Can Brendan Rodgers rescue his Anfield reign from ruin?
There will always be knee-jerk mutterings of discontent following a Northwest derby defeat, but it was the lacklustre manner in which Liverpool (16/1 with Coral to lift the Europa League) fell to Manchester United that was most damning for their manager, who now faces a barrage of speculation over his job safety.
Brendan Rodgers divides opinion almost as much as his former mentor Jose Mourinho, whom he once worked with at Chelsea before striking out on his own with Watford, Reading, Swansea City and finally, the Reds.
Some would argue the Northern Irishman has done his best with limited pull and the snaffling of star players from under his nose by richer rivals, while almost taking the Merseysiders within reach of a first Premier League era title and briefly returning them to the Champions League.
Yet, opposing factions would argue his failures, both in Europe and regarding the top four, speak louder as they are more relevant and recent.
The bitter blow of losing at Old Trafford, coupled with a 3-0 battering at home to West Ham United certainly makes the present look bleak. Before that, though, Rodgers’ Reds, although rusty, had taken a point at Arsenal and ground out two wins versus Bournemouth and Stoke City.
Of course, Liverpool expect to be victors from those games but, all in all, with new players still acclimatising, the big picture does not look so daunting. Is Rodgers’ job in danger? The papers would certainly have us believe it should be.
Critics and pundits alike have come out to criticise the Anfield boss’ continued adherence to a 4-3-3 formation, a tactic which contributed to the limp performance in Manchester, as the hosts found it easy to nullify Liverpool’s already muted threat.
Summer signings Danny Ings and, to a lesser extent, Roberto Firmino can evidently not cut the mustard out wide, which is a waste of their considerable talents. Many would argue Rodgers made this rod for his back with two off-seasons of poor scouting and spending, yet it is always tough to replace adaptable attackers of Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling’s calibre.
With top quality personnel in place, the 42-year-old has shown he can produce football with flair and, once skipper Jordan Henderson, sidelined striker Daniel Sturridge and suspended Philippe Coutinho return to the fold full-time, it could be a different story. Write the Reds, 9/4 for a top four finish, off too soon at your peril.
Rodgers’ pass card for last campaign, which featured shambolic Champions League and Europa League exits, surrounded the sale of Suarez to Barcelona. While, this time around, the off-season excuses can Sturridge’s injury woes, heroic skipper Steven Gerrard’s departure plus the plundering of Sterling by Manchester City.
It is the latter that has likely stung Liverpool’s appeal most, with the Englishman’s exit, after rising through the Anfield ranks, a sharp indictment of the Reds’ poor trophy prospects.
Now, Rodgers, apparently still backed by the board, has five winnable fixtures on paper to get his squad back into the groove before the Merseyside derby puts his side under scrutiny again.
In the meantime, Europa League adventures against the likes of Bordeaux and Sion may not exactly fire up fans that crave to be back at the continent’s summit, but could prove a lifeline for their beleaguered boss.
European conquests, for which Anfield has a clear affinity, have previously extended the coaching careers of Liverpool managers, with Rafa Benitez the most notable example, despite domestic woes.
Should Rodgers, excuses aside, deliver more on Thursday and Friday evenings in far-flung destinations on the fringes of the continent, he may find more is forgiven at home.