Heavily against the “just sack him” mentality that is so effervescent in the modern era of the sporting world, it was with much reluctance that I titled Liverpool’s 0-3 defeat to West Ham a fortnight ago as “The Beginning of the End for Rodgers.” This week, things got much worse for Brendan Rodgers as his Liverpool squad fell by the wayside in an unspirited display at Old Trafford. The frustration was exacerbated thanks to Manchester United’s own managerial struggles as Louis Van Gaal entered the game under fire from the Red Devils’ players and supporters.
Liverpool fans made their frustrations known at their defensive line up that resulted in a disheartened display from the Reds without key players Daniel Sturridge (injury), Jordan Henderson (injury), Adam Lallana (injury) and Phillipe Coutinho (suspention). After keeping two clean sheets to start the season, the leaky Liverpool defense that was highlighted a season ago were abysmal for the second consecutive week raising question marks over the tactical awareness of Brendan Rodgers.
The first half was uneventful as both sides struggled to take a stranglehold in a tentative start. The deadlock was broken just after half time as Nathaniel Clyne fouled substitute Ashley Young on the edge of the box and the ensuing free kick was calmly passed by Juan Mata to a wide open Daley Blind who slotted home perfectly with his left foot into the top corner leaving Mignolet helplessly watching the ball sail past him.
United were able to breathe easier and their fans regained their voice and rained down energy from the hallowed stands of Old Trafford towards the pitch. Shortly thereafter, Joe Gomez committed an ill disciplined sliding challenge in the box and his inexperienced look of fear and guilt quickly resulted in referee Michael Oliver pointing to the spot. Ander Herrera calmly converted the spot-kick that he had earned with preferred penalty taker Wayne Rooney sidelined after picking up a hamstring injury during training.
Down 2-0, Liverpool were still unable to string solid series of possession together as they had few half chances and produced a couple of good saves out of newly re-signed goalkeeper David De Gea. Liverpool finally gave themselves a chance at an undeserved result as Christian Benteke showed a flash of what made him a big summer acquisition as he delivered a technically-perfect thunderous overhead kick to get Liverpool on the board.
Three minutes later, the much publicised teenage debutant Anthony Martial squeezed through and calmly slotted home past Mignolet to eternally endear himself to the United faithful. The goal was symbolic as a new star was born and introduced to his home fan base and likely vindicated Louis Van Gaal’s spending as successful while simultaneously putting the final nail in the Brendan Rodgers coffin.
Tactics & Passion (or lack thereof)
Liverpool were defensive minded throughout and Rodgers received exceptional criticism for his decision to play Danny Ings in midfield opting for a 4-3-3 formation rather than moving to a diamond in the middle of a 4-4-2. One comment on Facebook noted that any formation that saw Ings running towards his own goal rather than the opponents was a serious coaching malfunction.
Criticism also flowed for the lack of intent and passion displayed by the Liverpool squad. With their Manager under fire and their own destitute performance a week earlier, a flat Liverpool performance certainly pointed towards locker room unrest.
Many fans reminisced over the success of Luis Suarez disguising tactical ineptness during the Reds’ second place finish in 2013/14. That season, Liverpool conceded 50 goals compared to just 37 by the champions Manchester City and 27 by third place Chelsea.
Christian Benteke struggled to get involved in the game as his service was quite limited without the likes of Coutinho, Henderson or Lallana. His goal was superbly taken and might end up being the Liverpool goal of the year by the time it’s all said and done but he will be disappointed not to have threatened De Gea enough. One disappointing aspect of his game is his limited work rate defensively especially away from home. As I suggested after a similar trait was observed in the opening fixture, he will be much more lively while playing at Anfield. His work rate results in increased pressure on his midfield as he does not do enough to disrupt the centre halves distribution to the midfield.
Danny Ings struggled to make his mark on the game and was primarily used out of his natural position as a striker. Being rewarded for a successful cameo at West Ham, Ings seemed lost at times….
Divock Origi made his debut for the Reds and in the limited time looked pretty promising to me. His player rating (below) was nothing significant but he had some nice deft footwork and skills and I would be interested to see more of him going forward. Considering he has World Cup experience playing for Belgium in 2014, it’s assumed he would be able to thrive on the big stage.
Jordan Ibe was again the preferred attacking option off the bench for Rodgers who tested De Gea with a great left footed strike coming in off the right wing. I’m not Ibe’s biggest fan due to his head down one on one approach to beating defenders, but his shot was a rare, welcomed glimpse of offensive intent for the Reds.
The midfield consisted of Lucas Leiva, Emre Can, James Milner and Roberto Firmino for the second consecutive week and the group again struggled to maintain possession for any significant period of time. Can and Milner work tirelessly off the ball as they mount pressure but both were inefficient with the ball at their feet and were unable to create any forward momentum.
Liverpool severely miss their Captain Jordan Henderson who is able to efficiently distribute the ball upfield after a change of possession. The trip of Lucas, Can and Milner can win possession well but cannot create any forward momentum as a result leaving Liverpool stagnant and helpless.
Defensively, Rodgers has gone with the same defensive unit for the start of the season and with 6 goals coming in the last two weeks it’s hard to imagine why Moreno and Sakho have not been given an opportunity to start. For the second week running Gomez has looked out of his element and although he was solid in the first two fixtures he seems out of his element at times in the last two weeks.
The Martial goal was an example of incomplete defending as the ball spilled through Martin Skrtel and back to the Frenchman to slot home easily and any Liverpool aspirations of leaving Old Trafford with a share of the points.
Mignolet was not horrible given the lack of assistance from his outfield players but a goalkeeper who concedes 6 goals in 2 weeks will struggle to clear himself of all blame. With no real proven alternative, Liverpool have to ride with the Belgian shot stopper until an alternative becomes available.
*Timezone – AEST