As Liverpool’s season appears to be petering out, there is lots of talk online that perhaps FSG hired the wrong man last summer, or indeed that they shouldn’t have fired Kenny Dalglish in the first place.
I’m going to look at if Liverpool have improved on last season, and also at the form of the other names that were in the frame to be appointed as manager at Anfield last summer, to try to see if Rodgers really is the right man to lead Liverpool forward.
For starters, the Reds have so far earned six points more than they did from the corresponding fixtures last season. This may not sound like a lot, but after three successive seasons where the club earned fewer points than the season before, any improvement should not be entirely written off.
It should also be noted that Manchester United are the only team who were in the Premier League last season to have currently improved by more than six points (as you can see here in a workbook created by Simon Gleave), so it may actually be a more impressive achievement than it perhaps sounds.
A minor improvement in the points tally overall then, so how about if we look closer at some key on-field stats?
Shooting – The Reds now average 5.81 shots on target per game, which is up from 5.44 last season. This has helped them to improve their shot conversion from 9% in the last campaign to 15% this season.
Creativity - Liverpool now create an extra 1.3 chances per game, and more impressively, 1.04 extra clear-cut chances per match than they did last season. The clear-cut tally of 2.56 per game is particularly encouraging, as it is more than Manchester City created on their way to the title last season (2.18).
Possession - Total possession is up by 1.6%, the team lose possession ten fewer times per game on average, and recover it in the final third an extra 0.14 times per match. The last one doesn’t sound like a massive increase, but Liverpool were the joint top performers in the Premier League last season, so to have improved that further is not to be sniffed at.
Passing - Both the team’s overall passing accuracy, and more importantly their accuracy in the final third of the pitch, have improved by 3%. The Reds also play more accurate through balls per game, by 0.11.
It appears that progress, albeit perhaps minor, has been made. But could any of the other names bandied about in the summer of 2012 have done a better job? It’s impossible to say for definite of course, but it is fair to say that they haven’t made a massive difference at the clubs they ended up managing this season…
Rafa Benitez - The former Liverpool manager has taken 1.79 points per game in the league at Chelsea, after Roberto Di Matteo was fired with the Blues averaging 2.00 this season. Many Reds fans believe that Benitez would have Liverpool charging up the table, yet he has only taken 0.09 points per game more at Chelsea than Liverpool have over the period he has been employed at Stamford Bridge. The ludicrous situation of the fans booing him won’t have helped of course, but he is certainly working with a superior squad to Rodgers’, yet has barely performed any better in the league.
Andre Villas-Boas - Although Spurs have played some fabulous football at times this season, they actually have one point fewer than they had at the same stage last season, with a lower goal difference by five, and one less from the corresponding fixtures too, coincidentally. On current form (both for themselves and rivals Arsenal) they may miss out on matching last seasons fourth place finish.
Roberto Martinez - The Spaniard was very much in the frame for the Liverpool job last year, after steering Wigan to safety in the most unlikely of circumstances. His team still play football in a style that is to be admired considering their position, but the fact is they have earned five points fewer than they did from the corresponding fixtures last season, and Martinez still has a job on his hands to keep them up.
Steve Clarke – He’d have been an unlikely appointment in view of being part of Dalglish’s team, but there were whispers suggesting that possibility last year. The decision to let him go looked foolish when West Brom stormed out of the traps in 2012/13 (not least with an opening day victory over Liverpool), but they have regressed to around their previous form and currently have just three points more than they mustered from the same fixtures last season, with the aforementioned home win over the Reds accounting for that.
Perhaps these men would have worked wonders at Anfield, yet none of them have overachieved in their current jobs. Their records certainly suggest it’s not easy to take over (or remain) at a club and make an enormous difference immediately.
The final potential scenario to consider is if Dalglish had been kept on.
This is the hardest scenario of all to assess, as King Kenny does not now work elsewhere to provide any kind of form guide, and he would’ve been working with a different squad to that utilised by Brendan Rodgers, namely by employing Geordie giant Andy Carroll up front.
With Damien Comolli given his marching orders by FSG, it would’ve been very interesting to see if Dalglish would have persisted with the Frenchman’s belief that frequent crossing was a successful tactic, even though last season largely proved otherwise.
I felt that King Kenny was unlucky last season in a number of ways (a record tally of woodwork hits, and Suárez-gate to name but two issues), and the team played some good football in the first half of the season.
But Liverpool did post their lowest points total in the Premier League era, and when their league form completely fell away in the second half of the season, Dalglish didn’t seem to know how to arrest the decline.
The pro-Kenny brigade will point to the two domestic finals last season, including one cup win, and say that these runs (which included wins over the likes of Chelsea and both Manchester clubs) are ample evidence that Dalglish has succeeded were Rodgers has not this term.
The problem with that argument is that Rodgers was hardly likely to focus on the cups this season as King Kenny did, when FSG announced that Dalglish would have been let go even if the Reds had won both domestic cups last season.
Perhaps the question in the title of this article is incorrect; I guess I should really be asking if Rodgers is definitely the wrong appointment. After all, Liverpool are scoring more goals per game than in seventeen of the previous twenty seasons of the Premier League era, yet also conceding more than in the same number of previous campaigns, so it’s hard to say if they’ve really improved overall.
I’m still far from one hundred percent convinced that Rodgers can take Liverpool where they ultimately want to go, but in view of the minor improvements that have occurred, and the potential lack of stand-out candidates to replace him, I’m happy for him to remain and charge next season and see if the Reds can kick on towards fourth place. If no further progress occurrs next season, then it will be bye-bye Brendan for me. No pressure, like.
EDIT: I’ve received feedback that I should’ve covered the issues Liverpool have had defensively (though I do mention their poor goals against record). These pieces cover defensive issues:
Related posts you might like:
Liverpool’s Form: Better Than You Might Think – Despite some misgivings about Brendan Rodgers, over the last five months the Reds have been in the Premier League’s leading pack for all of the key statistics.
Brendan Rodgers: Tactically Versatile? – Based on the formation stats for every side in the Premier League season, it would appear so…
The Passing Of The Torch – After a slow start, Brendan Rodgers is poised to overtake Kenny Dalglish’s points-per-game record for Liverpool.
Brendan Rodgers: Making Progress? – An in-depth look (for The Tomkins Times) at Rodgers’ stats, compared to Dalglish’s.