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The Relative Merits of Panic

The last month has been an abysmal one for Liverpool fans, with the goals refusing to come. As Chelsea and another long international break loom, how much should we be worried?

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

One moment please. Hang on, I just have to grab a few things.  Bottled water, canned beans, flashlight, generator, The Road to Istanbul commemorative DVD, towel. I think I'm ready. Okay - PANIC!

The last few weeks have been a bit of a horror show, haven't they? The only bright spot came from a late comeback against Swansea to propel Liverpool into the quarterfinals of the Capital One Cup. As momentarily uplifting as that victory was, everything else since returning from the October international break has been pretty grim viewing.

So that's it, I guess. Apocalypse party at my house, BYOB, I've got the glue gun and glitter pens. Time to work on those Rodgers Out! banners. I think the glitter will give them that extra pizzazz that'll let John Henry know that we really mean business. Am I joking? I taught first grade — I never joke about glitter. In fact, I say we go even further. Rodgers out, Gerrard out, FSG out; let's take the nuclear option and burn this whole enterprise to the ground. Start over with just us and probably Fabio Borini, who will still be around.

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If you listen to media pundits and certain — let's call them vehement — corners of the Liverpool fanbase over the last few weeks, you'll have noticed the increasingly insistent calls for Brendan Rodgers' head. The reality of football management is that it's dictated by fans with very short memories. 101 goals scored last season, you say. But what have you done for me lately? In that regard, at least, Rodgers faces a grim reality.

In the five games following the slapstick comedy that was the match against Queens Park Rangers, Liverpool have conceded seven goals and scored only two, both in the aforementioned Swansea game. While four of those leaked goals came at the hands of the best side in Europe, the fact remains that right now there's not one Liverpool player who can consistently get the ball into the back of the net. With our next game against Jose Mourinho's double decker bus, it's hard to guess from where the goals will come.  Another poor performance on Saturday, followed by the international break, might see Liverpool scoreless for nearly a month in all competitions, and longer than that in just the league. I don't know how to spell the sound that came out of my mouth at that thought. Have you ever accidentally eaten a habanero pepper? It sounded like what happens after that.

The darkest timeline described above isn't a foregone conclusion, of course. Maybe Liverpool will trounce Chelsea at the weekend and we'll all go into the international break on a high. Maybe Daniel Sturridge will come back rested, mended, and firing on all cylinders. Maybe he'll continue to build on that partnership with Mario Balotelli that we glimpsed against Spurs and finally bring out the best in our misfiring and much maligned striker. And hey, since we're talking about this, maybe the defense will get their act together so that every time we concede a set piece, I can stop imagining them as characters from those Final Destination movies, heedlessly traipsing beneath a suspended piano.

Maybe. But in the here and now, Liverpool has an attack that won't attack and a defense that can't defend, and if that analysis lacks sophistication, it's because I'm still imagining Jose Mourinho's smug face if his side beats us at Anfield two seasons in a row. Something has to change. To his credit Rodgers made a first attempt to do just that on Tuesday with his surprising team selection.

One of the things I find most fascinating about football is that since it's a low-scoring game with frequently recurring scorelines, those scorelines can take on a myriad of meanings depending on the context. The classic example of this phenomenon is trying to explain to someone why, given the right circumstances, a 0-0 draw can be exhilarating to watch. ("It was exciting because somehow they didn't score!" "I don't think you know how sports work.") Similarly, the shambolic 1-0 defeat against Newcastle felt very different to the same result against the European champions three days later. The changes Rodgers made to the team didn't achieve the desired result, but the improved performance did much to assuage some of the fears that Liverpool fans had harbored after the trip to St. James' Park.

Critics claimed that Rodgers' decision to rest several starters meant he had capitulated the game before a ball had been kicked. Perhaps he had decided to prioritize playing Chelsea on Saturday over a game Liverpool were never likely to win. Or perhaps, as he said, the collective soul-destroying performance that Liverpool produced against a mid-table side last weekend meant that no player was a nailed on starter. Regardless of the reasoning, it worked, sort of. The team looked more defensively solid — one Kolo clanger notwithstanding — than they have in a while, and several fringe players had a chance to make an impact. Lucas Leiva was a particular standout. Liverpool fans tired of the turgid football their team has been playing as of late will welcome this new philosophy from the manager. In the end, Tuesday was a moral victory. Unfortunately for us, moral victories don't earn teams points, and so we're left hoping that Rodgers and his team will take the lessons learned from the last week and apply them going forward.

In the meantime, grab a generous amount of your drink of choice and batten down the hatches. We're in for a rocky few weeks.

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