These days, the league is so much more important than the FA Cup, no matter what managers say. Still, it’s hard to decide if Brendan Rodgers thinks so highly of the youngsters in his squad or is he really that uninterested at this moment with anything not having to do with Liverpool in the Premier League?
It was a weird lineup that Rodgers chose to field at Oldham, something of a 4-2-4 without a defensive midfielder, three inexperienced players in the defense and simply no physical superiority anywhere on the pitch. One of the differences between the successful Liverpool of the good Benitez years and the recent disappointments is the physical presence on the pitch: Liverpool used to be a powerful team, for years. Not brilliant, but a force to be reckoned with. Now they’re just soft, almost all over.
But Rodgers was thinking ahead, towards the match with Arsenal on Wednesday. People will forget Liverpool losing to a third division or lower side on the road in the FA Cup for the first time since 1959 if he finishes in the top 6 in the Premier League. Right now, a lot seems to be riding on the next two matches, on the road, against Arsenal and Manchester City.
And still, Rodgers feels a lot of the loss isn’t on him, it’s on the young players he chose to give chances to, like Jack Robinson and Andre Wisdom on the defensive flanks.
This isn’t a club where a young player can come in and have lots of time to settle, this is one of the biggest clubs in the world, so you need to understand that every game you play is a cup final. We had one or two that were too soft, simple as that. If you want to have a career at a club like this, you’ve got to be tougher than that.
Liverpool lost 3-2: They went behind 1-0 after 3 minutes, but Luis Suarez found the net for his 21st goal of the season 14 minutes later. At injury time of the first half, Matt Smith was the scorer again after a very poor effort from Brad Jones, who couldn’t pick up a simple ball, instead parrying it and helping his team concede. Oldham took a 3-1 lead three minutes after the start of the second half. Joe Allen scored one by mistake with 10 minutes to go, and Steven Gerrard’s shot to the crossbar was the closest Liverpool got to forcing a replay.
It was only when Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing came on that we played anywhere near the intensity and tempo that we would expect. When you get the opportunity, you have to take it. If not then it can be very difficult for you. The loss hurt, very much so. But as the manager it gives you even greater motivation to push on. You learn things about players because if we’re going to progress we need to make sure we have a group that’s hungry in every game.
Liverpool were simply bulldozed for most of the match by Oldham, who came out firing. The players on the field for Liverpool looked uninterested, soft and out of depth, in the kind of fixture that’s often about who puts in more effort, especially with the pitch looking the way it did.
But Rodgers knows some of the blame is on him. He put on a team that might work at home against a team only trying to defend, but an away match in the FA Cup, regardless of the opposition, is never an easy one. He knew what he was doing when he didn’t give all of his aces the start, knowing what is really important this year. The FA Cup? Kenny Dalglish tried to play too much on his League Cup and FA Cup success, and it didn’t get him anywhere.
Our young players, they won’t have a greater role model than Gerrard to follow, and they’re in pole position to learn, because they’re seeing him every single day. If they’re bright enough, they’ll learn from him, and then hopefully they can be here for a long time. If not, they might find themselves playing in League One later on in their life, and they’ll regret the opportunity they had of looking at a world-class player every day and learning.
If Brendan Rodgers’ gamble doesn’t pay off, he also might find himself without a job, sending his resume out to a League One chairman as well.