LONDON: Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers always warned Anfield’s American owners fans, when he arrived from Swansea in the summer, that he would need time to make his own methods take effect – both in terms of playing personnel and style.
But then he spoiled the softly, softly approach last week by saying – after a run of three wins– that Champions League qualification was a possibility. Everything came crashing back down to earth on Saturday when Liverpool slumped 3-1 at home to Paul Lambert’s struggling Aston Villa.
By the time captain Steven Gerrard scored a late consolation goal – rescuing Liverpool from the prospect of their first three-goal defeat at Anfield since 2005 – home fans were already streaming out of the ground.
Villa’s hero was the magnificent, man of the match Christian Benteke. The £7m Belgian scored twice (on 29 and 51 minutes) and produced a brilliant assist, inbewteen, for Austrian Andreas Weimann. Lambert said: “The performance was fabulous and I thought the goals were brilliant. Benteke has been unbelievable this season.”
Liverpool had gone into the game having overcome their worst start to a season in more than a century to move to within four points of the Champions League elite and Rodgers had allowed himself to be lured – unwisely – into suggesting that they might target “third place, second and maybe even first.”
After creating so much expectation, Rodgers made no secret of his disappointment following a result that will increase his desire to sign players in January, most notably Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge and Blackpool’s England Under-21 midfielder Tom Ince.
Liverpool have also been linked with the Newcastle striker Demba Ba as the essential attacking relief and support for over-worked Luis Suarez.
Rodgers said: “I didn’t see this result coming. Our confidence coming into the game was high but we didn’t play with our usual intensity and our defending on the goals was sloppy.”
Liverpool host Fulham next time out before facing Stoke, QPR and Sunderland before the visit to Manchester United on January 13. By then they may also have a better idea of whether they can hang on to high-speed teenage winger Raheem Sterling.
Sterling has with 18 months left on his current deal. He earns £2,000-a-week and Liverpool are ready to increase that to £20,000 now. But the player’s advisers know the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal could easily exceed that.
Rodgers said: “I am sure his situation will be resolved. He is a good boy, he has got that special ability when things are going on that he doesn’t get involved. He just focuses on his football. Hopefully, it stays that way.”
Liverpool’s ability to keep Sterling will be a significant signal about the club’s ambitions – and financial power – for other players in whom they show an interest next month.