THE final whistle at Boundary Park on Sunday brought an end to Liverpool’s most realistic route to silverware this season.
THE final whistle at Boundary Park on Sunday brought an end to Liverpool FC’s most realistic route to silverware this season.
But, according to Dietmar Hamann, there remains a significant reward on offer for many of Brendan Rodgers’s squad between now and the end of the campaign: their Anfield futures.
“This is a crucial three months for many of the Liverpool players,” says the former Liverpool midfielder.
“You can’t keep saying ‘yes he’s coming good’ when a player has one or two good games and then disappears for three or four weeks. The period until May will help the manager find out which players he wants and which he doesn’t.
“Liverpool have had to balance the books and get rid of a lot of players on big wages. Some were loaned out and some were sold, so it’s been a transitional period for the club. Allen, Borini and now Sturridge have come in, and Coutinho is on his way too, but Liverpool have still been disappointing.
“Changes still have to be made. After all, finishing seventh or eighth is not the target for a club Liverpool’s size. They need to be doing a lot better than that.”
The jury remains out on Joe Allen and Fabio Borini but, as Rodgers himself has intimated several times recently, his school of youngsters are also under similar scrutiny.
As a player who lifted the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, two League Cups and two FA Cups during a seven-year stay at the club, Hamann has seen Liverpool subsequently slip out of the European elite to become merely one of England’s also-rans. He believes there was no excuse for the Oldham debacle.
“The FA Cup was one of only two trophies Liverpool could still win, and to lose against a third division side that had won only one of their previous nine games is simply not good enough,” he says.
“Regardless of what team Rodgers picked, Liverpool should have been expected to win with the team they had out.
“And that would have set up a home tie with Everton and suddenly everybody would be talking about maybe a run to the final again.”
It was only when Steven Gerrard emerged from the bench shortly before the hour at Oldham that Liverpool suddenly spluttered into life, the skipper denied only by the width of the crossbar in the final minute from earning the visitors a scarcely-deserved replay.
Rodgers later lamented the continued reliance on Gerrard to help drag the Anfield outfit out of the mire.
And while Hamann still marvels at the manner in which his former midfield colleague can grab a game by the scruff of the neck, he admits Liverpool’s players need to start learning from Gerrard rather than merely leaning on him.
“Steven is still influential but it’s very hard for one player to win games on his own,” says the 39-year-old, who is now forging a reputation as a pundit.
“We know that in a good, strong team Steven is capable of making the difference. But at the moment he isn’t in a team like that. He isn’t getting any younger, and to be honest it’s phenomenal he is playing as well as he is at the age of 32.
“This, though, has been the case for the last 10 years. It’s nothing new to see Liverpool turning to Steven in their hour of need.
“Somebody else needs to step up. In fact, it will take more than one player. Not one player on his own could do it, Liverpool need two, three, four and maybe five players to start stepping up to get the club to where they want to be.
“Mediocrity has been the way for Liverpool in recent years and if they don’t change things that’s the way it is going to stay.”
The imminent arrival of 20-year-old Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho from Inter Milan fits into the template set out by Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group of buying young, up-and-coming talent. But as a player who helped guide the likes of Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen and Danny Murphy during Gerard Houllier’s reign, Hamann believes the value of experience cannot be overlooked and that the right balance must be struck within the squad.
“Obviously, it seems the owners want to sign players at a young age so that, even if they don’t fulfil their potential, they still have value to sell them on,” says the German, who scored 11 goals in 283 appearances for Liverpool.
“But if Liverpool want success and want to start challenging for the top four, they need to start buying older players. Ones that are tried and tested and have experience.
“You never know if all of the youngsters will fulfil their potential and one or two may leave the club anyway along the way.
“Having said that, I can see things from the owners’ point of view. They spent a lot of money the other year on seasoned professionals and didn’t get much reward from it.”
Liverpool travel to another of Hamann’s former clubs, Manchester City, on Sunday afternoon hoping to put a further spoke in the wheels of City’s title challenge following their goalless draw at rock-bottom Queens Park Rangers in midweek.
“City can’t afford to drop too many more points although I’ve always thought they’d have to win at Old Trafford to stand a chance of winning the title anyway,” he says.
“They had gained some momentum with some narrow victories and the departure of Mario Balotelli will help them as that’s one issue off the list.”
City were the first Premier League visitors to Anfield of the Rodgers era when Martin Skrtel’s errant backpass allowed Carlos Tevez to snaffle an unlikely point for the visitors.
“Liverpool can take heart from that performance,” says Hamann. “I have no reason to believe they can’t go to Eastlands and compete. But if Liverpool really do want to get into the top four then they will need to be more consistent. That’s the difference between them and the top clubs right now.
“I’m sure Liverpool will give City a game on Sunday but whether that’s enough to get anything from the game, I’m not sure. But with City missing Yaya Toure on African Cup of Nations duty, Liverpool have more of a chance.”
And as Hamann says, they will have to start taking them if they want to stick around at Anfield.