Brendan Rodgers tried to have it both ways on Wednesday, starting a weakened eleven but quickly bringing on his regulars. All it achieved was to hurt Liverpool's chances in the league while they still dropped out of the League Cup.
Following Wednesday's loss to Swansea in the League Cup, there has been a push in some quarters to suggest what happened wasn't Brendan Rodgers' fault. That if anyone was to blame it was Ian Ayre and and Fenway Sports Group for failing to back their chosen manager in the summer transfer window. And if they failed to properly back their chosen manager it was only because of poor decisions by Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish the year before. And those mistakes largely stemmed from a botched effort to recover from damage caused by former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
There may be some truth to the suggestion that, at its root, much of Liverpool's present trouble can be traced back to the failed ownership of Liverpool's last set of guardians. There may be some truth in the idea Liverpool's current, painfully thin squad owes a lot to their mismanagement. Yet just as that truth cannot absolve Dalglish and Comolli for their mistakes, and just as it cannot fully absolve Fenway for failing to back the man they'd only just hired, it does not excuse Rodgers' mistakes of Wednesday night.
"We have a small squad playing in what was three competitions," said Rodgers following the match, "and I did what I have done in other games: Rotated players, used fringe players and given younger players opportunity. That is all you can do as a manager."
Only it isn't at all what he did. Not really. Faced with the choice of either pushing hard for the League Cup, seeing it as the easiest route into Europe for clubs sitting on the fringes of the Premier League's upper half, or of ignoring it in favour of maximising the club's chances of finishing a few places higher in the final league table, Rodgers tried to do both at the same time. And in the end, that ended up in a result that is the worst of both words.
Rather than looking at his painfully thin squad and choosing to either push for the cup as the most likely way to ensure European play or of preserving his already tiring starters in the midst of a congested schedule in order to prioritise the league, he ended up doing neither. Rodgers started a side that was especially weak up front, with Joe Cole ineffectively supporting Samid Yesil while the 18-year-old striker looked isolated and out of his depth. It signalled capitulation.
Yet behind them he started Joe Allen in the middle, a player who was already showing signs of tiring on the weekend and who got no help whatsoever on Wednesday night from the offensively-minded Jonjo Shelvey. Then, when things weren't working, he brought on Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard, Liverpool's two most important attacking players, and quickly followed that up by introducing Raheem Sterling.
All three have played far too many minutes already this season thanks to Liverpool's lack of attacking depth, yet if the cup had truly been a priority they—and not players who most knew going into the match were extremely unlikely to deliver victory—should have been in the starting lineup. Now, having spent a half chasing the game in a desperate attempt to win a match that the starting eleven seemed to signal Rodgers was willing to concede, Suarez and Gerrard at least will be nearly as drained as if they had started.
To a lesser extent the same holds true for Sterling. And for Joe Allen, coming off his worst game to date for his new club, the signs of a player beginning to struggle under the pressure of being the club's only legitimate option for the holding role are beginning to show—and they will be worryingly familiar to fans who saw Lucas eventually suffer long-term injury while under that same pressures last season.
"I would have loved to have been able to keep Gerrard and Suarez on the sidelines tonight and give them that breather because they have been playing continuously and they are the catalysts for the team," Rodgers explained, looking to justify both his weak initial lineup and the halftime changes that mean Liverpool's big names now go into Sunday's match without having had a rest. "But when you need them, you need to put them on."
Liverpool tried to rest some of their most important players with an eye to Sunday's league tie against Newcastle, only in the end those players will hardly be any more rested than if they had all started. And in the meantime, Rodgers' attempts to juggle the starting eleven meant Liverpool didn't even win their match on Wednesday. It all amounts to the worst of both possible worlds—a loss in the League Cup, and at the same time less of a chance to succeed in the league come Sunday.
At the root of it all, of course, there are others one can blame for the squad today being as painfully thin as it is—and as everyone watching knew it was when the summer transfer window closed. Still, despite the culpability of others in Liverpool's current crisis of depth, Rodgers' naive approach to an admittedly difficult situation cannot go unscrutinised. He cannot entirely escape blame for being unwilling to commit one way or the other and in the process putting Liverpool in a worse position heading into Sunday's league match without having anything positive to show for it.