Over the last 24 hours, news trickling out of the Liverpool camp has given supporters reason to worry. The team selection alone--one with at least six changes to the line-up, including standout performers Nathaniel Clyne, Christian Benteke, and James Milner--seems to indicate that Rodgers does not take this competition seriously.
Then last night, Rodgers opened his mouth, and the results were a little disturbing. In a run of 14 league games, book-ended by a pair of defeats to Manchester United this season and last, Liverpool have picked up a mere 15 points, with a goal differential of -12. That's not Champions League, that's Championship. Despite the sustained run of poor form, and with several high-profile former Reds pushing for his termination and/or replacement, Rodgers just sees this as a mere blip on the radar:
[The pressure] is the same as it ever has been and probably what I've had for the last year or so. I don't think it has increased - it's the pressure that comes with managing a great club. It says everything that you lose a couple of games, and obviously they were disappointing performances, and that pressure comes. It's something that I've always embraced and enjoyed because it's something that tells me I'm at a top club, a leading club. When you work at that level, it's about results and also the performances. Nothing has changed in that way. I just need to concentrate on getting the team right and getting the focus. In terms of the league it's still very early; we're only a few points off where we would want to be anyway, but we know that we need to get the ball rolling on that sooner rather than later in terms of winning more points. But the pressure is something that is always here and always will be, no matter whether you're at the top or in the middle of the table. It's part and parcel of being the manager at such a great club.
Like many, I've defended Rodgers for the past three seasons, which increasingly seems longer than I probably should have. Obviously delusional statements absolving himself from "a couple of bad games" show just how out of touch he truly is. And if he truly believes there's no more pressure on him now than there was a year ago, and no need to get things fixed in a real hurry, he may just be a lost cause -- and that will likely earn him a very low-pressure early permanent holiday.
Rodgers went on to address his, let's say "curious" team selection, with equally disappointing statements:
My approach is what I did in this competition when I first came in, we played players that needed games and it's my chance to look at some young players as well. Back then we finished top of the group and qualified, and that's the objective. It's very much the same here - we pick a team to win the game. We've got a lot of games coming up over the next couple of months and it's ensuring that the squad all feel that they can participate in those games. I've got every confidence that any team we put out, in whatever competition, can win the game.
On paper, this doesn't seem like a team that has been selected to win the game or win the group. Based on the travelling squad, the team sheet, when it's released, will probably be the type which would be an insult to a lower-league side in the League Cup. It certainly won't be the type one expects to see to travel to France to take on a team that just earned a hard-fought away draw to Paris Saint-Germain.
It's a statement that makes it painfully clear Rodgers has learned nothing from his three-plus years at the helm. He's learned nothing about squad rotation. He's learned nothing about managing his squad for success across multiple competitions. And, after three full seasons in charge, he appears to have learned nothing about competing in Europe.
I hope that my assessment is wrong. I hope this young, inexperienced side will surprise us all and we escape France victorious, leaving supporters looking forward to the rest of the Europa League campaign and Norwich on Sunday with rested players. I hope his statements are mere bravado, not his true feelings. But after the disappointments of the last year, that's become very, very difficult.