x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Liverpool must show faith in Rodgers to progress into brighter future

The Anfield club need new faces and more time before they will be a force to reckon with Manchester United, writes Richard Jolly.

Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, is in his 33rd year and will be unable to replicate the form he showed in the second half at Old Trafford for many more seasons. Jon Super / AP Photo
Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, is in his 33rd year and will be unable to replicate the form he showed in the second half at Old Trafford for many more seasons. Jon Super / AP Photo

In difficult times, the promise of a better tomorrow can provide sustenance. It has offered Liverpool solace in a fourth successive season of struggle in the Premier League. With his vision of a brighter future, Brendan Rodgers can take on the status of a soothsayer.

Should his plans come to fruition, he will lead Liverpool out of the wilderness. There is the sense that they have to believe him if the alternative is to resign themselves to never-ending mediocrity.

Yet while Rodgers exuded positivity after Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Manchester United, heartened by the impact of the league debutant Daniel Sturridge, believing their second-half fightback merited a point and insisting that, in terms of quality, there is not 24 points between United and Liverpool, the league table indicated otherwise.

The argument put forward by Rodgers is that much of the difference is attributable to United's greater strength in depth. He hopes to use this and forthcoming transfer windows to address Liverpool's shortage of able alternatives to the first 11. And then, he said, without specifying whether it was for the title or a top-four berth, they will be equipped to challenge.

But will they? Because the scale of the manager's repair job should not be underestimated, nor the mess that Kenny Dalglish left. It is entirely logical to assume that a gifted coach ought to improve some of his charges and that young players will progress.

Yet for their rawness, there is a question if Liverpool possess the raw materials. They have inverted alchemy, converting golden sums into base metal in the transfer market too often recently. Of the signings made in 2010, 2011 and 2012 who are still at Anfield, only Luis Suarez would get into a top-four team, although Raheem Sterling and Jose Enrique could be valuable squad players.

Of the long-time servants, only Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Lucas Leiva have the credentials to figure for the challengers and, as the captain is in his 33rd year, physiology dictates he is a diminishing force. Liverpool should not bank on Gerrard being able to replicate his second-half excellence at Old Trafford forever.

The risk is that they have fewer pedigree performers, not more. Their goalkeeper Pepe Reina has regressed, Martin Skrtel was bullied by Aston Villa and Stoke City and Stewart Downing reverted to type in a timid showing against United. Jordan Henderson's recent development is encouraging but should still be put into context: the midfielder placed the bar low in his abject debut year at Anfield and, if he is to play in an advanced role, has to become rather more prolific.

And then there are the signings made by Rodgers.

While Sturridge arrived to fanfare, another, Nuri Sahin, exited via the back door after the let-down his loan move proved. Injury has impeded Fabio Borini but the Italian's contribution has been underwhelming. And then there is Joe Allen, supposed to embody of the Rodgers ethos but, many feel, an inferior option to Henderson.

The Welshman endured a particularly torrid time at Old Trafford while Michael Carrick, a genuinely penetrative passer, offered an indication of the kind of player he needs to become. Both set up United chances, Allen with misplaced balls and Carrick with rather classier pieces of distribution.

Because while Rodgers merits the benefit of the doubt, there are legitimate questions about his decision making, particularly when it comes to players who fit his philosophy. Allen was fortunate to start at Old Trafford; Sahin should not have been chosen against Arsenal and Everton while trips to Goodison Park and Stoke were too much of a culture shock for the slight Spaniard Suso.

A consequence is that too often Liverpool have lacked presence. A reason for their failure to beat a single top-10 side this season, an increasingly damning statistic, is their inability to impose themselves in some of the games against the best.

It was a reason Sturridge stood out on Sunday. The striker has the self-belief many of his colleagues seem to lack. While others had been content to blend into the background, this, he seemed to deem, was his stage. It was a timely intervention.

The reality is that, just as Liverpool need a striker other than Suarez who can score, Rodgers requires a triumph in the transfer market.

Because if Liverpool are to make up some of the ground they have lost since 2009, not just to the Manchester clubs, but to Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, a progressive approach to youth development and a style of play based on perpetual passing can only form part of the plan.

Imports with real ability are also necessary. And, with every year Liverpool spend outside the Uefa Champions League, securing those signings can be harder, regardless of the budget. It is a test if a glorious history and a forward-looking manager can give them an allure to the elite players.

Because in the meantime, the depressing reality for Liverpool is that United, with their bigger budget, superior side, stronger squad and lasting winning mentality, are far ahead in every department. That will not change tomorrow.

It is not just a matter of when it does, but if.

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