Asking Questions is the First Step Towards Heresy

Julian Finney

Some think questioning a manager is the first step on the road to wanting that manager gone—and as such that it's a very bad thing. Others think it's the first step on the road to wanting him gone—but that maybe that's a good thing. Sometimes, though, all it's really about is needing to ask a few question.

Questioning a manager's decisions is not the same as calling for his head, and some of the more reactionary sorts on both sides of the conversation as Liverpool approach the half-way point of the season adrift in the bottom half of the table and arguments grow heated would do well to remember that. And following some of the choices Rodgers has made over the past week, and especially heading into Wednesday's match against Tottenham, it would be almost impossible not to at least begin to question some of his decisions.

Decisions like the one that saw him persist with a midfield trio that struggled mightily against Swansea on the weekend when other options were available, giving Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard another full ninety with both players clearly showing signs of exhaustion in recent weeks. Or decisions such as insisting on once again playing Stewart Downing at left back after he too had been a liability against Swansea—and with Tottenham besting Liverpool on the flanks being a common theme when the two sides have met in recent seasons.

Liverpool's is a limited squad. That much is blindingly clear. Yet even within the limitations Rodgers is obviously working under, limitations that are inarguably hindering his efforts to remake the current squad in his image, some of his personnel and tactical decisions on Wednesday went well past inexplicable and perhaps even touched up against the borders of inexcusable.

Gerrard has already played more minutes this season than he did all of last year in the Premier League, and he's looking less composed and increasingly profligate with every match. At the same time, Rodgers seems entirely at a loss as to where exactly he wants to play his captain—while showing little tactical intent in his ever-changing deployment. Allen, meanwhile, a player who was never realistically going to be a long term answer filling in for Lucas, has grown increasingly ineffective as the strain of trying to single-handedly hold the midfield together and screen the backline has taken its toll.

Whether it would have made any difference to the outcome against Spurs if Rodgers had rested Allen on the weekend or made the tough call on Wednesday to start Gerrard on the bench, keeping him in reserve to play the role of impact substitute if needed, can't be know with any certainty. Yet it was hard to imagine it ending any way but badly for Liverpool when the same starting eleven that struggled against Swansea ran out at White Hart Lane, and making exactly those sorts of tough calls—and getting them right more often than not—is what any top class manager is expected to do to be considered even minimally competent and qualified for his position.

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Rodgers may be juggling a thin squad with injury concerns to consider and a room full of egos to take into account, but in those headaches he's hardly alone in the world of football. The choices Rodgers faces may not be easy, but running out the same starting eleven that collapsed so completely against Swansea—and in particular a misfiring, exhausted midfield and an unimpressive, makeshift left back—appeared a recipe for disaster from the moment the teamsheets were released.

And it's not unreasonable to expect better even given his relative inexperience and the lack of top class options on hand at the club. Rodgers can talk about incremental improvement and needing reinforcements and possession football all he wants, but at the end of the day his job comes down to getting the tough decisions right—especially when circumstances are less than ideal. On Wednesday night he failed to do that, and it's not wrong to question that failure.

It's not wrong to question why a midfield trio that looked overmatched by Swansea played on two days of rest. It's not wrong to question his determination to play a pair of exhausted and out of form players in Gerrard and Allen for the full ninety minutes two matches in a row, or to question why four months into the season he appears to still have no idea how to deploy Gerrard so that he does more good than harm when the opponent isn't Everton or Manchester United or some other side the captain can still get fired up for.

It's not wrong to question the time he's currently giving to Raheem Sterling, another player who looks increasingly tired and ineffective and whose career could be damaged by being overplayed at a delicate stage in his development. It's also not wrong to wonder what possessed him to start Stewart Downing for the second game in a row after he had been exposed by the pace of Swansea on the wings and in the full knowledge that Tottenham are a side most dangerous attacking through speedy wingers Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale.

The best manager in the world won't take a club to the top if the players aren't good enough, and right now Liverpool clearly have neither the quality nor the quantity to challenge for top honours. But even taking into account the club's very real shortcomings on the pitch, what we saw on Wednesday from the manager was far from the best. Being concerned by that doesn't have to mean one wants to see the back of Rodgers already, but neither should believing Rodgers can eventually get the club where it needs to go make one blind to the mistakes he has made and the areas he needs to improve in—and quickly.

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