It's a tough day for Liverpool fans. Their Europa League defeat at the hand of Besiktas, eliminating them from the competition and causing a slew of blame places and fingers pointed. The chief target? Manager Brendan Rodgers.
Rodgers' decision making and tactics for European competition have been continuously called in to question this season amidst a disappointing - at the kindest description - Champions League group campaign followed by a Europa League knockout tie that was flat in the best of times and mind-numbingly poor at the worst of them. In the end, though, it's just a continuation of something we already had an inkling of: Brendan Rodgers doesn't seem to be very good at managing in Europe. At least, not yet.
This was Rodgers' second European campaign, and the first didn't end significantly better. In 2012, Liverpool won their Europa League group, but only by coming out on top of a three-way tiebreaker thanks to several disappointing results in a group they should have coasted through. Then they fell at the first hurdle in the knockout rounds, going out on away goals against Zenit St. Petersburg. Throughout that campaign there were questions made of the efficacy of Rodgers' lineup choices and tactics, how he handled the balancing act of competing in Europe with Liverpool's domestic competitions. Especially in that knockout tie with Zenit, many felt that Liverpool didn't take the competition seriously enough until it was too late.
This year was little different, and the higher level of difficulty in the Champions league only punished the weaknesses that seemed to still be present in Rodgers' European approach. They struggled and scuffled their way to third place in a group that they easily could and should have finished second in, and then ... well ... there was Besiktas.
Liverpool's European record under Rodgers is nothing but disappointing. In 18 matches, they've won just seven times, losing another seven and drawing the other four. They've scored 26 goals and surrendered 28. They've yet to taste the second knockout round in either competition. Results-based analysis rather than process-based only gives you so much of the picture, but the part of the picture that that analysis pains is rather less than good. Add in what we can see of Rodgers' European process - the weak lineups, the odd tactical decisions, the disastrous substitutes - and it doesn't really get any better.
Obviously, Rodgers is still learning the ropes when it comes to competing outside of England. He's only had two campaigns to test his mettle, but both were riven with the same issues. Hopefully he's learned from his failings and mistakes, because if he hasn't, it's going to be all the harder for Liverpool to achieve their long-term competitive goals.
Sure, being another Arsenal has it's perks, reaching the Champions League all the time. But to rarely be truly competitive in the competition, to too often be knocked out in the first knockout round or two - well, surely everyone associated with the club wants more than that. If Rodgers can't unlock the mysteries of Europa, he may not even be able to achieve that much. So far, he hasn't. There's hope, obviously, but there's also a lot of disappointment to overcome.