The season’s off to an admittedly grim start, and criticism of all involved has been decidedly acrid, and rightly so. As of this very moment, Liverpool stinks.
1. Third last in the Premiership
2. No goals in the league from open play
3. They’re desperate for a proven striker (see number 2): They signed a young, unproven striker who prefers the wing, then gave away another young striker for whom they overpaid, but who, underperforming and ill-suited to the system though he is (bless), is still a striker. They then failed to sign another striker before the transfer window closed despite several reasonably impactful (and, it should be noted, available) options.
4. They drew at Hearts in Europa League (see number 3. And also, how do you draw at Hearts?)
Somewhere, I’m sure, there exists a much longer and far less generous list on Liverpool’s failings than this. Regardless, it’s easy to see why the LFC faithful have set up an Occupy-style encampment in the main square of Panic City (it looks a lot like George Square in Glasgow, if you’re wondering). Much of the ire seems directed at Fenway Sports Group, the general consensus being that they left the bed rather soiled when it came to deadline day of the transfer window. John Henry’s wobbly open letter vaguely declared a direction, but ultimately did nothing but further aggravate fans with furtive mumblings of fiscal responsibility.
Results have been dire - losing 3-0 to clubs like West Brom has been Liverpool’s stock in trade in recent years - but there have been flashes of promise. The Man City game, for example, saw LFC’s high pressing system put pressure on Mancini’s three defenders, producing several chances that should have been converted. Finishing aside, this is positive progress, though it was mooted by Martin Skrtel’s dreadful back pass that led to the tying goal. The pass seemed to be an attempt at playing within Rodgers’ possession-at-all-costs construct (though Skrtel should have booted the ball into touch as all defenders are taught). Instead, he looked uncomfortable and made a silly error, as any player might when a new system forces them to play outside of their instincts. These are known as growing pains. They’re difficult lessons to learn, but learn them we must.
Liverpool are unlucky to have drawn some difficult fixtures so early in the year, but it remains that they have to play them- that’s how this works. The rest of September’s schedule means the club will be given no quarter in terms of opposition and fan expectation. The squad must gel quickly to ensure success in the Europa League and favorable results in games away at Sunderland and home to Manchester United. It’s been a difficult six weeks, but good clubs are expected to navigate these difficulties and get results.
But if that’s the case, it’s doesn’t send a very good message. Watching big money transfer targets go to top clubs points to FSG being much less willing to compete in the boardroom than they claim. Whether or not Dempsey, Walcott or Sturridge were right for the club is up for debate. Fans needed to see a commitment to success in the form of a big name striker and they didn’t get it. Right now the commitment from ownership seems more like a willingness to compete with the best, but only to a point.
Some claim that the season has already been forfeited by incompetence in the transfer market. This sounds more like an alarmist reaction to a disappointing start than anything else, but this is the right of all fans, and the concerns are valid. The silver lining to the transfer window cloud is that younger squad players will be pushed into the first team and expected to perform. The importance of playing time and experience under fire can’t be overstated, but neither can that of winning games and trophies. Sadly, the latter is not a reasonable expectation when playing with untested youngsters.
As it stands, Brendan Rodgers needs time to build his influence and establish a mood at the club, a chance he hasn’t been afforded by many so far. Judging by the actions so far, it seems that this time horizon extends beyond this season. In all honesty, this is a fair expectation. The trouble is, there doesn’t seem to be many who are willing to wait that long.