By Chris Rowland.
This week’s Symposium is all about gauging shifting expectations – or gauging whether they are shifting. We want to see whether the pulse has quickened – stethoscope please ….
Dan Kennett: At this moment the short answer still has to be “no”. I think we really need to wait until the New Year when everyone has played everyone else. If we’re in a similar position inside the top 4 after 19 games then we probably need to ask the symposium question again!
The long answer is that I’ll now be disappointed if we compromise our own chances of making the top 4. If we miss out through horrific injuries, bad refereeing decisions or plain old bad luck in key matches that’s fine. I’m talking “shooting ourselves in the foot” through things like:
1) Not strengthening the squad in January through “internal problems” (e.g. Summer 2012) or “penny pinching”. The squad is still too shallow as three injuries at any one time has a big impact. We need another couple of signings at the Sturridge/Coutinho/Mignolet level to ensure we can compete all the way to May. If in contention, January is the time to invest.
2) Changing the plan for no reason. I believe we are following a semi-quantitative management plan this season. Others would call this “managing by numbers” or “playing the percentages”. If you are following such a plan then the thing that you don’t do under any circumstances is change it on a whim or with no reason. You stick to the plan at all times because you already know that it’s the best way of meeting your overall goal. Things that would come into this category are going 4-2-4 like we tried last season and was an unnecessary risk. Or ending the “meritocracy”. People thought Joe Allen was “teacher’s pet” last year but now fans are chomping at the bit for him to get some game time. Everyone thought Skrtel was a gonner in the Summer. Rodgers has introduced a meritocracy this season and that is to be applauded. You only lose your place when your performance drops.
3) The FA Cup. Other than freak injuries, this is probably the biggest “unknown” left for our season. Are we going to embark on full-strength teams in every round? Now I know the FA Cup has dedicated weekends in rounds 3, 4 & 5 and that no PL fixtures are scheduled. However, factor in replays and shorter time between matches and pretty soon it could get on top of you. Again, I want to see evidence of a clear plan that we stick to and don’t just manage it “on the fly”
If we can eliminate all the “avoidable” mistakes and leave the rest to a lot of hard work and a bit of luck then I’ll be a happy man.
Alex Tate (Tattva): Yes, I will be disappointed if we don’t make the top four.
Qualifying for the Champions League is the first step of our aim “to build Liverpool into a bastion of invinc”… oh, “I promise that we are going to win the league again.”
If John Henry is serious about this claim, then getting into the Champions League will not only bring in money, raise Liverpool’s profile once again, but also give our players much-needed experience against the best Europe has to offer. All these points, and more, will help Liverpool to become champions of England again sooner rather than, er, perhaps never.
Disregarding our great start to the season and the closeness of the top eight as it stands, I still feel it is a benchmark the club need to be achieving. This isn’t based on expectation but rather where I’d like Liverpool to be. A club of our stature and heritage, which hasn’t plumbed the depths of League One or below, which is in good working order should be top half, with ease. Whilst we haven’t been in good working order recently, Liverpool have still managed to be mostly competitive.
FSG sacked Kenny because of the second half of his season would have left us 17th, the cups would not have altered anything. So, considering this, I believe the league is the focus. Fail here and FSG may consider Rodgers unsuccessful. There are variables outside of Liverpool’s control and I’m sure they will be considered if CL football eludes us.
Right now, as I’ve mentioned on a previous symposium, Liverpool have the hottest strike force in the Premier League, a very reliable stopper between our sticks and, when all are fit, a flexible and secure defensive unit. All attributes for top four contention, which leads me to expect it, but not demand it.
Southampton are over-achieving, Spurs can’t score, Man City are on fire one week and then a timid pipsqueak the next; all weaknesses that can lead to Thursday night fixtures, if they are lucky, next season. None of which guarantees Liverpool a Champions League place, but the opportunity is there, and it’s always best to take that opportunity.
Rodgers’ ideas, even as he tweaks them, are nestling within the squad and I believe we will go from strength to strength. How long it takes to be champions of England I cannot say, but CL football is within our grasp, and I will be delighted should it happen this season, or hope to be close if not.
Russel Lunt (Thundyr): At the start of the season I wanted to see Liverpool challenge for a top 4 place, even if such a place was not actually achieved. By “challenge”, I mean be within 3-5 points of 4th with five games to play.
For instance, under Dalglish in 11/12 we were two points back of third at the start of January and seemed to be “competing” for that elusive spot, but by April even 6th was a distant prospect. Even if Rodgers has us at the summit of the table at the start of January, the quality of the top 6 clubs seems similar enough that even a small slip can see one lose a significant number of places.
As it stands right now, Manchester City in 7th are only four points behind us in 2nd, and I don’t expect much change in terms of that gap between now and the halfway point, though certainly some teams may change position. Rodgers keeping us in this pack until late April would satisfy my pre-season requirement.
I do not think much has changed in my outlook, though I have become more excited at the prospect that my expectations may be exceeded. We have BOTH in-form strikers in the league, and though Sturridge’s on-the-ball impact has not been as great the past few fixtures his presence, pace, and threat are allowing Suarez the space to wreak havoc upon defences. With the return of Coutinho and especially Johnson we look a significant threat going forward. We win when we score first, we score the first goal earlier than any other team in the league on average, and only now after 11 games do we have all the key players fit and not suspended. It’s mouth-watering stuff.
There are obstacles ahead: a second half of the season where all the “easy” games are away from home, and the January threat of Real Madrid making an offer for Suarez we might not be able to refuse. Despite these I would be disappointed should we miss out on the top 4 because sometimes our opponents simply cannot live with us, and we are building the necessary winning mentality. However, it would be an easy disappointment to swallow as we lack depth in every position and we know the fruit of this work in progress is not yet ripe. That time will come. YNWA.
Mark Cohen (Maradoo): This a is a slightly tough question for me to answer, because I firmly expected a top four finish this season following on from last year’s good second half and the upward trajectory we were on.
In saying that, my answer to the question is I will be very disappointed if we don’t make Champions League, because I believe that our first team is the equal of anybody’s and we are playing less matches, meaning that our present position in the top 4 should be maintained at the very least.
Furthermore, I have been encouraged by the inconsistencies seen below us (and above too, with Arsenal looking a bit limp against United), and whilst I think a couple of United, City, Chelsea and Spurs will find a good run of form, I do believe that two won’t. This will mean that we should have an excellent shot at finishing in the middle of the top 6, ergo Champions League football!
Another point: We have now entered into a stage in our evolution where there is quite a bit of straw-clutching from our rivals about our performance. “No good in second halves”, “Too reliant on Suarez”, “Can’t win big games away” etc. To some extent we still need to get a really big result under Rodgers to cement our trajectory, at least in everyone’s mind, but that feels like its coming. When it does, the belief of the squad should soar, meaning the barriers in our way start evaporating and the target becomes more tangible.
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