This season marked Brendan Rodgers’ third in charge of Liverpool FC. What did he do well? Where did he fail? What does he need to do better next year?
I’m still not convinced that sacking Rodgers is the right move at this stage, with the caveat being that we don’t get a repeat of this season. There was a lot of bad luck that came with it, but he needs to perform better next season if he’s still here. He’s equal parts frustrating and wonderful, but that frustration boiled over this season. I thought Gerrard leaving would give him the platform to finally build his own team, but who knows? Either way, the club’s entire structure needs to change, and if that means Rodgers stays, then he has to live or die by his own sword.
He failed in the first four and last two months of the season. There was a little bit in between where he did well, so if he sticks around hopefully it’s more of that and less sticking to—then returning to—what he really should already know doesn’t work. At all. And given he now appears to be safe, I'd far rather see him come good on the flashes of promise he's shown rather than seeing another year wasted and hoping it can lead to yet another new manager and a brighter future.
Rodgers is an odd manager because sometimes he’s a brilliant outside-the-box thinker willing to adapt, and other times he’s far too stubborn. We saw both sides of the coin this year, and while his stubbornness might have come close to ending his time at Anfield, it’s worth acknowledging the inventiveness that he flashed throughout the season. With Sturridge injured, Lovren a hot mess, and the team in free fall, Rodgers utilized an unorthodox 3-4-2-1 formation spearheaded by Raheem Sterling. The setup gave Coutinho and Lallana more attacking freedom and improved the team’s defense, as Emre Can proved to be a solid center back in a defensive trio. Not many managers would have tried something so audacious, and for a while it looked as if the move had saved the season.
But Rodgers’ stubborn side -- the side that repeatedly inserted Gerrard into the team, thought it a good idea to move Henderson from the center of the pitch, refused to adapt to the play style of Balotelli, and played Can at right back -- eventually cost Liverpool dearly. If he survives this summer he must improve his willingness to learn from mistakes -- he’s adept at making proactive tactical maneuvers, but to be a great manager he must also be reactive.
Rodgers’ stubbornness has been his downfall for me. At times, it seems to border on obstinance. By the end of the season, the fact that he continued to play Steven Gerrard as a DM felt like him deliberately ignoring common sense in order to make a point. Having confidence is one thing. Giving players time to settle into a new formation is one thing. What Rodgers did from September through January felt like self-sabotage. While his in-game tactical adjustments often work well, they make me wonder why he didn’t do those things in the first place. How often can a manager be outplayed in the first half of games before questions are asked, regardless of whether or not he saved the game in the end?
On the positive side, I like that he takes chances. I like the he does a lot of work with our younger players and gives them opportunities to prove themselves. I like that he thinks outside of the box to solve a problem, even if those solutions came too late this season.
This is a strange one. If we’re going to break it down by months, Rodgers did well in August and from December to March — pretty much similar to Noel’s appraisal. The rest of the season was poor. Persisting with Lovren in defence and Gerrard in defensive midfield for so long was almost unforgivable, but Rodgers found a plan that worked for a few months. This season there’s been no coherent and identifiable philosophy running through the side, and that’s worrying. In Rodgers’ first season, we saw Liverpool pass and dominate the ball but struggle with defensive errors. When Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho arrived, Liverpool were more direct with better results but still struggled defensively at times. That was more than acceptable as there was a plan that looked attractive and promising. Finishing seventh with barely sixty points? No problem people, there is a way of working. Last season was crazy, but this season lacks any sort of a plan from the manager. I thought I understood what Rodgers was trying to do with intensity in attack, final third regains, and a possession-based/counter attacking hybrid system.
Maybe transfers hindered the manager more than it should have, but there have been other elements that are concerning. Subbing off a young Lazar Marković at half-time frequently, failing to understand Balotelli or Lambert after months and months of feedback, and continuing to make bizarre statements and excuses don’t help either. The tactical missteps in domestic cup semi-finals, an underwhelming record in Europe, and some confounding appraisals of existing personnel don’t reflect well on the manager. There is talent within Brendan Rodgers, but at this stage, he’s fortunate to be getting a chance to do better next year. To repeat a friend’s summary of the managerial situation: I like Brendan Rodgers but I like Liverpool more.
Rodgers best trait is the one that thrilled us last year and gave us hope in this one - his desire to experiment. Say what you will about him, but at his best, his willingness to take seemingly slap-stick squads and get them to flex and out-perform is pretty great. He was also was able to oversee a general improvement - Stoke match aside - of the defense.
And yet that willingness to try new things seems to contradict the fact that there are times he can be so utterly rigid that it makes you want to tear your hair out. It's weird. The Two Sides of Brendan Rodgers is equal parts furiously frustrating and tremendously thrilling. Hopefully it's mostly thrilling from here out.
He changes things to positive effect, which is nice, and he also runs things into the ground, which is not nice. He publicly backs his players, praising them almost to the point of annoyance, but he also treats some--Mario Balotelli in particular--with such obvious disdain that you can’t help but wonder what’s going on. Brendan Rodgers has been really hard to pin down this season, especially given how positive things seemed at the end of August and during the wonderful run of results midseason. Like anyone and anything else, when it’s going well he’s far easier to like and understand, but when things go sideways, his growth edges and shortcomings are there for all to see. Next season, he’ll need to find a better balance tactically and, if it’s the issue it often appears to be, be more open to the signings and squad members he doesn't consider his.
My favorite part of Rodgers' management has been and will always be his mercurial nature. He shifts gears and does mad things that, for whatever reason, just come off. His move to ALL OF THE WEE LADS, and 3-4-2-1, and Attacking Centerbacks, and all the rest. They were all out of desperation, but it came off and saved our season. Or almost did. To the point where a win against United and we may have had the top four comfortably in hand. He also brought Ibe into the show, which looks to be a huge, huge move for the next couple years.
On the other hand, when the wheels have fallen off, they've fallen off so disastrously that it’s hard to narrow it down. But then I remember Suso. I’m never going to forgive you for letting Suso depart into the ether, Brenny. Never.
The weirdo, bizarre tactical choices that he insisted on sticking with in the first half of the season were pretty damned unbearable. The throwing under the bus of players who weren’t getting a fair shake wasn’t very much fun, either, nor was the handling of Steven Gerrard in general. Managing to stay in contention for a Champions League spot despite losing a bazillion goals this season and playing as poorly as we did for so long probably deserves some kudos. Since he appears to have made it through the FSG review process, I’d like to see him apply his mercurial flexibility towards finding ways to use the players he seems horribly disinterested in but could probably still offer something in certain situations.
He did really well making sure all his goodwill from last year got spent. He did terribly at putting players in their best positions, like Can at RB, or Balo at lone striker, or Stevie at DM, or Lovren on the pitch. His man management, if you can call it that, is kinda terrifying at times. And his transfer nous/eye for defensive talent is pretty abject. The clear identity he had built in our play over the last two years seemed to fall apart, too, which was disconcerting. I like his invention and that did save our season, but his stubbornness was a big part of the reason our season needed saving in the first place. I like that he wants flexible players and an adaptable squad, but he takes it too far and gets too clever for his own good too often, seemingly desperate to shoehorn certain players into the side at any cost. He is a talented manager, but if he gets another full season, it’s time to make good on that talent. Promise won’t carry him any further.
Part 1 (Monday): Transfer Business
Part 2 (Tuesday): Underperformers and Overachievers
Part 4 (Thursday): Steven Gerrard's Swan Song
Part 5 (Friday): Positioning the Club for Success in 2015/16