If there was any doubt about Liverpool’s season being over, those doubts were put to rest with another awful outing, as the Reds lost to Hull City 1-0 at the KC Stadium. Liverpool’s season is ending much in the way that it began, a mix of poor form and a blunt attack. Again, the Reds controlled most of the possession but lacked cutting edge in the penalty area. Again, Liverpool were incapable of breaking down a compact and disciplined defensive unit. Inspired to avoid possible relegation, Steve Bruce’s Tigers played with an energy Liverpool might have matched for the first fifteen minutes, but even that is arguable.
Here are four findings from last night’s match.
While injuries have contributed to some of the personnel problems faced by manager Brendan Rodgers, every squad faces the same challenge. Yet, changes to the starting side were not startling or strange. Steven Gerrard, having suffered a knock, was replaced by Joe Allen. Apart from that, it was more of the same. It didn’t work at Villa and was even less effective at Hull City. At no point since arriving has Mario Balotelli been functional as a lone striker, but that hasn’t prevented the gaffer from throwing him into that tactical role. Raheem Sterling continues to be a marginal figure, albeit on the left side lately, becoming more invisible in this match than the last. Then there is the return of Jordan Ibe, who looks to have a bright future but remains a raw teenager. It beggars belief that Rodgers insist on tactics that have yet to yield goals in any genuine capacity.
Rumours that Rodgers was dangerously close to getting the sack before engineering the turnaround at the New Year have resurfaced in earnest as the reality of missing out on a Champions League place settles. Given the loss of 51 goals in the form of departed Luis Suarez and perpetually injured Daniel Sturridge, they maintained that Rodgers deserved one more chance to find answers. However, displays like Tuesday’s seriously erode the strength of that argument and no doubt Fenway Sports Group is amassing their own dossier about their possible decision. The pressure is now mounting on the manager once again. Supporters disgusted with a season that offered one significant run that rose above a mountain of mediocrity are now calling for the sack a lot louder. Most likely, Rodgers remains and next year is his crucible, but those odds are evening rapidly.
Given the amount of money spent to improve the depth of the squad, it remains a bit shocking that the best Rodgers had at his disposal for substitutes included Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, and Lazar Markovic. Only Lallana has even genuinely shown flashes of why he was purchased, or better stated – demonstrated they are worthy of minutes. For all the romance of Lambert’s return, it has been no fairytale or prodigal son story for the kid from Kirkby. Markovic, clearly bought more for the future, has worn potential like a millstone, nor has he been helped by the manager’s insistence on playing him out of position as well. Only extraordinary fortune could enable one of these players to make an impact against a team knowing three points against a struggling side like Liverpool cushions the likely losses on their fixture list and can keep them in the league.
Mignolet maintains form
One player who has continued to perform in spite of the malaise around him continues to be the once maligned Simon Mignolet. Despite his mid-season benching, the Belgian is on track to potentially garner the Premier League’s Golden Glove, if the defence can keep from crumbling in the final month. The goal was neither his fault, nor was there much that he could likely have done to prevent it. Slow defensive responsiveness on the part of striker Balotelli held Michael Dawson’s clever, curling run onside for a free header. Yet, Mignolet repeatedly clawed away Hull City attempts at increasing their margin. This has been an unequivocally successful season of redemption for the Red’s net minder.