Despite last season’s barnstorming performances, Liverpool were always top-heavy – their probing prowess of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling was an antonym for the rickety defence. This season, that backline has only gotten worse. £25m signing Dejan Lovren looks out of his depth, and to make matters worse, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is now another cause for concern. His splendid work between the sticks in the previous campaign provided a catalyst for the Reds’ rampaging run, but this season he couldn’t look more different. Lately, he parries and flaps as if the ball is a hot soufflé, and in Wednesday’s game, he was as unilateral as ever. A powerful, but routine, shot wasn’t dealt with efficiently, bouncing off Mignolet’s chest in pitiful fashion. Ludogorets striker Dani Abalo was only too happy to blast the rebound in, giving the team a 1-0 lead. Rodgers’ whole back five need attention, and with rumours he’s planning a capture for Chelsea stopper Petr Cech, it seems Mignolet’s days a number one might be coming to an end.
With Suarez now at Barcelona and Sturridge still injured, Liverpool’s strike force is looking wafer thin. £16m capture Mario Balotelli was always a risk, and his soporific performances in front of goal have only added to the pressure on Rodgers. But the manager has a marksman who knows where the onion bag is, in the shape of veteran Rickie Lambert. Despite only being signed as back-up, Lambert has taken his chance with two goals in as many games, and both coming in the first ten minutes. With the right service, Lambert is a prolific presence whose instinctive and intelligent, and on Wednesday night, he showed this with an accurate header to bring Liverpool level. So many of Rodgers’ signings have misfired this season – including Lambert’s ex-Southampton teammates Lovren and Adam Lallana – but Rickie himself is showing Balotelli how to be a predatory striker.
Last season, Liverpool benefitted from a season of transition. Manchester United were floundering under David Moyes, Chelsea were rebuilding under Jose Mourinho, and Arsenal had descended without injured midfielder Aaron Ramsey. This meant that for all Liverpool’s defensive frailties, their swashbuckling tactics elevated them to a gnat’s hair away from the Premier League title. Now the victims of over achievement, pressure has already begun to build on Rodgers as they stutter in the league and struggle in the Champions League. However, it is important to give the former Swansea boss time to turn things around, namely in the always-tough January transfer window. His summer signings haven’t set the world alight, so it’s important to buy players that have a proven pedigree. A top-four finish could still be a realistic outcome next summer. A place in the last 16 of the Champions League, however, does not.
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