Early Doors

Comical Brendan leaving himself open to ridicule

Early Doors

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Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers are a team of contrasts. Though their style has undoubtedly improved from last season, their results – which see them out of both domestic cups, impotent against top-10 clubs and now likely heading out of Europe – are undeniably worse. There is a disconnect between the veneer and the substance, the ideal and the reality, and it extends to their manager.

On Thursday night, following a 2-0 defeat away at Zenit St Petersburg that has nearly extinguished their hopes in the Europa League, Rodgers provoked bemusement when claiming Liverpool’s performance on the rutted pitch of the Petrovsky Stadium was "a near-on perfect away performance."

Near-on perfect. Apart from standing off and giving Hulk – the man who can kick a football as hard as his superhero namesake – the chance to belt in a trademark effort from 20 yards, of course. Oh, and Glen Johnson letting Sergei Semak free at the back post to add a second. Luis Suarez had a few excellent chances, but he missed them and Liverpool had just six shots in total, with only two on target.

A near-on perfect away performance? That’s how you might describe holding Juventus to a 0-0 draw in Turin in 2005 or going to the Bernabeu and beating Real Madrid 1-0 in 2009, but not this. Never this.

You might argue that such an audacious claim from the Liverpool manager was a slip of the tongue - one little ill-judged line from an entire press conference. Yet Rodgers has form in this regard.

After another 2-0 defeat – at home to West Brom on Monday night – Rodgers was heard to lament that: "I'm just disappointed for the players, they've been on a terrific little run, especially here at home." Easy victories over the might of Fulham, Sunderland and Norwich had come at Anfield, true, yet overall they hadn’t won in four and had been knocked out of the FA Cup by League One Oldham.

It seems that all too often we are left scratching our heads at one of Rodgers's post-match pronouncements.

It is one thing to awkwardly wield envelopes in pre-season, have a portrait of yourself in your sitting room or use terms such as "the helicopter view" – such quirks merely mark you out as an eccentric in the David Brent mould – but when comment becomes divided from fact to such an obvious degree it leaves you open to ridicule.

That’s not to say pure blind optimism doesn’t have a part in football. All managers bend the truth with the enthusiasm of a particularly pliable Pilates instructor. When Arsene Wenger says his young players have the character to do great things in the game, do you believe him? What about when Rafa Benitez says Fernando Torres is doing just fine?

But Rodgers appears to be rapidly earning a reputation as the Premier League’s answer to Comical Ali: Saddam Hussein’s arch propagandist who confidently declared there were no infidels in Baghdad as American tanks trundled along ominously behind him.

Rodgers’s own brand of optimism - a rather more breezy kind, it must be said - is also made to seem silly when unsupported by reality. This was a trait he displayed at Swansea too - most famously following another of those pesky 2-0 defeats, this time at Sunderland last season.

On that occasion he boldly declared: "It is great for the public here at Sunderland to see us. They must have been wondering what this team everyone is talking about are all about and now they have seen. We were wonderful. Our intention is always to pass teams to a standstill, but give credit to Sunderland, they defended ever so well when other teams might have wilted."

When other teams might have wilted. Swansea, it bears repeating, lost 2-0. It could have been worse: Sebastian Larsson also hit the woodwork.

Another favourite refrain is to insist that Liverpool are still on a steep learning curve. There is some merit to this argument: the club have undergone substantial change over the past 12 months and have a number of young players who are still finding their way in the professional game.

But they also have players like Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Daniel Agger. Liverpool should be getting substantially better results than they are at present - their failure to beat a single team in the top 10 is glaring proof of that. How many times can Rodgers spin another disappointing result as an important lesson for his side? Well, he certainly had another go last night.

"In six to 12 months we won't be making those mistakes," said Rodgers. "This is a group that is growing and has come together. And this is part of our growing pains as a group. We've put in some terrific performances this season and not always got the results. We have to be more clinical and that is something that, over the coming months, will certainly take place."

The promise of a brighter future can be persuasive, but there will come a time where reality impinges on rhetoric.

Rodgers has Liverpool playing more artful football than under Kenny Dalglish; their use of the ball is more considered and intelligent. He has placed his faith in promising young players and recruited other exciting talents. All of this is true.

But despite the pronouncements of Comical Brendan, the reality cannot be masked. They cannot beat good teams and as well as now being on the verge of an exit from a third cup, Liverpool can forget about any lingering hopes of Champions League football.

As late as December 14, though, their manager said this: "For a club that has been very poor and disastrous by all accounts from other people we lie four points off top four. For me the ambition is to grow higher. We are 11 points off second and that can all turn around very quickly."

Liverpool challenging for second? No one really believed him - and it's an increasingly familiar scenario.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Incredible. Not only his all-round game but the ability he has to strike these free-kicks. The ball gains so much power when he strikes it and it changes direction very, very easily. Today we saw not only two great moments of brilliance but three as their goal was absolutely fantastic, too." - Andre Villas-Boas clearly enjoyed Gareth Bale's two brilliant free-kicks for Tottenham in a 2-1 win in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie against Lyon last night.

FOREIGN VIEW: Inter Milan's main striker Diego Milito is likely to miss the rest of the season after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury during Thursday's 2-0 Europa League win over CFR Cluj. The Argentine, who scored both goals in the final when Inter won the Champions League in 2010, had only just returned from injury and was in tears when he was carried off after six minutes at the San Siro.

"It's his cruciate ligament, a new type of injury for Diego, nothing to do with the problems he's had before," coach Andrea Stramaccioni told reporters. "We're gutted for Diego as a person first and foremost, and then of course for what he represents as a player. We need to see when he'll have the operation."

COMING UP: We preview all of the weekend's FA Cup ties as Chelsea play Brentford in a fourth-round replay and all the rest of the fifth-round ties take place. There's the second part of our interview with West Ham manager Sam Allardyce as he discusses the possibility of a summer deal for Andy Carroll, while Jim White also files his latest column ahead of the weekend.

If it's live football you are after, then at 19:45 tonight we have live text commentary of the Serie A match between AC Milan and Parma, with Mario Balotelli back in action for the Rossoneri.

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