Liverpool have had a tough start to life under Brendan Rodgers, and on too many occasions the results haven't matched the generally strong performances. For many, much of the blame lies with bad calls and bad bounces and defensive lapses and the inevitable growing pains that come from switching to a new system—all suggested causes many would say have conspired to leave Liverpool with a worse showing in the table than they perhaps deserve by their play.
All of those reasons or excuses might be true to some extent, at least may have played a role at various times in Liverpool's losses and draws that stand in stark contrast to the flowing, encouraging football the squad has often offered up since Rodgers' arrival. However, in Liverpool's last two games—one in the league and one in Europe—it wouldn't be unfair to suggest that mistakes made by Rodgers were at the root of a pair of unflattering results.
Against Udinese, it may have been defensive lapses that were to blame for the Italian side's sudden ascendency shortly after the hour mark, but those defensive lapses came about immediately following the removal of Jordan Henderson. Until then, Henderson had excelled in a reserved midfield role, recycling play and providing an effective screen for the defence, slowing opposition attacks and helping cover for out of position teammates even if he wasn't running around the pitch throwing crunching tackles.
With Henderson removed for the more attacking—and far more positionally irresponsible—Steven Gerrard, then, it can hardly be entirely the players faults that Liverpool suddenly looked vulnerable without the ball and that Udinese were able to slice through a midfield and defence that until then had looked largely competent. At least some of the blame for those on the field lapses has to lie with the manager for getting the team balance wrong when he made the substitution. Some of the blame has to lie with Rodgers for misjudging the opposition's threat and pushing too hard for an instant boost to the offence at the expense of solidity in possession and security in defence.
Rodgers has offered far more good than bad since arriving at Liverpool. He preaches an exciting brand of football that fits well with the club's legacy; he talks a good game and at least so far has given reason to believe he'll be able to back up that talk with action; and he's managed to give supporters the feeling that the club is finally moving in the right direction after a few years that in retrospect appear little more than aimless wandering.
But that doesn't mean he should be immune from criticism when he gets things wrong, and last Thursday when he removed Jordan Henderson from the pitch was clearly a case of Rodgers getting it terribly wrong. And perhaps more worryingly, no matter the many good and encouraging things Rodgers has done and said as Liverpool's manager, in the case of Henderson it appears he has something of a blind spot—no matter how good a game Henderson was having, he was always likely to be removed by a manager who so far has shown a determined doubt of the player that stands in opposition to former manager Kenny Dalglish's seemingly blind faith.
Dalglish clearly put too much faith in the young Englishman, playing him nearly every week out of position on the right ahead of more proven and settled options. Rodgers, on the other hand, appears to have absolutely no faith in Henderson, and no matter how well the player does on the pitch the evidence so far suggests he will struggle to see action.
If Rodgers' determined lack of faith in Henderson stands out, on the other side of the coin is his apparent continuing belief in the failed experiment that is Joe Cole at Liverpool—a misplaced faith that brings us around to Rodgers' second significant mistake in as many games. Bringing Cole on may not have cost Liverpool the game on Sunday against Stoke in the same way that taking Henderson off did during the week, but yet another ineffective display by the veteran Englishman certainly didn't do anything to help his side win the match.
When Cole came on for Suso, Rodgers had Oussama Assaidi and Fabio Borini available on the bench along with Jordan Henderson, who had been Liverpool's best player against Udinese and would have allowed the inconsistent Steven Gerrard to push exclusively into attack. Moreover, at the time Suso still appeared a relatively fresh and willing runner—certainly more so than Raheem Sterling, who had clearly begun to tire on the opposite wing.
Rather than being a change made out of necessity, then, it was meant to be a proactive change. It was a change designed to swing the game in Liverpool's favour. Unsurprisingly—at least to anyone who has watched Liverpool regularly over the past two seasons or kept tabs on Joe Cole's career since he became surplus to requirements at Chelsea—it was a change that did absolutely nothing to aid Liverpool's cause.
Alongside Rodgers' indications during pre-season that Cole was to be part of his long term plans, it's hard not to wonder if Rodgers perhaps has something of a blind spot of another sort for him. Cole does after all provide decent off the ball movement, and he's at least theoretically capable of playing a technical, quick passing game.
The problem is that when the theory of Joe Cole comes up against the reality of Joe Cole—at least when he's not competing for a club in Europe's sixth best league or working his way back to fitness against kids and other fringe first team players—the results are crushingly underwhelming, and the Cole who has made a few cameos for Liverpool under Rodgers on either side of his latest lengthy injury break is exactly the same Cole who failed to make an impact under either Hodgson or Dalglish and who Chelsea were happy to see the back of on a free.
Rodgers may seem far more good than bad so far in his time at Liverpool. He may say the right things and embrace an approach to the game that most would say is right and proper for the club. But he isn't perfect, and a pair of downright poor substitutions last week against Udinese and Stoke City may well have cost Liverpool five of the six points they likely deserved on the run of play. No matter all the positives he's shown so far, that has to be worrying, and if Cole continues to be seen as a legitimate option while Jordan Henderson remains out of favour following the international break it will only become more so.