For Liverpool parallels to the 09/10 season are all too galling. For Suarez read Xavi Alonso, the player of last year who has departed. Like then they finished second above Chelsea the year before, and Chelsea rather than they made the changes that propelled them to title favourites of the following year.
What makes this the most testing time of Rodger’s Liverpool career is that he has to motivate a team with diminished expectations. Only six games into the League, there is an unbearable sense that they will not be as high up as they were last year. With this motivation diminishes, and Rodgers must to better here than Benitez did, it was this failure which led his team to fall from second to seventh and ultimately cost him his job.
Rodger’s failure may have already come in the transfer market. His record here is ambivalent. His finest intervention in it came in his second spell, where he brought in Coutinho and Sturridge, who were vital in the title challenge the next season. Balotelli, though most fans would relish the idea of having him back in the Premier League, already looks a poor signing. Aside from his obvious qualities, Suarez’s work rate was immense. The effect of this was to drive up those around him, in particular Sturridge. It was a bit like living with somebody who runs and goes to the gym every day and every time suggests you, the lazier flatmate, come with them. It inevitably drives you further than you would otherwise gone.
Balotelli by contrast makes no such runs. He never chases down nor does he run the channels. The effect goes further on other members of the team, such as those further back. From the moment they look up there are far fewer options. Rodger’s success has not been so much in the transfer market, as much as getting the best out of what he inherited. We ought not to forget that Suarez scored under fifteen goals in the league in the season before he arrived. He has also helped Sterling immensely. The problem he faces now is dependency on him. In their best win of the season against Spurs he stole the show. However, he is still young and without Champions League experience. His fitness is a problem. Tellingly when Italy played England he got cramp when Pirlo, aged 36, did not. Dependency on him can only come back to bite if it goes on for longer.
It is generally accepted that Rodgers flew ahead of schedule last year. A top four finish and making it out of the group stages of the Champions League would be superb for him this year. What may save his bacon is that the race for the fourth spot does not seem as hotly contested as usual. Arsenal and Manchester City will both be a long way ahead of fourth. Manchester United, Spurs and Everton look no better than last year. Everton will suffer from the lengthy trips of the Europa League, Manchester United are yet to convince. He may be saved by this, but these are the hardest time of his reign.
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