If ever there was a time for Brendan Rodgers to stay away from microphones is was probably in the aftermath of Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa at the weekend.
Instead of heaping praise on his players, the Northern Irishman descended into the kind of paranoid rant which is fodder for the tabloids and the hordes who enjoy mocking him on social media, all of whom have lapped it up and continue to portray the Reds manager as something of a cartoonish figure. He’s brought it all upon himself.
Back on the pitch, there were two goals for Daniel Sturridge, another effective display from Danny Ings and two Brazilians doing what it is they do best – Lucas Leiva controlling and Philippe Coutinho creating – but of course there remain concerns.
The three at the back system which Rodgers has recently re-introduced has succeed in getting the best out of wing-backs Nathaniel Clyne and particularly Alberto Moreno, but it has also highlighted the flaws in his centre-backs.
Emre Can, in particular, was shaky against Villa, presenting a chance to Rudy Gestede in the first half and then failing to track the forward’s run when he scored the first of his two goals in the second.
It was the 49th appearance of Can’s Liverpool career, and the fact that no-one’s really sure what to make of it just yet speaks volumes.
He showcased all of his promise in the three at the back system when Rodgers reverted to it last season, but that was always supposed to be a temporary measure.
Playing in defence with any two of Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure, Can was often able to use his superior ability on the ball to instigate attacks by either playing a clever pass or even running forward himself, but teams have cottoned on to that now, and are instead playing on a perceived lack of defensive discipline – as Villa and Gestede did at the weekend.
It can’t be good for either the confidence or development of a 21-year-old footballer who has turned into Liverpool’s utility man, with Rodgers’ desire to constantly chop and change formations meaning that he can never be sure where he’ll be utilised.
Witness the death of the three at the back system at the end of last season when Rodgers – perhaps sensing a lack of motivation from Glen Johnson as his contract ran down – placed Can at right-back in a four. Chaos, uneasiness and being 5-0 down at half-time to Stoke followed.
Yet Germany boss Joachim Low has seen enough in Can to play him in that position for the world champions’ last two Euro 2016 qualifiers against Poland and Scotland, evidence to suggest that Teutonic television failed to pick up that grim afternoon at the Britannia Stadium last May. Can literally doesn’t know where he stands.
With tough away matches at Everton and Tottenham to come either side of the international break, Rodgers has to think long and hard about whether three at the back is the best way to go.
It was an excellent re-invigorator for him and the Reds last season, but when it came to the fixtures against the better sides it was found out, with damaging losses to Manchester United and Arsenal, when Can was sent off, in late March and early April the outcomes.
There was a sense that Rodgers had allowed his ego to get the better of him going into those games, with a desire to outfox Louis van Gaal and Arsene Wenger using an altered approach surely appealing to him, but really it just gave two of the best and most experienced managers in the world a reason to try and work out how to combat his team, something they did with ease. Roberto Martinez and Mauricio Pochettino, fine coaches both, will be working out how to do the same.
But whether or not he sticks to three or reverts to a four-man back line, Rodgers needs to get Can out of his defence due to the German’s patchy form.
Considering that there were comparisons with Steven Gerrard when he was signed – not entirely spurious ones, given his charge forward and (admittedly deflected) goal against Chelsea last November – then it should be time to allow Can to try and cement a role in midfield.
With Jordan Henderson still out, he could be a powerful presence alongside James Milner in the centre at Goodison Park and White Hart Lane, with the protection of rejuvenated Lucas – ‘the man who can’t be moved’ – behind them.
If, however, Rodgers wants to stick with three at the back then he should consider the youngster Joe Gomez to play alongside Skrtel and Sakho, with the former Charlton man already showing that he’s good enough on the ball for the role.
The bottom line is that Can, surely the most intriguing of the many, many Liverpool signings with ‘potential’ in recent years, won’t realise just how good he can be until he’s given a defined place in the team.
But this is a time when his manager doesn’t seem too definitive about anything, least of all his own job prospects.
Rodgers might find that if he finds a position for Can, his own one will suddenly become much more secure.