By Christopher Boulay
It’s that time of year again. Liverpool is predictably underperforming, and the crosshairs are pointed squarely at the manager.
That statement could have been written during the first few weeks of each calendar year since 2010, and it would have made sense, in some aspect. Frustration has come to be the overwhelming feeling of many Liverpool supporters, who were both so fortunate and spoiled to have two Champions League Final appearances within the past decade.
When there is an issue – or at least a perceived issue – the onus is all too often put on the shoulders of the manager in this game. So, what do fans seem to want when the team is performing below the seemingly unattainable expectations of some fans any point of the season?
Get rid of the manager.
The club’s best player, forward Luis Suarez, hasn’t scored since January 30?
It must be the manager’s fault.
How the hell does this great club have the audacity to lose to West Bromwich Albion?
Surely, all of this is on the manager. Brendan Rodgers has done nothing right, and it is time for him to pack his bags and ship out. This is just like Kenny Dalglish when he didn’t manage fourth place last season. This is just like Roy Hodgson, who single-handedly ruined the club from the inside out with his sinister Liverpool-hating ways. This is just like Rafael Benitez, who wore out his welcome and deserved to be kicked to the curb to be replaced by anyone who can win the league right this very second.
Does anyone notice that this is getting a bit ridiculous yet?
Tasting success and seeing it pulled away just as quickly can be a bitter pill to swallow for any group of people, whether it be soccer fans or not. Liverpool has the luxury – and the curse – of being a club with a rich and illustrious history. It seems like there are enough trophies at Anfield that a person could make a ladder out of them, climb to the moon and claim that as the Reds’ next great achievement. Beyond last year’s League Cup victory, there hasn’t been anything since the club grabbed an FA Cup win in 2006 against West Ham. A Champions League fixture at Anfield hasn’t occurred since December 9, 2009.
This is problematic for most Liverpool supporters, and it is understandable. Winning is the goal, and Liverpool isn’t back to its usual, competitive self. However, while the club isn’t winning consistently, it also won’t be finishing fourth this season. That’s a difficult realization for some people. Even when saying, “Liverpool will not finish fourth this year,” some may bitterly and angrily fight that notion.
Any supporter who sat down and watched their television the day Brendan Rodgers was appointed as manager and said, “This is the year the club goes back to the Champions League,” might want to get their head examined. On the other hand, any supporter who sat down at that same point and said, “This could be the start of a climb back to competitiveness and continental relevance,” may have been more grounded.
After 26 matches played, the club is in ninth place with 36 points. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Everton, Swansea and West Brom are ahead by some number of points. Liverpool is 12 points off of fourth place, and there’s only 12 league matches left. Winning all of them would double the club’s point total. Having 72 points may be enough for fourth place this year. The problem, though, is the likelihood of the Reds pulling something like that off lays somewhere between Queens Park Rangers signing Lionel Messi this summer and Jamie Carragher leaving Liverpool to become a high school English teacher in Ohio.
Even if Liverpool can pull off the highly improbable, there are no guarantees that it will be enough. Drumming up support that Rodgers should go before his contract is up is childish at best. At worst? It shows some supporters may not have been paying close attention to the progress made this season.
There is a very noticeable improvement in attacking punch and possession this season. The club only had three matches this season where possession fell below 50 percent. Goals have been plentiful this season compared to last. With 12 matches remaining on the schedule, the Reds scored 45 times in the Premier League this season. Last season, the team scored 47 the entire campaign.
Questions can be made about the defense under Rodgers, as his side has allowed 34 goals so far, compared to last season’s total of 40, but the offense is there to make up for it. Those who want to point out the draws against Manchester City – home and away – and Arsenal certainly have that luxury, but the way those matches were lost came down to mental lapses. Rodgers can manage and encourage the players, but he isn’t able to think and move for them.
Supporters still have 12 matches in the league to watch the continuing maturation process of a very young, but very talented team. One more cup opportunity remains, with the club only hours away from playing in the Europa League knockout rounds.
Frustration is understandable. Fans demanding success is fair. That being said, not seeing the progress made in the past several months shows a certain stubbornness all too common with many of today’s supporters. Stability and a specific long-term vision are what is needed for the club to return to its past heights.
Follow Chris Boulay on Twitter @chrismboulay