Tinker at your own risk, Rodgers
Rodgers seems to have found a winning formula and he should stick to it
LIVERPOOL v BOLTON
(Tomorrow, 1.25am, Singtel TV Ch 111)
Brendan Rodgers needs the FA Cup.
He knows it. The supporters know it. And Liverpool's owners certainly know it.
But the meddling manager cannot help himself. He's a tinkerer with a nervous trigger finger, a spanner in his own works.
As is so often the case, Rodgers risks breaking what doesn't need fixing.
On the eve of the FA Cup fourth-round clash against Bolton tomorrow morning (Singapore time), he happily announced the return of Mario Balotelli, Joe Allen and Glen Johnson to the FA Cup squad.
Supporters must be struggling to contain their indifference.
After the impressive performance against Chelsea in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final clash on Tuesday, the Reds dared to dream a little. They were moving on up.
From the charred corpse of a campaign before Christmas, the dying Liver bird rose like a phoenix to kick off a nine-game unbeaten run that few saw coming.
If the opposition wasn't always stellar, Liverpool's confidence quietly grew nonetheless, culminating with the excellent 1-1 draw against the Blues.
Suddenly, the Reds were clicking, finding a rhythm. The bad boys were out and the newcomers were rediscovering their game. An unlikely 3-4-3 - or a 3-4-2-1 - now made sense.
Steven Gerrard was sent forward, out of harm's way, ensuring that any lost possession wouldn't prove fatal, while the odd Hollywood pass could still look fabulous.
And Lazar Markovic realised that Jessie J was wrong. It is about the price tag, particularly in the Premier League, and he set about earning his keep in a midfield role.
But it was the back three that provided the pivotal breakthrough.
Just mentioning the defensive strategy can make a Manchester United follower break out in hives, but it's having the opposite effect at Anfield.
The trio form a tourniquet, pulling tight across the penalty box to stem the flow through central midfield, with Emre Can providing the soothing balm.
At last, Can is living up to his name.
With fullbacks falling by the wayside, Rodgers switched Can to centre back. It wasn't quite a tactical masterstroke, the versatile German had played in that position for Bayer Leverkusen, but the change was timely.
When Can moved back on Boxing Day, Liverpool closed the gap, conceding only three goals in five Premier League games, an improvement considering that they had shipped five in the two games before that.
So Liverpool are settling. Anfield is experiencing an unlikely calm after the storm.
Weary Reds are emerging from the trenches and staggering onto the smoke-filled battleground, allowing themselves to think that the worst could be behind them, that they might even have a shot at silverware salvation.
And then, Rodgers comes charging across the battleground, blowing his bugle and announcing fresh reinforcements in Balotelli, Allen and Johnson.
The optimism suddenly dissipates.
Those players do not smell of victory. They are still tainted by the mediocrity of that muddled campaign before Christmas.
Allen has never convinced supporters - or his manager - of his potential to eventually replace Gerrard or even deputise for Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva.
Johnson briefly proved against Manchester United that it's impossible to track a winger while pulling a tractor and there is a case to be made that Balotelli should not don the Liverpool jersey again.
Niggling injuries aside, the Italian's heart is still in Milan. And his ungainly plodding suggests his legs didn't clear customs either.
Balotelli doesn't belong at Liverpool. He's a lost puppy with a pit-bull's temperament and his failure to score in the Premier League since joining in August remains an ugly blot on Rodgers' copybook.
Barring a spectacular reversal of fortune against Bolton, the Italian's brief stay could end ingloriously.
If Rodgers finds a buyer fickle enough to take a gamble on an untamable talent - like he did - then Balotelli may not survive this transfer window.
And yet, the Liverpool manager has promised to ring the changes against Bolton, risking the wrath of perplexed supporters once more.
He's no longer blessed with the option of choosing between the FA Cup and the League Cup. He needs both.
The Premier League is over. Even Champions League qualification seems unlikely.
A couple of old domestic pots were presumably not his priority in pre-season. Now they promise redemption.
Defeat in the FA Cup is inconceivable, unthinkable. Rodgers rests players at his own risk.
He found a successful formula against Chelsea. If he throws it away against Bolton, he may throw away what's left of Liverpool's season.
Lennon: I copied Rodgers' style
ON THE TROT: Bolton manager Neil Lennon (left) has lifted the club from bottom of the Championship to 15th spot since he took over last October.
Bolton Wanderers manager Neil Lennon has warned that the Trotters can pull off an upset after revealing that he copied his training techniques from Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers.
Lennon, 43, had studied Rodgers' methods when his fellow Northern Irishman was in charge of Reading in 2009.
The following year, Lennon took over at Scottish club Celtic and led them to three league titles and several forays in the Champions League, which included a 1-0 upset win over Barcelona in 2012.
Said Lennon: "I've been in this situation before, with Celtic against big teams. We will set out a team to compete, we're not going there for the day out."
The former Leicester City midfielder said he is not surprised at how Rodgers had risen over the years.
Added Lennon: "He was so methodical in his preparations and his training sessions were brilliant.
"I still use some of them now, but don't tell him as I don't know if he has the copyright on them!
"I had a couple of days with him when he was at Reading and I really enjoyed it. He talked about his coaching days at Chelsea and about his own ideas on the game.
"It didn't go well for him at Reading. But Swansea was a great success and he's gone on to do brilliant things at Liverpool."
Lennon himself had also performed creditably since taking charge of Bolton last October, lifting the cash-strapped club from bottom of the Championship to 15th spot.
One of his latest signings was former Liverpool striker Emile Heskey, who was providing analysis for Liverpool's in-house television channel not too long ago.
The 37-year-old made a surprising return to English football last month when he joined Bolton after a two-year stint in Australia with the Newcastle Jets.
Just last November, he had played in an exhibition match in Singapore, scoring a goal when the Liverpool Masters beat the Singapore Masters 3-1 in Aleksandar Duric's testimonial.
Heskey enjoyed a four-year spell with Liverpool following his £11 million ($22m) move from Leicester in 2000 and played alongside the likes of Gerrard, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher in the team who won the 2001 FA Cup.
Said Heskey: "It wasn't long ago, a few months ago, when I was doing LFCTV, so to actually be going back there and putting my boots on and playing against Liverpool is wonderful.
"The fans were wonderful to me while I was there. I'll hopefully get a good reception and play my heart out."
- Wire Services.
Gerrard could be rested
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard could be rested for the FA Cup fourth-round visit of Bolton tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
With a must-win League Cup semi-final second leg at Chelsea about 72 hours later, the 34-year-old, who missed last Saturday's 2-0 win at Aston Villa with a tight hamstring, is likely to be benched.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has confirmed 17-year-old midfielder Jordan Rossiter will be involved in some capacity, while defender Glen Johnson, midfielder Joe Allen and striker Mario Balotelli all returned to training this week.
However, Daniel Sturridge is still not ready to return from the thigh problem that has ruled him out since September.
Rodgers also insisted that he wants Johnson and Lucas Leiva to extend their stay at Anfield.
With Gerrard joining Los Angeles Galaxy after his contract ends in the summer, Rodgers is adamant that he does not want to lose any more senior players. - Wire Services.