COMMENT | By Editor
For Liverpool, this was worse, so much worse, than the corresponding defeat at Manchester United last December.
On that occasion, the Merseysiders had lost 3-0 to their bitter rivals. But the size of the home side’s victory was purely down to David de Gea’s brilliance in one-on-ones. It flattered them.
Had Raheem Sterling possessed the ice-cold finishing of a Michael Owen or Robbie Fowler, Brendan Rodgers’ side could easily have headed home down the M62 with all three points. There were positives to be taken in defeat.
There was none of that on Saturday night. It would have been an utterly forlorn journey back to Merseyside.
Liverpool did at least give themselves hope, through Christian Benteke’s magnificently executed scissors-kick, of salvaging a late point.
But that would only have papered over the cracks of yet another underwhelming performance against elite opposition under Rodgers’ command.
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Liverpool were limp, unambitious and passionless. The shackles only came off when they went two goals down and had nothing to lose.
The Luis Suarez-led humiliation of David Moyes’ United, when the Merseysiders won by three clear goals and could easily have tripled that, did not feel like 18 months past, but a lifetime ago.
How quickly Liverpool have deteriorated since the Uruguayan magician left. Bar a two-month revival last season when the team responded well to the manager’s imaginative 3-4-3 formation, the results have been poor. And the performances even worse.
It is worth asking the question. Would Rodgers still be managing Liverpool if Suarez had not been so much better than his peers during that remarkable 2013-14 campaign when his brilliance so nearly drove the team to the title? More pertinently, would Rodgers now be managing a Premier League also-ran if he had never met Suarez? The suspicion is that yes, he almost certainly would.
The concern is that there is barely any signs of improvement under the northern Irishman. Or hope.
Admittedly, Rodgers was without Philippe Coutinho, his best and most creative player, at Old Trafford. The Brazilian’s imagination and technical ability in tight spaces was always going to be missed.
Moreover, seven points from five matches, which have included tricky away trips to United and Arsenal, is not a disastrous return. That honour belongs to Chelsea.
Yet Liverpool and Rodgers no longer look a comfortable fit. And the harsh truth is that they have not for some time.
Had Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti not both elected to take sabbaticals, it is highly unlikely that the former Swansea boss would have been given a stay of execution during the summer.
There were no obvious better alternatives available, certainly proven ones, so Liverpool’s American owners chose to stick rather than twist.
Another underwhelming summer of recruitment has done little to strengthen the team. Nathaniel Clyne looks a decent right-back and Benteke is a powerful front man who is capable of terrorising defenders. James Milner and Danny Ings are useful additions to the squad.
But there is little to get the fans genuinely excited. These are early days for Roberto Firmino, recruited for £29million from Hoffenheim, but the worrying indication is that he is more likely to be another Lazar Markovic than another Coutinho.
Is it the players who are the problem or the manager and his newly rejigged coaching staff? Or owners whose ambitions seems to be restricted to maintaining a healthy bank balance?
Rodgers is bright, likeable and knowledgable. He has charisma and players past and present, notably Steven Gerrard, talk warmly of his man-management skills.
Yet that is not proving enough, and, increasingly, his team selection, tactics and game management are not standing up to scrutiny.
Rodgers was rightly pilloried for playing Firmino and Ings out of position at Old Trafford, on the flanks, when one is a centre-forward and the other a central playmaker. Both were anonymous.
There is no suggestion that Rodgers’ job is under immediate threat. The Merseysiders have a run of winnable fixtures ahead of them and will surely pick up enough points to keep the doubters at bay for a while longer.
But the growing sense is that the end is nigh for the manager. It is surely now a matter of when, rather than if he goes. It would take a remarkable turnaround for him still to be at the helm at the end of the season.