games, are eight points adrift of league leaders Manchester City, but only three from Arsenal in fourth. It's not been an ideal start for the club, far from it, but it's not been a total disaster either.

Crossroad

Now it seems as though his job is on the line. Rodgers has been here before of course; Liverpool were forced to issue a statement insisting he wouldn't be relieved of his duties after the crushing defeat against Stoke on the last day of last season, and he teetered on the brink after a poor run of form leading up to Christmas. Then, he was granted a reprieve after turning things around, but the former Swansea man conceded his approach 'wasn't working' and Liverpool had lost their 'identity'.

It's not surprising that there was a price to pay for all that damage, although there were more than a few eyebrows raised when that price was revealed to be the jobs of assistant Colin Pascoe and first-team coach Mike Marsh. 

That clear-out of two key cogs close to Rodgers - Pascoe's son was revealed to be dating his daughter in the 2012 documentary series Being: Liverpool - meant his job was saved but it used up any credit he had in the bank. Now, he has no margin for error and he's paying the price for that. Jurgen Klopp could be the biggest benefactor of that should Rodgers walk the plank.

Rodgers' is an easy target with his management-speak, perma-tan, and constant refusal to admit his side were anything other than 'fantastic', but there are some fundamental flaws in his Liverpool side that merit justified criticism.

His team's lack of identity, when he was the one to extol the virtues of a philosophy, is a major issue. So far this season, in their first five league games, Liverpool have recorded less than 50% possession on average - a sin when the 'Book of Rodgers' is based around keeping the ball and fighting like dogs to get it back. That figure has fallen from over 57% in his first season at Anfield.

That could well be because of his transfer business, which has received more than its fair share of criticism. Christian Benteke, Danny Ings and Roberto Firmino are all fine players, but it's difficult to see where they fit into Rodgers' masterplan of retaining and recycling possession. If he is trying to evolve his team's style - which certainly seems to be the case - then there's been a lack of cohesion in his business, and there's been a lot of it too. That is perhaps the biggest crime for a man who prides himself on a singular vision. 

"It's something that, over the first five games, I need to look at," Rodgers said after the defeat against Manchester United. "Is it how we play? Because it's too easy for us at times to play direct into Christian Benteke, who I thought was excellent."

One interesting thought stems from his time with Swansea. During the interview back in 2012, Rodgers admitted he could only attract a 'certain type of player' - one who was young, had a relatively low profile and was keen to learn. His system requires total commitment and has to be bought into - there's a chance he has struggled to get the same results from established stars, with the exception of the 2012/13 season in which the mecurial genius Luis Suarez led the way.

Louis van Gaal, who deploys a similar posession-based brand of football and likes to use young players to implement his style, is something of an idol for Rodgers. That says a lot.

More simplistically however is the fact that Rodgers appears caught between playing the football he wants and getting the wins he needs. He's drifted away from what he knows best and a style he's honed over a lifetime. Now Liverpool look more lost than ever.

The quality at his disposal and the fundamentals of his system means it's unlikely that Liverpool will fall into obscurity as they looked like doing before he arrived, but unless Rodgers gets the perfect marriage of tactics and players to fit then even the top four is unlikely.  

The difficulties Rodgers' faces have manifested themselves as a lack of goals - just three in five games so far. Last year Liverpool managed 52 goals, a year after breaching the 100-mark.

“Five games in and we have not created anywhere near as much as what I would have liked. We need to create more opportunities," Rodgers conceded after the United defeat. “That's something we need to have a look at with the coaching staff to see how we can find ways of being much more creative.

The bottom line remains this: Four seasons, £291 million spent on 31 players, one trophy and an averaging finishing position of fifth in the Premier League. Whichever way you carve it up, they're pretty damning numbers.

Do you think Brendan Rodgers will still be in charge at the end of the season?

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Topics:
Football
Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool
Premier League

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