By George Ankers
Last season, the only mitigating circumstances in a roundly disastrous Premier League season for Liverpool was success in the cups.
Lifting the Capital One Cup and narrowly missing out in the FA Cup elicited a little more patience for Kenny Dalglish with the fans, if not the board – three trips to Wembley do wonders for morale when times are tough.
Doing his best as the club slowly picks itself out of its self-made financial crater, Rodgers’ first league season is clearly set to be just as rocky as Dalglish’s last. The Capital One Cup, however, was his best opportunity to raise some cheer over what will otherwise be a largely glum year – but now that chance has been missed, with his paper-thin squad to blame.
Nowhere were the Reds’ personnel constraints exposed more plainly than in attack. Hamstrung first by the negotiating shambles that saw Andy Carroll leave on loan with no replacement recruited and then by Fabio Borini’s injury, Rodgers has been forced to ration his use of Luis Suarez.
Against Swansea City, this meant fielding 18-year-old Samed Yesil in only his second start for the club.
Overawed and uncertain, the German was simply far too lightweight to be up to the task, with Liverpool consequently utterly soft up front in the first half. First-team football had patently come far too soon.
So Suarez had to make an appearance after all and it was here where Rodgers had yet to appear comfortable in his plan to manage the one-striker situation.
He had clearly decided not to focus on the Capital One Cup else the chance of a quarter-final would presumably have been reason enough to deploy the Uruguayan from the start and seize the initiative. But then to wheel out Suarez and Steven Gerrard in a desperate attempt to change the game at half-time seemed to contradict that indifference.
Whether the manager had decided that, actually, he quite fancied a cup run after all or just wanted to avoid embarrassment against his former club is unclear. But at least he now has one fewer competition in which to juggle his key assets.
The immediate retreat to the big guns, though, highlighted how few game-changing options are at Rodgers’ disposal. This truly is a far cry from the top-tier team that Liverpool used to be.
Jonjo Shelvey, a bright spot for his side in recent months, remains a work in progress, anonymous against Swansea when his side needed drive. Stewart Downing was arguably the Reds’ best hope in the first half but slipped badly in the second and missed a sitter.
These are the realities to which fans must become accustomed. Swansea now have a deeper, more balanced squad than Liverpool. Watching bargain summer buy Michu link play superbly from the visitors’ front, the Anfield faithful must have been despairingly envious.
The beauty of cup football, though, is that depth is not usually required. In knockout matches, you can put out your top team and go for it. With Liverpool in this state, that kind of game is the one to which they are surely best suited.
With the Premier League campaign reduced to a quest for the Europa League, a questionable enough prize as it is given its draining effects, an attempt to push for the very attainable target of Capital One Cup glory would surely have been welcome.
Instead, the Reds pushed too late and must now return to the attrition of the league table. Now, worries that Suarez and Gerrard might have been risked for too long in a losing cause will play on their minds before the visit of Newcastle.
Liverpool’s reliance on the pair was laid utterly bare on Wednesday and they will have to live with it for the foreseeable future. What is more, for the time being, there will be no pleasant cup distractions from the slow and unedifying climb back to their former prominence.
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