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Technicians in Heavy Jerseys

As was eminently predictable, those fine folk with the jerky knees, who seem to populate fan forums, were out in force following the third defeat of the season for Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool, with the most severe criticism being aimed at the Irishman himself.

It was getting silly now. Fifteen minutes they'd been waiting to kick-off and still Mario hadn't escaped his bib.
It was getting silly now. Fifteen minutes they'd been waiting to kick-off and still Mario hadn't escaped his bib.
Laurence Griffiths

Are you amongst those still wallowing in the morbid desolation that has seemed to afflict fans of the Redmen in the wake of their third defeat in five games? The airy buoyancy and ebullient optimism that was omnipresent as the season kicked off was soon exposed as a thin veneer of positivity, beneath which years of angst, doubt, impotent rage and gloomy world weariness had been superficially disguised and were all-too-quick to reemerge.

To hear the ill-conceived dismissals of the manager and some of his players in the wake of the most recent disappointment, one could be forgiven for thinking we'd pulled on our padded gilets, hopped in the DeLorean and travelled back to the bleak melancholic Hodgson era. At best, it was idiotically reminiscent of the early days of Rodgers' tenure, when his famous communication skills caused him more harm than good in some quarters. In fact, just change the name of the current new Italian striker for the previous new Italian striker and it sounded exactly the same. He's a fraud, that Rodgers. Too big for his boots, isn't he? Believing his own hype. Where is the club going? We're a mess. Waste of money, that Balotelli lad. We'll be lucky to finish sixth. Pass the me the phone, mate, I'm gonna slate him on Talksport. And so on. Nonsense.

Clearly, anyone not bitterly disappointed by the team's gruesomely undercooked performances and the manager's unusual tactical faux pas, is a rare specimen of phlegmatism and Job-like patience. The rest of us, frankly, have been livid. That irritation and frustration is valid. It's understandable. In fact, it's necessary because it stops complacency and leads to some sensible articulations of displeasure which can, in turn, have some small effect on turning the tide. However, the method of that expression is the key. It seemed, over the last few days, as though there were some who had been simply stewing, lying in wait for the chance to contort their faces in bile-fuelled rage and gratuitously slate the Irishman; the same Irishman who worked a minor miracle of modern management only last bloody season.

Perspective then, is the key. Nothing is all over. Liverpool have not exited any competitions. We may all have hoped to see the Reds perched atop the Premier league from the first moment to the last but that was always a dewy-eyed pipe-dream. There has been far too much upheaval. The club and the manager had little choice in this. The squad was barely fit for purpose as it was and then it was stripped of it's greatest asset. The lack of genuine depth in Rodgers' group, a team that last year had only the dubious talents of Victor Moses or Iago Aspas to call upon from the bench, meant that a certain amount of new blood was inevitable, anyway. The departure of Luis Suárez merely exacerbated that need and led to an even larger amount of recruits.

To compound an already complex situation, the cruel spate of injuries to Daniel Sturridge, Jon Flanagan, Emre Can and Joe Allen have seriously limited the manager's elbow room when it came to team selection. To be fair to Rodgers, the bleating about playing Lucas Leiva alongside Steven Gerrard was a tad unfair, given the lack of viable options the Liverpool gaffer had available. His defensive selection was certainly more controversial but again, the players must shoulder their share of the criticism here. Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel were wretched against West Ham and, ahead of them, the aforementioned midfield duo were woefully off-form. Up top, Fabio Borini laboured ineffectively and Mario Balotelli was isolated.

Again, Rodgers may have set the team up badly, and even the man himself could scarcely argue against that being the case, but the men he trusted let him down when he needed them. To isolate the manager as the sole cause of the recent disappointments is certainly foolish but sometimes the Antrim man doesn't really help himself in the eyes of those ever-ready with a withering barb.

"No matter how good the players are, if you add eight or so [new faces] it is going to make the dynamics different for a period of time," he insisted not unreasonably. "We are in that period. Confidence has not been affected so far but if you don’t win games for too long it can be. We’ve conceded eight goals and the majority of those could have been avoided but what people probably don’t get is the pressure of playing for such a big club. The weight of the jersey here is heavy for most players. Once you adapt to playing for Liverpool you become clearer in your thinking."

To hear him speak about the burden of responsibility thrust upon Liverpool players seems fair enough. Even if his invoking of a favoured metaphor -- the weighty jersey -- is a touch cringeworthy, it would be perfectly valid if he were talking about the likes of Lazar Markovic, Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo or Can. The reality, however, is that it was the comparatively hoary old stagers like Skrtel, Lucas and Lovren that were most culpable and looked most cowed by the occasion at the Boleyn Ground. By contrast, the irrepressible Raheem Sterling, all of nineteen years old, was a leader on the pitch. Adam Lallana, although clearly lacking in the match sharpness and fitness one would like to see, was similarly unencumbered by the heft of the shirt, expressing himself freely in a poorly functioning unit.

However, another experienced recruit, Rickie Lambert, has most certainly been proving his boss's words true, with the Liverbird on his chest seemingly causing a degree of performance anxiety. Lambert's story captured the imagination and the headlines upon his arrival at Anfield but to date, the big striker has been merely a shadow of the player who had risen to the status of folk hero at Southampton. Rodgers, however, insists that the England man will come good, describing his talents in typically gushing fashion.

"This will be a game he will start in," the manager enthused, ahead of tonight's clash with Championship side Middlesbrough. "He’s come off the bench and made an impact for us. He’s a wonderful player, a great technician and he makes it really difficult for defenders. I know he’s really looking forward to tomorrow night and hopefully he can get a goal on his first start."

With another three games in quick succession, Rodgers will hope his wonderful technicians can produce some outstanding displays and in the interim it would behoove some of them to hit the weights in an attempt to more comfortably don that burdensome red shirt.

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