Saturday 18 November 2017

Reality bites for Reds

'FORUMS' scathing in criticism of Rodgers after Villa defeat as boss targets second place

There is just one game to go before Anfield says goodbye to 2012, a year that in terms of defeats is now their worst since 1937. That year saw Liverpool escape relegation by three points, although Manchester United were not so fortunate.

By the time 1937 came to an end with a 2-2 draw at Birmingham, Liverpool were 20th and had their manager, George Kay, remarked that they were only six points off fourth place he would have been met with incomprehension. They were only nine points off the leaders - Brentford.

Kay's latest successor, Brendan Rodgers, said he had no regrets about arguing before a crushing 3-1 defeat by Aston Villa that Liverpool should be aiming for second place come May. For a side that, however vast its fan base, has only once scraped into the Premier League's top 10 this season, that is some talk.

It is usually unwise to judge a manager by the comments left on internet forums but in the wake of the ninth defeat at Anfield, the Liverpool Echo's message board was awash with invective, mostly directed at what was seen as their manager's delusional over-confidence.

After the 3-1 loss, what he described as "the worst defeat of my time here", Rodgers remarked: "It is not an issue. It is a great privilege to deal with the history and tradition of this club.

"Huge standards have been set at this club over the years and that's why the players and myself came here. That is part of it. You have to embrace it.

"Expectation is something we all want to experience because we all want to be at the top end. You can't take a job at a place like Liverpool and complain about expectations."

Nevertheless, Rodgers will have to take some tough decisions next month and not just the embarrassment of trying to buy back Tom Ince for around £6m, 17 months later Kenny Dalglish allowed him to leave for Blackpool for a 10th of that fee.

He will have to address whether the decline in the form of Steven Gerrard and Pepe Reina is a blip or something more terminal.

Before this game, Rodgers had claimed that the wins over Udinese and West Ham might be a "defining moment" in the season.

The victories achieved by a young, highly effective Aston Villa side at Norwich that took them to a League Cup semi-final and this one at Anfield look far more likely to fall into that category.

Their manager, Paul Lambert's, decision to dispense with Darren Bent has worked out better than Rodgers' gut feeling to let Andy Carroll go. His young defenders handled Luis Suarez as well as anyone and in Christian Benteke, Aston Villa have a centre-forward potentially as exciting as anyone in the division. They are now staring upwards.

So, too, are Liverpool but they have to make base camp before they can talk about assaults on any summit.

Glen Johnson insists talk of a top-four challenge has put no extra pressure on the players at Anfield.

In his pre-match comments, Rodgers insisted they should not be limiting themselves to a target of fourth place in the Premier League.

And Johnson said that was a feeling which was replicated in the dressing room.

"There was no extra pressure because we all believe that as well. We all felt the same," he said.

"It was a great opportunity to get three more points but we have a lot of games coming up, so we have a few days to reflect on this and put it behind us and get ready for the game next week (at home to Fulham)."

Liverpool are still to win a penalty this season and had one seemingly obvious claim turned down when Ciaran Clark pulled down Daniel Agger early in the second half, and another involving Johnson. "Daniel should have had one and then there was the one where I've headed it and the guy's basically caught it. What do you have to do?" added the England defender.

"We are probably the only team in the world at the moment who has not had a penalty.

"We've had some clear-cut penalties but we've not been given them."

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