The episodes of Dallas following Bobby Ewing’s shower. The Carry On films after the death of Sid James. The Doors albums that don’t have Jim Morrison on vocals. Sometimes it takes a while for the network to pull the plug, for the studio to cut off the cash, for the guitar player to announce plans for a jazz odyssey. But it’s just delaying the inevitable. Everyone goes through the motions but, consciously or not, they’re aware what time it is. The jig is up. Add to that list Liverpool Football Club, who appear unable to remember the past, and are therefore doomed to repeat it. We’ve all been here a couple of times before. In 1993, Graeme Souness looked set for the heave-ho, but survived after an enforced backroom shake-up which saw Roy Evans installed as his right-hand man. In 1998, a floundering Evans was kicked out by a boot on the other foot, as Gerard Houllier was brought in for the infamous joint-manager experiment. Neither episode ended well. Few were surprised by the outcomes. And those histories make grim reading for Brendan Rodgers, who dodged the axe in similar circumstances this summer. Souness was destined to fail despite being able to call on exciting new talent in Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, and dependable old figures like John Barnes and Ian Rush. Evans couldn’t harness the energy and excitement of the emerging Michael Owen adroitly enough to turn things around. Rodgers is playing with a significantly weaker hand.
There is precious little stardust in the current Liverpool squad, and it is beginning to show. Liverpool haven’t won any of their last four league matches. They’ve lost seven of their last 15, winning only four. In that time they’ve been hit for three, four or six goals by Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Stoke City, West Ham United and Manchester United, and been knocked out of the FA Cup by Aston Villa. They’re still brazen enough to field a team of youngsters in a European competition good enough for Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley to take seriously way back when, but that’s an argument for another day. If it’s not relegation form, it’s damn well close to it. Only Newcastle United, abject Newcastle United, have scored fewer goals than Liverpool so far this season. Sunderland, bottom of the table, have managed two more. And this goes right to the heart of the matter. It would be foolish to write off Rodgers as a poor manager: the title challenge of 2013-14 might have been fuelled by the astonishing Luis Suarez, but Rodgers was canny enough to set up his entire team to take advantage of the Uruguayan’s mercurial meanderings. However, those were the tactical gambits of a confident man. That man’s missing in action right now. Liverpool have no discernible pattern, a defensive shambles and impotent in attack, and it’s over a year since Suarez left for Barcelona. That’s more than enough time to implement *something*, when you consider how quickly Rodgers got Liverpool playing possession-based football in his first season back in 2012-13. That campaign might not have been wholly successful either, but the philosophies Rodgers was implementing were clear and consistent. All that’s been missing in the post-Suarez era. There’s been plenty time, over a year. This isn’t just about six matches of the new season.
And it’s become a matter of perception now. The reaction to Liverpool’s draw at home to Norwich City – a club they had beaten 3-0, 5-2, 5-0, 5-1 and 3-2 in their previous five meetings – spoke volumes. It was met with a sigh rather than outright hostility, a worrying sign that everyone knew what was coming. In fact Liverpool had played pretty well in patches, with Danny Ings, Alberto Moreno and Philippe Coutinho all prominent, and Daniel Sturridge back in the right positions, if not yet sharp enough to take advantage of any chances coming his way. But file all that alongside that first half at Arsenal: some nice football wasted by an inability to put games to bed. Understandable away at one of the big guns; inexcusable at home to a newly promoted team. It’s a worrying trend. Confidence is shot. Which doesn’t augur well, because next up are Aston Villa, who have won twice at Anfield in their last three visits, and really should have won the other one. Once resignation in the stands sets in, it’s almost impossible to win the crowd back. Even poor old Arsene Wenger’s struggling to do that at Arsenal, despite winning back-to-back FA Cups. How many managers have wriggled out of a situation like this?
Alex Ferguson is usually cited here, and indeed there’s some symmetry with Rodgers’ plight, in that Fergie finished second early in his reign at Manchester United only to follow up that season with a miserable campaign, all momentum seemingly evaporated. Patience in Fergie’s case would be a virtue. But there’s only *some* symmetry: Ferguson had a European trophy to his name from his time at Aberdeen, where he’d also broken the Old Firm league duopoly for the first time since 1965. He was already a major figure in the game. Rodgers has none of that to fall back on. It’s difficult to see a way out. Another 18-game unbeaten run, like the one enjoyed in the middle of last season, perhaps. But then look how that ended: with lame exits in the cup and in Europe, and multiple humiliations in the league. It’d guarantee nothing. One defeat, and he’d be back where he started. When a run of form like that wouldn’t be enough to silence the doubters, it really is time to take stock. Sides have become entrenched, to the point that debating the rights and wrongs becomes a dance on the head of a pin. The die seems cast. Rodgers has the talent and the moxie to bounce back, but it’s doubtful he’ll realise it at Liverpool, a club who need to put their own future first.