Brendan Rodgers under more pressure as Liverpool draw vs. struggling Sion
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three observations from Liverpool's 1-1 draw Thursday with FC Sion Sitten in their Europa League clash at Anfield.
1. Rodgers' troubles worsen after embarrassing result
The bare facts are that a team that was beaten by a side from Liechtenstein on Sunday held the five-time champions of Europe to a 1-1 draw. That result against FC Sion ranks as a further embarrassment for the beleaguered Brendan Rodgers. It was a result that means defeat in Sunday's Merseyside derby would surely bring even louder calls for his reign at Anfield to be curtailed.
Admittedly, FC Vaduz (Sion's conquerors last weekend) play in the Swiss league, but the reality is that Liverpool struggle to defeat sides from any division. In their past eight games, against clubs from the Premier League, the French and Swiss top flights and League Two, they have only won once -- Saturday's 3-2 triumph over Aston Villa. By Liverpool's standards, that is nowhere near good enough. With their slump dating back six months, their manager's position is looking particularly precarious.
Rodgers' remaining advocates could cite the way he fielded a weakened team with a weekend derby against Everton in mind, along with the pressure and possession Liverpool have had in their past three games. Improbably, they have recorded 98 shots against Carlisle, Aston Villa and now Sion. But most of them weren't threatening, and his side only proved remotely clinical against Tim Sherwood's side.
Thursday's draw had unfortunate parallels with last week's Capital One Cup draw against Carlisle. Liverpool dominated in both games, took a lead and then lost it in eminently avoidable fashion. There was a damning sense of drift and the visitors were comparatively comfortable on each occasion. Just as they had against Carlisle, Liverpool had to introduce Philippe Coutinho, the resident insurance policy. Even that did not pay off.
Too often, they were uninspired. The unlikely exception was Kolo Toure, who clipped the bar with an overhead kick; it was nearly the second Liverpool have scored this season after Christian Benteke's spectacular effort at Old Trafford. Yet when others were presented with more clear-cut chances, they squandered them. Divock Origi and scorer Adam Lallana each could have delivered a winner, but their efforts lacked conviction. Danny Ings, who normally provides a spark, was more subdued.
Even with Coutinho on the field, Liverpool did not pose enough of a threat. This is a team with too few characters who can transform a game or, indeed, a managerial regime.
2. Lallana strikes again for the 'B' team
Rodgers' thinking may vary in other respects but he has displayed some consistency in the Europa League; he has always opted to prioritise the Premier League. Eight of this side started against Bordeaux: they are Rodgers' Europa League men. Only Ings, Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Allen had not begun in France, and the Welshman in particular looks like being a regular in this competition.
Lallana, who had struck in Bordeaux a fortnight earlier, is becoming a fixture on the score sheet. Thus far this season, he has struck in the Europa League but is essentially a £25 million second-string player. One with his price tag ought to determine such encounters but he faded after a fine start, and Sion could count themselves unfortunate when he scored. Lallana had been offside when he won a header in the buildup. Thereafter, Origi showed strength and presence of mind before Lallana calmly swept in the cutback.
Origi's fourth game for Liverpool was his brightest, though that is not saying much. Fourth in the forward pecking order behind Daniel Sturridge, Benteke and Ings, he looked intent on climbing the rankings but failed to make the most of his clearest chance when he shot straight at Andris Vanins. Origi's goal-scoring record in France was poor, and while individuals had their moments to score a winner, no one grasped the chance to force his way into the strongest team or turn one point into three.
Liverpool's most prominent player was Emre Can, who had the sort of match in which he has a particularly liberal interpretation of the centre-back's duties and popped up everywhere to varying degrees of effectiveness. The 18-year-old midfielder Jordan Rossiter spent much of his time covering for a German with a pronounced sense of wanderlust.
Can's roaming gave Liverpool a lopsided look at the back, which invariably amounts to an invitation to opponents. Sion's goal was a predictable defensive disaster. One wing-back, Clyne, gave the ball away and the other, Jordon Ibe, was caught out of position as Xavier Kouassi played in Ebenezer Assifuah, who duly beat Simon Mignolet from close range.
The goal highlighted the problems of fielding a young right winger as a right wing-back. Ibe was swapped to his preferred flank for the second half when Alberto Moreno came on for Clyne, but his selection illustrated the lack of cover for the Spaniard on a squad with too few natural wide players. The issue of confused recruitment at Anfield is invariably relevant, and Rodgers' 'B' team contains too many examples of a failed transfer policy.
3. Nothing from Sion to be ashamed of
A team deemed guilty of underachieving and a manager apparently on the brink of the sack. This doesn't refer to Liverpool, but FC Sion. Chairman Christian Constantin, who is evidently far more outspoken than his Anfield counterpart, Tom Werner, said they should be "ashamed" of their league form and called Saturday's 1-0 defeat to Vaduz "awful, awful, awful."
Admittedly they are higher in the Swiss League now than they were last season, when they finished fourth from bottom. But now they top a table, too: Their opening 2-1 win over Rubin Kazan is the only victory any side has recorded in Group B and they have four points from two games. There was nothing awful about Thursday's scoreline for them.
THE BEST OF ESPN FC
- Bell: Liverpool fans make themselves heard
- Cox: Leicester improving | Why Poch should stay
- Okwonga: Man United's market | City's title hopes
- Laurens: PSG's pre-UCL issues | Hertha's curse
- Highlights (U.S. only): Stuttgart 1-3 BVB
- FC TV: Champions League W2W4 | LVG wrong
- News | Transfer | Toe Poke | Fantasy | FC TV | Podcast | MLS
Yet Sion's frailties in defence were apparent; Liverpool just failed to exploit them. Sion conceded six goals in their only previous trip to Anfield, back in 1996, but a superior Reds team could not emulate their predecessors.
For their part, Sion showed some intelligence and pace on the counterattack and could have scored a second when Assifuah executed a sharp turn and Mignolet saved his low shot. It would have secured a remarkable win. As it was, this result may give manager Didier Tholot a reprieve.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.