Feb 1, 2013, 3:47 PM EST
Somewhere over the course of the winter it’s become acceptable to see the Brendan Rodgers Project in a new light. Though the first-year boss ambitiously (if perhaps slightly disingenuously) said his team could finish second this season, most onlookers saw this as another year of transition for the Reds. Disappointments like last Sunday’s at Oldham Athletic still dot Liverpool’s record, but the quality of their play has been encouraging. At their best, Liverpool looks like a Champions League contender, even if that status is still at least a season away. But with that quality apparent now, fans have been left yearning for the type of win that will validate suspicions the team can be as good as they look.
That win almost came mid-week, but conceding a two-goal lead in London means fans are still wait for Brendan Rodgers’ big breakthrough. After an hour at the Emirates, it looked set to arrive, but goals from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott salvaged a point for Arsenal. Against the Premier League’s top six, Liverpool is now 0-4-4 this season.
For all the beautiful soccer Rodgers has instilled at Anfield, it’s fair to ask when it means if they aren’t beating top competition. The former Swansea boss was brought in to build something better than Kenny Dalglish had last season. If that requires a transition year, fans seem ready to be patient, but when the results start to hint at a roadblock that defies their talent — the type of block that hints at something mental rather than physical — curiosity’s natural. And at some point, that curiosity becomes a concern.
Rodgers isn’t quite there, yet. Even after capitulating mid-week, he’s still focuing on the positives.
“Normally you would be bitterly disappointed not to have won but I can only be proud of the players,,” Rodgers silver—linings it after the match. “I thought they were absolutely magnificent.”
Those players get their next chance for a breakthrough Sunday at Eastlands. There they’ll face a Manchester City side whose last two performances should engender hope. Their 1-0 win on the 26th at Stoke City came only after Pablo Zabeleta’s late right place, right time goal. Three days later, the Citizens were drawn at Loftus Road, the title aspirants dropping points against the Premier League’s worst team.
The problem’s up front. It’s been 328 minutes since Edin Dzeko scored at Arsenal on Jan. 13, the last time a City forward got on the scoresheet. The last time one of the team’s strikers scored against 11 men in league was Jan. 1 (Dzeko against Stoke City). Sergio Aguero’s “struggling”, down to 8 goals in 20 games after scoring 23 times in his first Premier League season. Carlos Tévez hasn’t scored in league since Dec. 1, and Mario Balotelli’s no longer on the books.
But if his strike corps is a problem, manager Roberto Mancini’s not admitting it.
“Now we have three strikers,” Mancini said when asked if City tried to acquire another forward. “We have only Premier League and FA Cup, I think that could be enough.”
On Sunday, it just might. In Liverpool’s eight games against the top six, they’ve given up multiple goals seven times, including their Aug. 26 meeting with City. Their 30 goals allowed puts them a respectable eighth in the Premiership, but having conceded half those in eight games against the league’s best, their defensive record only feeds into the theme: The next step for The Brendan Rodgers project is a breakthrough against one of the league’s top teams.
Elsewhere in England
Queens Park Rangers (20th) vs. Norwich City (14th) – Must wins don’t exist in February, but how can QPR be confident they’ll stay up if they can’t beat Norwich City at home? The Canaries last league win was Dec. 12.
Arsenal (6th) vs. Stoke City (10th) - Now four points and two places out of a Champions League spot, the Gunners can’t afford to drop points in these types of games. The last time Stoke took points at Arsenal was 1981 (eight matches).
Everton (5th) vs. Aston Villa (19th) - Not so long ago, this was a battle for non-Big Four supremacy (when there was a Big Four). Now Everton’s competing for Champions League while Villa looks to have reached new lows. In the drop with the worst goal difference in the league, Aston Villa’s no longer one of Everton’s peers.
Newcastle United (15th) vs. Chelsea (3rd) - Who knows what to expect from Chelsea? Would anybody be surprised if they lost this one? Newcastle’s been reinforced by Moussa Sissoko, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoann Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy in the winter window, giving the Magpies the talent to take advantage of the Blues, particularly if a newly healthy Yoann Cabaye can tilt the battle in the middle. But this is stills not a match Chelsea should be losing. While Newcastle’s intriguing, they aren’t on Chelsea’s level.
Reading (17th) vs. Sunderland (11th) - How has this happened? Reading hasn’t been much different after their rough start, yet they’re getting better results. Seven points in their last three and have allowed them to claw out of the drop. The pack has come back to them, something you can also say about Sunderland. They also have seven in their last three, they’ve climbed to 11th, and while they’re now finding more goals (and turning draws into wins), it’s difficult to say things have truly turned around. Both these teams are taking advantage of a weak bottom half.
West Ham United (13th) vs. Swansea City (8th) – The Hammers have hit a wall. After a strong start to the season, they closed January with three loses in four, conceding 12 times. Swansea ran out 3-0 winners in the teams’ August meeting. Undefeated in league since Dec. 16, this could be another convincing result for Swans.
Wigan Athletic (18th) vs. Southampton (16th) - Two weeks ago this would have been one of the more obscurely attractive matches in the schedule, but with Nigel Adkins asked to give way for Mauricio Pochettino, we’re no longer guaranteed two styles that augur a beautiful game.
Fulham (12th) vs. Manchester United (1st) - I refuse to say anything predictive about #FlawedButFabulous. Fulham, on the other hand, are another illustration of England’s weak bottom half. As much as they’ve struggled this season, they’re still 12th.
West Bromwich Albion (9th) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (4th) - Lewis Holtby’s arrival will probably mean an even greater playing time struggle for Clint Dempsey, but the German playmaker is exactly when Spurs need. This Sunday’s match may provide a perfect example. On the road against a team whose tactics could have previously exposed Spurs’ occasional lack of creativity, Holtby may provide a dimension that forces opposing managers to reconsider laying of Spurs and daring them to craft a killer ball.
Jan 29, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
The latest update from Beckham on building a stadium, bringing an MLS team to Miami.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:41 PM EST
Friendly banter among teammates, when done right, is downright hilarious.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
What went down on Thursday, the 29th day of this January transfer window? A full recap, inside.
Jan 29, 2015, 5:36 PM EST
Agudelo is back in MLS, where he probably should have been all along.
Jan 29, 2015, 5:12 PM EST
The future boss at Anfield? Sturridge is quite sure of it.
Jan 29, 2015, 3:18 PM EST
Putin and Russia have already had to cut costs for the 2018 World Cup.
Jan 29, 2015, 2:43 PM EST
Arsenal’s main man is touch and go for this weekend’s game against Aston Villa.
Jan 29, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Liverpool’s leading striker could return to action this Saturday after five months out.
Jan 29, 2015, 1:02 PM EST
With players out and title dreams on the line, how will Chelsea and City line up on Saturday?
Jan 29, 2015, 12:18 PM EST
Costa set to protest FA charges to avoid three-game ban.
Jan 29, 2015, 11:43 AM EST
Watch Klinsmann’s insane piece of skill from the friendly vs. Chile on Wednesday. My word.
Jan 29, 2015, 11:08 AM EST
Guinea won the lottery and are through to the last eight. Here’s the quarterfinal field for AFCON.
Jan 29, 2015, 9:45 AM EST
Former D.C. United, RSL and Union player heading back home?
Jan 29, 2015, 9:06 AM EST
With a few days left in the window, here’s the latest gossip.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
Could Yaya link up with his old boss at the San Siro?
Jan 28, 2015, 11:10 PM EST
So what went down on Wednesday, as the transfer window took another step toward slamming shut?
Jan 28, 2015, 10:20 PM EST
Set up for a free kick outside the 18, Eriksen not only sent an arrow whizzing over the goal, but he managed to spin it into the far upper 90.
Jan 28, 2015, 9:58 PM EST
The La Liga giant has woked out a sponsorship deal with United Arab Emirates-based International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).
Jan 28, 2015, 9:17 PM EST
Jurgen Klinsmann remained upbeat, while Jozy Altidore was obviously disappointed.
Jan 28, 2015, 8:42 PM EST
Breaking down the good, the bad and the ugly from Wednesday’s 3-2 loss in Chile.
- David Beckham says progress still being made on MLS stadium in Miami 0
- DONE DEAL: Mattia Destro, Juan Agudelo sign with new clubs AC Milan, New England Revolution 0
- Juan Agudelo signs with New England Revolution, completes return to MLS 2
- How will Chelsea, Manchester City line up in huge Premier League clash? 1
- Chelsea’s Diego Costa to contest FA charge of violent conduct 0
- Freddy Adu heading back to MLS? Reports claim two teams interested 10