I hate hyperbole. People have said that several performances this season – and particularly of late – have been “disgusting”, and various other emotive terms that I’ve felt were excessive. But the first half at Stoke was as sobering as anything I’ve seen. And by sobering I mean hideously embarrassing.
Five-nil down for the first time in almost 40 years, and 5-0 down before half-time. The thrashing by Arsenal was bad, the limp display versus Villa in the semi-final was bad, and the home beating from Palace was chastening. If you add the second-half in that game to the first versus Stoke, then it’s probably the worst 90 minutes I’ve ever seen Liverpool play. And I’m pretty sure I’m not exaggerating, with seven goals conceded against mid-table teams in just 75 minutes.
My argument throughout the spring has been that these days happen. But it reaches a point where it’s happening too frequently.
While I stand by my ‘par’ analysis (Liverpool should be 5th based on all financial wherewithal measures), the performances this season haven’t been good enough, bar the middle three months; and Liverpool have ended the season below par. Add those three months to what happened last season and you can make a case for the manager, but losing 6-1 at Stoke is, in and of itself, what some might see as a sackable offence. If nothing else, the defending was not becoming of a Premier League side, let alone one that set out hoping for the top four.
I’ve defended Brendan Rodgers this season, and you should never overreact to a single game; indeed, a single half in this case. But this was unprecedented in its awfulness, and was at least the 4th horrible performance of the spring (there may have been more, but I’ve been numb for part of it).
Equally, it’s not all his fault. Raheem Sterling and his agent have shafted everyone with the timing and nature of their outbursts, and whoever the fuck organised a players’ awards night a couple of days before the final fixture wants his tuxedo burning. The whole event was too showbiz, and contradicted the idea of deserving such a night. It sent the wrong message to what is a young squad; a better message would have been to cancel it. And while Rodgers’ personal life is of absolutely no concern to me, and has been used distastefully against him, it has been yet one more side issue in a season of side issues.
Add an enormous dose of Balotelli (who just seems to drag teams down, whether he means to or not), Suarez leaving, Sturridge missing almost the entire campaign and the horrific attempt at making the most of Gerrard’s final games (indeed, his whole farewell season has been a nightmare for him and the team – although he signed off with another goal), and it’s just been an utter clusterfuck. Almost everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
In many ways, 62 points and two cup semi-finals isn’t disastrous by some of the club’s recent standards – and indeed, the Reds have finished below 6th on three occasions since 2009 – but there has just been too little to enjoy about this campaign. Aside from Philippe Coutinho, no player escapes criticism, and the record-breaking run of away clean sheets earlier in the season seems a distant memory when you’re shipping five in 44 minutes at Stoke, and six in total.
I still think there are mitigating factors for the manager, many of which I’ve just mentioned. And I had planned to publish a comprehensive study that shows how playing a certain number of cup games can hurt your league form by quite a few points. I’ll still publish that later this week, as it relates to years of research – and not a small sample of good or bad games.
But even with all the mitigating circumstances you have to feel that the manager will struggle to see off the wolves. As fans we no longer accept bad or even mediocre seasons, even if coming off the back of an excellent one. We blame them for everything that goes wrong, when at times they cannot control many of the factors. But then again, we fete them when they do well, and that’s the nature of the sport. Whatever the reasons, when a team collapses like Liverpool have there are questions to be answered. Everyone at Liverpool FC – the players, the coaching staff, the owners and the transfer committee – should be asking what they could have done better.
If Rodgers does survive – and going into the Stoke debacle I thought he would – I’d expect him to work with the club (which would include several frank conversations) to solve several problems this summer, and get more out of a cluster of hugely promising young players that will be one year older, and, hopefully, bolstered by some wiser spending. But all I can think of right now is what a clusterfuck of a campaign this has been.