Saturday 18 November 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Lucas Leiva saga throws up disturbing questions

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

Lucas Leiva has me worried about Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool. The whole saga raises disturbing questions which may shed some light in why the team could be so bad at Anfield against West Ham.

After an optimistic start, anyone who loves Liverpool, and even those who don't, had a view that Rodgers had bought well in the summer and had fixed some holes in his defence. We'll have to think again.

A single bad result, no matter how bad, should not change that but we're not just dealing with this season. The hangover from last May had to be addressed and required a response from Rodgers and his players.

I think the general consensus was that Rodgers had worked hard to address weak points and with some success. I gave him credit for tightening up the defence and finding a target up front in Cristian Benteke.

READ MORE: Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers: We have work to do after crushing West Ham defeat

All good so far then. Seven points in the bag and a home game against the Hammers to consolidate a very solid start. Then up popped Lucas.

A week ago, he was on his way to Beskitas. Rodgers had enough midfielders and he could go.

But then Jordan Henderson pulled up lame and suddenly Lucas went from not even making the bench to playing twice on the bounce.


This raises a serious question about judgement. Either Rodgers overestimated his strength in depth in a pretty major way or he simply doesn't know what his best team is.

There is a third possibility, that a deal to sign another midfielder fell through and he was left with no choice but to bring Lucas in, but Rodgers told us on Thursday that Liverpool's dealings were done.

It's all very puzzling and highlights wider concerns. Rodgers has had the whole of pre-season and August to figure out whether he has the resources he needs and it would be poor planning indeed if the realisation only dawned on him when Henderson was not available that he needed Lucas.

Before the season started, I said I expected Liverpool to be fighting for fifth position and I have to admit, the evidence of the first three game suggested that a reassessment might be needed. But with Liverpool for many, many seasons now, there is always a niggle at the back of your mind, even when things are going well, that it will not last; that some awful result will kill momentum and knock the stuffing out of everyone.

In the last three years, Liverpool fans have watched Luis Suarez, the nearest thing to a golden ticket they will ever see, come and go like a comet.

They have seen Daniel Sturridge promise so much and then spend more time with doctors than coaches and most recently the latest great hope, Raheem Sterling, come and go like a mayfly. A club legend, Stevie Gerrard, waved goodbye this summer

That's a lot of body blows in a short space of time. At every turn when things are looking up, there is something bad around the corner and, unfortunately, that's what the West Ham result will mean to supporters - another false dawn and old problems resurfacing.

I feel Rodgers still doesn't know quite what to do with the players he has. This has manifested in patchy performances in the first three games and perhaps also in his confusion about Lucas.

I will watch closely when the players come back from the international break for a response from them because that is how we will know whether Rodgers is on top of his job.

The next game is against Manchester United at Old Trafford and no better place to test resolve. I think it is good timing from his point of view that the players will head off for international matches. They can come back and start fresh and it gives him time to review and learn the lessons of West Ham.

Rodgers is not alone in his struggle to get to grips with the season. Jose Mourinho is suffering at Stamford Bridge and, as I said a few weeks back, it looks to me like the Chelsea players are not playing for him.


We know there are internal issues in play for Mourinho but there is no indication that Rodgers is dealing with anything other than support from above.

What he now needs is a positive reaction from his players, to a bad performance, in a huge game at Old Trafford.

We will see whether they are playing for him then and whether they believe in what he is doing.

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