By Andy Ollerhead
As a supporter of Liverpool FC the last few weeks have often brought to mind the old quote attributed to a certain Albert Einstein- the one that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. Last season a tricky, inventive Brendan Rodgers tactically bamboozled opposing managers with formations that morphed and evolved multiple times during games. This season, shorn of the strikeforce that gave those formations a cutting edge he has depressingly persisted with a formation and personnel selection that instead of gelling and becoming more familiar with each other with every passing game has actually looked more blunt, more toothless and less creative by the week.
That’s where the thoughts drift to Einstein and his alleged nugget of wisdom.
It’s been clear all season that Mario Balotelli does not possess the qualities or the wherewithal to play a lone striker role in this Liverpool team. However, for two months that is the position that he has been asked to fill every week with not a single league goal to show for the persistence with the system. Don’t blame Balotelli for this, it’s a clear a case of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole as has ever been seen in a Liverpool team.
It’s been equally as clear further back on the pitch that a desperately shaky defence has needed more protection from midfield than an attack minded Steven Gerrard has been able to offer. Again though, Rodgers has persisted with the same midfield formation week in week out, refusing to alter the formation that offers little defensive support to the captain while also showing a reluctance to offer a reprieve to Lucas, a former LFC player of the year who remains the only specialist holding midfielder at the club.
Go further back still and Lovren and Skrtle still look like they’ve just met for the first time even though they’ve been Rodgers’ first choice centre back pairing for over two months. As recently as Saturday this Liverpool ‘first team’ that Rodgers has persisted with for two months came out distinctly second best against a Newcastle side that had looked porous at the back and toothless upfront until the reds came to town.
So to The Bernabeu, and a team selection that has caused more furore and conjecture than perhaps any other line up in Liverpool history.
Here’s a shocker for most of the Liverpool ‘fans’ on social media yesterday, plus most of the pundits speaking about the game last night. Apart from arguably starting a very gradually improving Phillipe Coutinho instead of the struggling Lazar Markovic, Rodgers put out his best side last night. Not his best side in transfer fees, not his best side by reputation and obviously not his best side in medal collections, international caps and column inches generated but crucially his best side on current form.
The form of a player may be an abstract concept but it’s all too tangible when players have it or are drearily lacking it. Form is the reason that a £20million centre back currently looks like more of a liability than the love child of Torben Piechnik and Bjorn Tore Kvarme. Form is the reason that Italy’s 15th choice striker currently looks like more of a goal threat than the striker that scored two crackers in the country’s European Championship semi final two years.
Last night for the first time in this horrible, humbling, crash-back-down-to-Earth-with-a-huge-bump season, Brendan Rodgers looked at the form guide and had the chutzpah to try something different. Maybe it was partly punishment for such an insipid showing in the north east on Saturday. Maybe it was tactical tweaks hoping to keep things tight and catch Madrid on the break. Maybe it was genuine frustration that the best laid summer plans have resulted in such an uninspiring start to the season.
Whatever the reason he got the same result but a much improved performance, one that restored a bit of pride after the first half demolition of the ‘first team’ at Anfield two weeks ago. I wasn’t in Spain last night but I was at Anfield for the first tie against this Champions League winning Madrid side and it’s laughable to suggest that putting the same team out in The Bernabeu last night would have generated a better result than the 1-0 we walked away with yesterday. The line up and formation that pundits and fans have been eulogising about since the teams emerged last night had three stuck past them at home in just one half. If Madrid had come out for the second half with anything but having a late evening stroll on their minds then they could have quite easily run up the most embarrassing scorelines that Anfield had ever seen.
The easiest thing for the manager to do is carry on playing the big names. Carry on picking the team based on the size of the squad’s pay packets. Einstein was right though, continuing with the same team in the same formation and expecting different results was driving Liverpool fans to insanity. Last night was the first time Brendan Rodgers has regained last season’s mojo. They say that a team is a reflection of the manager and that has been true of Liverpool this season as Rodgers hasn’t looked himself after the extraordinary performances of 2013/2014.
Now that he’s found his mojo again he needs to take the positives from last night’s performance into another huge game on Saturday. Gerrard will return but let’s have him further up the pitch with Lucas guarding the defence. Let’s have Toure retain his place while Lovren decides whether his future lies in the Liverpool defence or in comedy. Let’s drop the failure that is the Balotelli as lone striker plan and try to stretch the best defence in the league with two up top. It will take balls but for the first time this season I’ve been reminded that Rodgers is the man to do it.