Liverpool may have won their Capital One Cup tie against Carlisle United on Wednesday, but Brendan Rodgers will have felt far from a winner. After five games without a victory and just five goals scored in seven matches, failing to beat a side sitting in 78th place in England’s football pyramid over 120 minutes before requiring a penalty shootout to progress, is hardly likely to raise morale. The fact that Rodgers, usually so happy to expound on his and his team’s efforts, skipped his post-match press conference said everything there was to know.
Having survived an uncomfortable appraisal of his job in the summer, Rodgers is now a manger on the edge. Already rumors are swirling of Liverpool making contact with Carlo Ancelotti. And with managers of the reputation of the three-time Champions League winner as well as Jurgen Klopp and recently departed Borussia Monchengladbach coach Lucien Favre on the market, the pressure only weighs heavier on Rodgers’ shoulders.
In his fourth season in charge, Rodgers needs to urgently turn around the team’s fortunes or his time will surely be up. The good news is that the Northern Irishman inspired an, albeit short-lived, recovery after a similarly dismal start to last season. The bad news is that there are precious few signs of it coming in Liverpool’s recent performances.
And Rodgers will not be helped by an increasingly lengthy injury list. Roberto Firmino and Dejan Lovren became the latest casualties against Carlisle. While the back problem that forced Firmino off did not appear serious, Lovren was in significant discomfort when he was stretchered off with an ankle injury. Perhaps more worrying, though, are the absences of Jordan Henderson and Christian Benteke. Henderson, the man charged with replacing Steven Gerrard as captain, will miss up to eight weeks with a foot injury, while Benteke, signed for £32.5 million this summer to deliver a regular supply a goals, will sit out the next two weeks with a hamstring injury.
Rodgers will hope he is still in a job when they return. A Merseyside derby looms large on Oct. 4, but first he will hope to garner some positivity when going up against the club responsible for one of his biggest lows at Liverpool. With many already penciling in a final, birthday coinciding appearance in a Liverpool shirt for Gerrard in last season’s FA Cup final, Aston Villa comprehensively outplayed Rodgers’ men to take the spoils in the semifinals at Wembley. Liverpool have won just three times in 12 matches since, against Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City and Bournemouth, all by a one-goal margin.
Liverpool’s formation was exposed that April day at Wembley, after a switch to three at the back had just a few weeks earlier looked set to spark a late-season flourish. Rodgers has continued to play around with his tactics, both in terms of positions on the pitch and style of play, since then. He has now returned to a system of three center-backs, though it has yet to provide the turnaround it did midway through last season. Instead, Rodgers may have to hope that at Anfield on Saturday the finally fit again Daniel Sturridge will suddenly recover the form that, alongside Luis Suárez, so nearly propelled Liverpool to the title. Those heady days were less than 18 months ago, but to Rodgers it must feel like a lifetime.