Red alert: 5 key questions to ask

Above: Danny Ings consoling Philippe Coutinho after the poor 1-1 draw with Norwich. Left: The appointment of James Milner as Reds captain highlights a shortage of leaders.
Danny Ings consoling Philippe Coutinho after the poor 1-1 draw with Norwich. PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: Danny Ings consoling Philippe Coutinho after the poor 1-1 draw with Norwich. Left: The appointment of James Milner as Reds captain highlights a shortage of leaders.
The appointment of James Milner as Reds captain highlights a shortage of leaders.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

IS BRENDAN RODGERS IN GENUINE TROUBLE?

Certainly in the eyes of Liverpool fans, if not the owners. Fenway Sports Group resisted calls to sack the manager at the end of last season, overlooked the claims of an out-of-work Bundesliga winner in Juergen Klopp, and backed Rodgers with another overhaul of the playing staff plus his backroom team in the summer.

Since March 22, however, Liverpool's record reads: played 18, won five, drawn five and lost eight. Those five victories have come against Newcastle, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke and Bournemouth in the Premier League, and Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup. By any stretch it is a record that invites pressure on a manager. At a club with Liverpool's ambitions, it is nowhere near good enough.

ARE LIVERPOOL'S AMBITIONS UNREALISTIC GIVEN THE FINANCIAL MIGHT OF OTHER EPL CLUBS?

No, and how can 18-time league champions and five-time European champions lose ambition? Much was made last season of Liverpool having the fifth-highest wage bill in the Premier League and how that provided an accurate gauge of "where we are at" - to quote Rodgers himself. Given how few teams have broken the wage bill/league position balance in the Premier League, it must be taken into consideration.

Other investment figures, however, scream underachievement to FSG. Analysis by the Football Observatory in Switzerland published after the close of the last transfer window listed the most expensively assembled squads in Europe's top five leagues: Germany, Spain, Italy, England and France.

Liverpool were seventh with their squad costing £251 million (S$550 million). Barcelona were sixth with £287 million and Bayern Munich eighth on £246 million. FSG has backed its transfer committee and manager but the return has been underwhelming; the cost of losing key players high.

HAS RODGERS RUN OUT OF IDEAS AT LIVERPOOL?

The Liverpool manager is not short of ideas. In fact he has tried various formations this season in an attempt to rediscover the "identity" he concedes has been lost .

Ideas are not an issue for Rodgers. It is how far he and his team have departed from the principles that underpinned 2014's title challenge that is a greater problem for the Northern Irishman, even though he would dispute that he has veered away from his aggressive pressing, penetrating football ideals.

Other, weightier concerns would be the high turnover of players that has fixed Liverpool into a transitional phase and left their manager appealing for time for a second consecutive season.

Four seasons into his Anfield reign, Rodgers is still not presiding over an outstanding squad. The club lost their captain (Steven Gerrard), best player (Luis Suarez) and brightest young talent (Raheem Sterling) in just over a year. Given he is not solely responsible for the construction of that squad, he is not solely to blame.

CAN THE MANAGER TURN IT AROUND?

Last season's mid-term recovery - when Liverpool embarked on a 13-game unbeaten run in the Premier League - demonstrated that Rodgers can steer a recovery, but it appears an onerous task at present. The most damning verdict of Liverpool's 1-1 draw at home to Norwich City on Sunday arrived from the manager himself, when he admitted the anxiety that afflicted the team at Anfield upon his arrival from Swansea City in 2012 had returned. All that work, money and upheaval and Rodgers is back at square one.

Liverpool have now failed to score more than one goal in 18 of the past 20 games, but there was some encouragement from their performance against Norwich.

Striker Danny Ings suited Rodgers' system far better than the often isolated figure of Christian Benteke; Daniel Sturridge's menace will only increase with fitness; and the recalled defenders Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno made assured returns to the starting line-up.

HOW HAVE THE NEW SIGNINGS BEDDED IN?

Not well enough to alleviate the pressure on their manager. Nathaniel Clyne has made a smooth transition from Southampton at right-back and young Joe Gomez was an unexpected bonus as a left-back in the opening games.

Benteke has shown flashes of talent but Liverpool's approach at the start of the season has merely supported Tim Sherwood's argument that the Belgium forward was not leaving Aston Villa for a team that played to his strengths. Ings has had little opportunity to impress, even though he seized one against Norwich.

New £29 million signing Roberto Firmino is yet to make an impact but requires time; and James Milner's rapid elevation to the captaincy in the absence of the injured Jordan Henderson reflects Rodgers' trust in the midfielder but also his shortage of leaders.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'RED ALERT: 5 KEY QUESTIONS TO ASK'. Print Edition | Subscribe