Friday, 27 February 2015

Brendan Rodgers – Does Besiktas Debacle Suggest a problem with they way the Reds Manager handles Big Games?

It is fair to say that Liverpool have changed a lot since Brendan Rodgers took over the helm at Anfield. Things have definitely taken a turn for the good with the Reds going the closest they ever have to the elusive Premier League title and playing some of the most thrilling football they have in a long time.

But, one worrying aspect of Rodgers’ managerial tenure has been his performance in “big” games. Liverpool’s recent Europa League loss against Besiktas on penalties clearly depicts this. When the pressure got high and the intensity levels increased, Brendan Rodgers’ men just folded and crumbled.

Liverpool were tactically outplayed by Besiktas
Credit - Guardian

What drives this worry is the acknowledgement that Liverpool is a team with genuine Champions League ambitions and thrives on being on the biggest stage of them all. The tales of the “legendary European nights” at Anfield are held dear by every Liverpool fan. But, the fact of the matter is that Liverpool is just not performing where it counts.

This year’s dismal Champions League performance highlights this worry, with the Reds winning only one game in six. What was particularly telling was the performance against FC Basel at Anfield in a winner takes all scenario. The Reds had to win to move on but just did not turn up. When the going gets tough, it seems like Rodgers stops going.

The main topic for consideration in this issue is the Reds’ performance against the so-called “big” teams, which are Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City. All these teams are proven winners and can be drawn on the same wavelength as Liverpool. These are teams that expect to beat or match Liverpool. Teams like Southampton and Tottenham have not been included because they are not proven winners and struggle in big games themselves.

Here is how Liverpool has performed against the “Big” Four with Rodgers:

Head to Head (W-L-D)
Goals Conceded
Man City
Man Utd

The numbers clearly show where the weakness lies. When the opposition has quality and a cutting edge, Liverpool are always overrun and thwarted. These stats also do not paint the full picture because the two wins against Man Utd came when they were at their worst in a long time and did not have the quality they have been known to have. To concede 40 goals in just 24 games is just not good enough and suggests there is a huge problem.

This suggests that there is a tactical deficiency with Rodgers’ approach to crunch games. He just does not seem to be prepared when the teams are tactically resolute and defensively sound. While there was a media outcry about Chelsea “parking the bus” against the Reds in “that” game last year, what was more worrying is how easily Rodgers was tactically outsmarted by Mourinho. Everyone knew that Mourinho was coming to Anfield to stifle the Reds and hope that Rodgers would buckle and he did exactly that. His reading of the game and situation was totally wrong. Games and championships are won based on these nuances and Rodgers does not seem to have grasped them.

Rodgers has never beaten Mourinho
Credit - Guardian
What is also worrying is how dramatically the output level drops during these big games. During the Champions League campaign, Liverpool yielded a measly 5 goals with 4 coming against perceived minnows Ludogorets Razgrad. As teams drop deep and man mark attackers, Rodgers does not know how to react. For example, it was clear in yesterday’s game against Besiktas since Jordon Ibe was a threat in the first leg, he was going to be stopped. This clearly worked, as Ibe was only able to create 1 chance, 2 take-ons and could not even get a cross.

Surely Rodgers must have known that Ibe was going to be under pressure because Besiktas are a smart team.But, he was oblivious to this and it showed in the game because there was no fluency or impetus in the play as the Besiktas players cornered everyone out. Besiktas manager Slaven Bilic tactically outperformed Rodgers and the players could not handle it. The pressure went up and the performances went down.

Rodgers has struggled against the genius of Ancelotti
Credit - Getty Images
If Jose Mourinho or any other top manager were at the helm, the tactics and preparation would most definitely have been different as they are winners and know how to win tactical games. Of course, Rodgers has his qualities but his record does not look encouraging.Till now, he has come up against tactical masterminds like Carlo Ancelotti, Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson and ended short against all of them. Out of 11 games against the aforementioned managers, the Reds have won none under Rodgers. If Liverpool are to qualify for the Champions League, they will come up against the Guradiola’s and the Ancelotti’s of the world on a regular basis and if they want to do well, Rodgers will have to up his game. It is imperative that a winning attitude be instilled in Liverpool otherwise they will languish for a long time.

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