Rodgers, Mourinho make the perfect coach, combined
Like goal-scoring addicts refusing to go cold turkey, Liverpool just couldn’t say ‘no’. They couldn’t fall back. They couldn’t resist the temptation. Just one more goal, just one more attack, they could handle it. They thought they were in control.
They were delusional.
In the space of 12 minutes, Brendan Rodgers went from Mr Cool to Mr Creosote; the morbidly obese character from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Gluttony consumed him, destroying him from the inside out. After dangerously gorging at the dinner table, he was unable to resist a final treat of a wafer-thin mint. Greed got the better of him. Mr Creosote exploded.
Liverpool pretty much did the same at Selhurst Park. Philippe Coutinho and Victor Moses proved to be the wafer-thin mints that killed off the Reds, leaving an unsightly mess on the Palace turf. The substitutes’ late introduction betrayed their manager’s inability to restrain himself. He left Daniel Agger on the bench. He treated his subs like a buffet bar, brushing the safe salad option of an extra defender and heading straight for the more eye-catching dessert trolley filled with attackers. He went for the cherry on the cake, craving just one more foray into the penalty box. What possible harm could it do?
A lemon defence
Self-restraint has been in scant supply for Liverpool this season, particularly away from home. A goals against total of 49 isn’t so much a title challenge as it is sporting schizophrenia. In recent games against Cardiff, Manchester City, Norwich, Chelsea and now Palace, Rodgers appeared to be running a dodgy mechanics in the back-streets of Liverpool, welding together a wrecked back end to a gleaming, sparkling front half of a car in the hope that no one noticed the joins. Such vehicle tampering is referred to as “cut and shut” in the UK. The cars are also known as “lemons”. The Reds have a few in their back four.
A mechanic’s pins will only hold a “cut and shut” vehicle in one piece for so long. High speed exposes the unstable framework. Screws quickly come loose, as Glen Johnson discovered against Yannick Bolasie. Eventually, the repair work is exposed; its patched-up weaknesses suddenly apparent after too many miles on the clock. Even the most accomplished of welders couldn’t keep Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho together.
In their 18 Premier League games together, Skrtel and Sakho conspired to concede 29 times. There have been unfortunate occasions where Sakho appears oblivious to the world around him, resembling David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. He doesn’t seem to be from around these parts. He’s not familiar with proceedings or the people who look and dress like him on a Saturday afternoon. He knows he has a job to do while he’s here. He’s just not entirely sure what that job is.
Rodgers expressed frustration at his side’s “gung ho”, “Roy of the Rovers” style of football, hinting at an unhealthy dose of naivety that continues to permeate the Liverpool line-up. But the Reds’ defending goes beyond a simplistic notion of naivety. Forgetting to lock one’s front door is naive. Leaving one’s front door open and providing a trail of cash to an unlocked safe beside a cup of tea for the burglar is Liverpool’s defending.
London bus parking
Even the Premier League’s biggest bogeyman wouldn’t concede three goals in 12 minutes in the penultimate fixture of the season. But then, the chances of Jose Mourinho being three goals ahead are slimmer than Glen Johnson (OK, we’ll call that extra weight muscle. But that muscle struggled to stay in the same time zone as Bolasie.)
If Rodgers is Mr Creosote then his former mentor at Chelsea is that annoying, skinny friend who counts every calorie, weighs up every dietary risk and loudly refuses a slice of cake on the grounds that he ate half a lettuce leaf last Tuesday. Mourinho doesn’t err on the side of caution. He lives there.
Far too often this season, Chelsea have been all dressed up with nowhere to go without their manager’s permission. When Mourinho parks buses in front of well-oiled Bentleys at Anfield, he is naturally lauded for his tactical acumen. Then he parks buses in front of Norwich’s old bangers. The praise dries up quicker than Eden Hazard’s goals and assists.
Rodgers remains reluctant to park the bus against lesser sides. Mourinho struggled to take off the handbrake against Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, West Ham and Norwich. He will petulantly point towards the deficiencies of his strikers. His exhausted midfielders might secretly point an accusing figure at the dugout.
Both men clearly have competing coaching philosophies at a critical juncture in football’s cyclical evolution. Tactics, they are a changing. Barcelona and Bayern Munich’s European struggles suggest possession is no longer king. Ponderous tiki-taka now feels a little like watching a handful of street protestors shouting, swearing and chest-beating in front of rows of immovable riot police. The protestors look the part but they’re not really going anywhere.
The perfect supermodel
Mourinho’s Chelsea are the stubborn, obdurate riot police; unflashy boys in blue ordered to stand their ground and wait for further instructions from a cautious, methodical superior. Patience is always a virtue. They are all about the end result.
Rodgers’ Liverpool are a riot of colour, noise, impudence and invention. You can’t take your eyes off them. In many ways, they are the last of the protesting idealists; on the front line and demanding to be taken seriously by the game’s conservative hardliners. But their numbers are thin at the back.
There was always the foreboding sense that those predictable boys in blue would eventually step forward and put the Reds down, rhythmically banging their riot shields as they brushed the anarchists aside.
Utopia probably lies somewhere in the middle. Mourinho’s Chelsea need a dynamic facelift, Rodgers must nip and tuck his behind. Between them, they have the makings of a supermodel.
Neil Humphreys is the best-selling author of football novels Match Fixer and Premier Leech, which was the FourFourTwo Football Novel of the Year. You can find his website right here.