It’s fair to say that Brendan Rodgers hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts as Liverpool’s new manager.
First there was the unpopular abdication of King Kenny (pushed to jump before he was thrown?), followed by an opening day defeat to West Brom – a club that many Kopites will, in the short-term at least, associate with Roy “forever walks alone” Hodgson, and whose novice manager and ex Reds defence coach, Steve Clarke, was mocked and dismissed by some online fans pre-match. The quizzical loaning of Andy Carroll to West Ham with no replacement and the at-times embarrassing and literal TV soap opera that is Fox Sports and Channel 5’s Being Liverpool has hardly helped.
It hasn’t quite been all doom and gloom however, with Rodgers’ approach often producing good displays and performances if not points. Many fans can quite rightly point to growing pains with the new system as one of the major causes of their stuttering start this year rather than a major dearth in quality.
There’s also been hope and excitement with the emergence of Raheem Sterling and Suso – players brought up through the ranks by Dalglish, fully blooded and given real trust and responsibility by the new Anfield boss. While Carroll’s temporary depature has left the squad rather light up front, Rodgers has brought in the classy Nuri Sahin on loan from Real Madrid to add glamour to the midfield, along with permanent moves for Oussama Assaidi, Fabio Borini, Samed Yasil and Joe Allen, the “welsh Xavi”.
Still though, Liverpool currently languish in 14th, with a 5-2 win against this season’s probable relegation fodder, Norwich City papering over the lacklustre cracks that have so far crippled the team’s efforts to gain momentum. European nights have brought misery to Anfield too, with a Di Natale inspired Udinese taking the three points in the Europa League last week.
Gerrard still believes, at least when in the presence of journalists, that Liverpool FC can finish in the top four, and with a trophy in hand. Yet, a growing minority of fans, blind to the sobering reality of the club’s sobering to regroup and rebuild, are already doubting their new manager and his credentials to take them back to the promised land. To the dissenters, Liverpool are not a team to suffer experiments – their illustrious history dictates that success is the one and only way.
Was Dalglish’s sacking a case of John W Henry jumping the gun? Could it be that one more year was all the king needed to turn the LFC ship around?
As always, we’ve turned to the precognitive abilites of Sports Interactive’s Football Manager 2012, to simulate two seasons, one under Brendan Rodgers and another under Kenny Dalglish, using a customised database based on pr0’s FM12 Update Pack v.3.4.
Since deadline day is now long gone, the summer’s transfer activity will stand in each save, including Andy Carroll’s loan move to West Ham. There will of course be the January window should either managers require reinforcements.
It’s Brendan vs. Kenny. Let the showdown commence!
The focus of Liverpool’s reality TV outing has so far focused heavily on the return and home life of Lucas Leiva – an emphasis well deserved according to our first simulation, with the Brazilian standing out as Liverpool’s player of the season as the Reds finished 2nd in the Premier League.
As in the real world, things didn’t get off to a good start, with Rodgers having to steer his new side through a daunting opening first few weeks which featured away visits to Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. In fact, Liverpool found themselves hovering in 16th place after five games, not unlike their situation outside of the game.
However, as the players began to grow into Rodgers’ new tactical systems and the trusting demands placed upon them, they soon roared back, rattling through mid-table adversaries such as Fulham and Swansea, while convincingly beating the likes of Spurs and Everton at home, later away.
After a disappointing season in front of goal last year, and with the added movement and inter-play of Liverpool’s new approach, Luis Suarez was the team’s top-scorer with 17 goals in 36 league games – not a golden boot winning tally (which went to title winner Robin van Persie at United), but highly respectable all the same.
Liverpool suffered in the domestic cups, but managed to push through to the quarter finals of the Europa League, where they met defeat against eventual finalists Stuttgart. Rather than feel aggrieved, many fans considered getting knocked out of the continental competition as a blessing barely disguised. With the squad stretched, the club’s league form had suffered with United now out of sight.
At the point of their european departure, Liverpool were barely clinging to fourth, with January signings Amr Zaki and Douglas hitting the mark yet somehow seemingly unable to lift their new comrades out of their creaking decline. Somewhere within the club’s Melwood training ground a rallying cry must have sounded however, as a burst of form saw Liverpool through the final weeks of the season undefeated, with Rodger’s men hauling themselves back to the top of the chasing pack. They finished second, nine points behind their bitter Manchester rivals.
Rodgers’ final stats:
Final league position: 2nd(winners: Manchester United)
Europa League: Quarter final – defeated by Stuttgart (winners: Internazionale)
FA Cup: 3rd round – defeated away at Bristol City (winners: Fulham)
Capitol One Cup: 4th round – defeated at home by West Ham (winners: West Brom)
Best player: Lucas Leiva – 7.59 rating in 48 games
Top scorer: Luis Suarez – 17 in 36 league games, 23 in 48 total games
Most assists: Jose Enrique – 6 in 36 league games, 9 in 50 total games
IN: Amr Zaki for £1.1M (Zamalek)
IN: Douglas for £9.75M (Twente)
“Reports claiming Kenny Dalglish has left his role as manager of Liverpool Football Club are unfounded. Kenny has the full confidence and backing of the club’s board and we are excited about where he plans take the team in the coming season” – Ian Ayre, a simulated May in 2012.
The rumours were false – the Kop’s hero, King Kenny, wasn’t going anywhere. Liverpool fans sighed in relief, safe in the knowledge that the board were behind their man, and that the fruition of his plans last season drew near.
Unfortunately, their faith was misplaced. With Dalglish at the helm, Liverpool won just three games before Christmas and failed to make any meaningful progress in the cups. His side’s habit of failing to hit the back of the net continued on from the season before, with the majority of Liverpool’s meagre points total coming from ugly 0-0 draws.
With a string of increasingly irritable press encounters, and team selections and tactics seemingly based on sentimentality rather than form, John W. Henry realised he had to move to save the club’s season, and make a belated call that would have been decisive in the summer.
Kenny Dalglish was sacked on December 31st 2012, a move that divided Liverpool fans, many of whom still believed their idol could and would turn it around from their 19th place berth in the relegation zone on New Years Day.
John Henry’s “moneyball” approach to sports management had been well documented and laughed off by the British press, especially following the purchases of Andy Carroll for £35M, Jordan Henderson for £25M and Stewart Downing for £20M. This time however, the American magnate poured over and analysed the numbers for the club’s next manager rather than transfer target, a process which drew one clear name. Based on budget, longevity and results, the Premier League’s most overachieving manager was David Moyes. The unthinkable was about to happen.
If Roy Hodgson’s arrival on Anfield was unpopular then David Moyes’ succession to the manager’s chair was untenable for supporters on both sides of Merseyside. While utterly loathed by Reds fans, Moyes would ultimately rescue the club from relegation by the end of the season, taking drastic and dramatic action by selling the injury prone and out of form Lucas Leiva to Real Madrid for £11.5M, replacing him with Ahmed Fathi from Egyptian side Al-Ahy.
Somehow, selling a player so vital to Rodgers in our first simulation, galvanised the team who reverted to a 4-4-1-1: Allen and Sahin forming the central pivot in midfield with Gerrard in the hole behind Suarez – a move that would pay dividends as the talismanic captain fired in 14 league goals to become the team’s top scorer. Stewart Downing was surprisingly productive from the flanks too, offering up 7 assists in 35 league games.
Having saved Liverpool FC from Championship football, David Moyes might have hoped for a modicum of gratitude or support for the 2013/14 season ahead, but for many fans his appointment over King Kenny, however practical, was too much to take. Moyes was the enemy and a campaign to pressure the owners into replacing him was already well in development.
Kenny’s final stats:
Kenny Dalglish sacked on 31st December 2012
David Moyes hired as his replacement on 1st January 2013
Final league position: 17th(winners: Manchester City)
Europa League: 4th qualifying round – defeated by Maribor (winners: AS Roma)
FA Cup: 5th round – defeated at home by QPR (winners: QPR)
Capitol One Cup: 3rd round – defeated at home by Southampton (winners: Birmingham)
Best player: Steven Gerrard – 7.56 rating in 27 games
Top scorer: Steven Gerrard – 14 in 27 league games
Most assists: Stewart Downing – 7 in 35 league games, 8 in 39 total games
OUT: Lucas Leiva for £11.5M (Real Madrid)
IN: Ahmed Fathi for £3M (Al-Ahy)
Overall result: Brendan Rodgers wins.
But wait! A new challenger approaches…
Whenever questions arise over leadership in the Anfield dugout, and the identity of the man to take the Reds back to the top, one name is touted above all: Rafa Benitez.
Now, the Wirral-living Spaniard wants his Melwood throne back. Indeed if, in some horrendous parallel universe where David Moyes replaced Kenny Dalglish, you’d be sure that Rafa would be the man the Kop would be crying out for to replace their Evertonian nemesis.
Big Bad Brendan, it’s time for you to face the boss level. Can Rafa pip your second place finish? There’s only one way to find out: final battle… FIGHT!
It was like Benitez had never left Liverpool. On his first day back the Spaniard strolled onto the training pitch with an air of utter indifference, as if everyone else present had just woken up from a hazy dream that had kicked in around May 2010. It was as if he himself had barely noticed the last two years, setting about ordering and coaching the players and setting them to work. Once again lispy calls of “Steven” and “Jamie” echoed around Melwood.
Looking at the league table at the end of the season would also suggest Rafa hadn’t really been away with Liverpool finishing in 7th, the same position he had left them in when sacked by Gillett and Hicks.
Once again under Benitez, Gerrard and Lucas thrived, with the former topping the team’s goal scoring charts and the later providing the most assists as Liverpool’s player of the year. This wasn’t enough to overcome the relative domestic cup minnows of Leicester City and Cheltenham however. Defeat in the Europa League 2nd round to eventual winners AC Milan was more respectable but still disappointing for fans as Liverpool’s last route to silverware was closed.
In the tradition of Baros, Voronin, Ngog and Keane, Benitez splashed out £3.2M in January to bring Leonard Kweuke to Anfield, a signing that failed to impress fans and pundits alike. It seemed that Liverpool’s strikeforce, Suarez and Borini included, had forgotten how to score with Gerrard’s tally supplemented by irregular strikes from Sahin, Allen and Joe Cole.
Rafa Benitez’s first season into his second term as Liverpool boss was one of underwhelming mediocrity and inevitability, with the former Champions League winning coach unable to work any miracles for the Kop this time. Still, with a living legend once again in charge of the club, and enthusiasm brewing around Rafa’s second season back – hopeful faith that it would fulfil the (highly contrived) prospects of the season just passed – Liverpool fans once again believed that next year, the 2013/14, would be their year!
Rafa’s final stats:
Final league position: 7th(winners: Manchester City)
Europa League: 2nd round – defeated by Milan (winners: Milan)
FA Cup: 4th round – defeated away at Leicester City (winners: Southampton)
Capitol One Cup: 3rd round – defeated away at Cheltenham (winners: Newcastle)
Best player: Lucas Leiva – 7.36 rating in 42 games
Top scorer: Steven Gerrard – 12 in 27 league games, 13 in 30 total games
Most assists: Lucas Leiva – 4 in 31 league games, 8 in 42 total games
IN: Leonard Kweuke for £3.2M (Sparta Prague)
The final, overall results…
- Brendan Rodgers – fresh ideas breathes life back into ‘Pool. Satisfied the fans and Steven Gerrard with a top two finish. Our winner. Nicely done!
- Rafa Benitez – mediocrity following rose-tinted memories. Bill Murray wants his leading role in ‘Groundhog Day’ back. An uninspired runner-up.
- David Moyes – not the hero Liverpool fans wanted, nor arguably the one they deserve. Kept the club’s head above water following Dalglish’s meltdown. An unlikely and very distant third.
- Kenny Dalglish – the sad collapse of a fallen idol. His second full season showed just how out of touch and out of depth Dalglish had become. Last place.
So there you have it. Brendan Rodgers really is the best man for the job. Football Manager‘s empirical powers of prediction cannot be questioned of course, but what do you make of the results?
Can Liverpool charge back to the top with Rodgers at the helm? Should Rafa be given another bite of the cherry? Was Kenny sacked all too soon? Could David Moyes EVER find himself sitting at Anfield as the home manager?
Read more Football Prediction articles here.
Download pr0’s Football Manager 2012 update pack here.