Chris Hatherall: Liverpool need very big swing to be competitive

After a week in which the general election was the only topic of conversation in England, the red flag is still flying at half-mast for Liverpool despite a hard-earned point against the blues of Chelsea who have already won the Premier League by a huge majority.

The result, thanks to a goal from departing captain Steven Gerrard, is a boost in Liverpool’s hopes of securing fifth place; but more significantly — barring a miracle — it leaves their hopes of Champions League football next season all but over.

As a result, now is the right time to analyse what Liverpool need to do this summer to claw back some kind of parity next season.

You only have to look at the political arena to see what implications such a blatant lack of success has on those responsible; Labour leader Ed Miliband and his Liberal Democrat counterpart Nick Clegg lasted little more than a few hours after losing out in last week’s election to the Conservatives; so it’s hardly surprising questions are being asked about the leadership at Anfield too.

A banner flown above the ground last week calling for ‘Rodgers out, Rafa in’ suggests at least some people believe a change is needed; although at this stage it does appear to be a minority opinion and Liverpool’s display at Stamford Bridge provided some evidence progress is being made.

What critics have to consider is whether bringing in a new coach at this stage will rip up the road map designed by Brendan Rodgers over the last two years, negating the hard work that has gone into changing the team’s style and ambition.

Common sense says that unless Liverpool are willing to spend huge sums to buy a title challenge, then giving up on a five- year plan too early could prove counter-productive.

There will be new leadership on the pitch next year any way, because with Gerrard moving to LA Galaxy the armband is available — and getting that decision right is paramount.

Current favourite seems to be Jordan Henderson; but whether the midfielder has the personality to make a success of the role remains in question — and he was certainly a peripheral player in this match which was fiercely contested without ever hitting top gear.

You only have to look at the contribution John Terry has made at Chelsea to know how important a good captain can be. Terry’s goal from an early corner typified the way he has led his team this campaign, playing every minute of every Premier League game and taking his role just as seriously off the pitch as he does on it.

Gerrard is like that, too, of course, and his departure will leave a huge gap in Liverpool’s leadership team, perhaps even on the pitch as he demonstrated here with a headed equaliser.

Martin Skrtel has the kind of passion required to follow in Gerrard’s footsteps, but there don’t, on first glance, seem to be too many rivals for Henderson’s likely crowning — perhaps an indication that Liverpool need to bring in personality as well as talent in the transfer market this summer.

Chelsea, by contrast, seem to have a perfect mix of youth and experience with Terry, Ivanovic, Drogba and Cahill leading a bank of younger midfield and attacking players who are all aged between 23 and 28.

Fabregas and Costa, the two shrewd signings that turned Chelsea into title contenders, fit into that age bracket — food for thought for Rodgers as he chases players this summer who can make a similar impact.

To continue the election theme, it is on the front benches where he needs most help. With Daniel Sturridge so injury prone and Mario Balotelli so frustrating, Liverpool have clearly not yet replaced Luis Suarez. Rickie Lambert took the lone role up front against Chelsea but got little change out of Terry and doesn’t look the answer.

Having already missed out on Memphis Depay to Manchester United, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Dortmund seems to be next on the rank, and his pace would certainly be an asset. But there is some serious rebuilding ahead in midfield and defence too before Liverpool can call themselves title contenders.

The reality is they will almost certainly finish the season in fifth place, more than 20 points adrift of top spot. It’s going to take a very big swing indeed to close that gap.


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