Third season without silverware for Rodgers
Rodgers is first Liverpool manager since 1959 to complete three seasons without silverware
All dressed up with nowhere to go. That was Brendan Rodgers' subs bench in the FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa on Sunday.
The badge said Liverpool, but the names were imposters. They didn't belong.
Rodgers knows the feeling.
With every significant defeat, tactical blunder and unwanted record, Rodgers takes a step towards the guillotine, the architect of his own downfall.
After Villa's thoroughly deserved victory, the Northern Irishman becomes the first Liverpool manager since 1959 to complete three seasons without major silverware.
Even Champions League qualification is unlikely now.
Last season, the Reds chased an impossible dream, clinging to its coattails until the final day of an exhilarating campaign. They were almost kings.
In the FA Cup semi-final, they were court jesters.
Whenever Rodgers is taken to the edge, when he finds himself on the brink of greatness, he blinks first.
Last season, it was Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. This time around, it's been Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, Louis van Gaal's Manchester United and, now ludicrously, Tim Sherwood's Villa.
In post-match interviews, Rodgers had no answers for Liverpool's flat, ineffectual, lethargic performance. He didn't find any in the dugout either.
Uncertainty breeds uncertainty. A lack of leadership spreads through the ranks like a debilitating virus, turning men into mice.
Sherwood humiliated Rodgers with the simplest of 4-2-3-1 systems.
Villa's triangle left Liverpool running around in circles. Christian Benteke, Jack Grealish and Fabian Delph targeted the Reds' soft right side.
Marouane Fellaini had already used his Velcro chest to soften up Emre Can in the recent Liverpool-United fixture, but Rodgers offered no additional protection. Sherwood seized on the weakness.
Away from his natural position and out of his comfort zone, Can was bullied like the new kid at school by Villa's front three.
As is so often the case in pivotal games, Liverpool lack a Plan B beyond a desperate reshuffle of inferior substitutes.
Rodgers' 3-4-3 became a 4-2-3-1 before morphing into a 4-3-3 as he laboured in vain to fix the holes on the right. Nothing happened. Nothing worked.
Liverpool's powder-puff attack couldn't hurt Villa's back four. Steven Gerrard was a sentimental passenger and the Reds' midfield lacked guile and mobility.
Sherwood knew Rodgers had nothing in the locker. Like the Liverpool manager's trophy cabinet, it's bare.
When Rodgers turned to his bench, he saw what most have recognised since pre-season - mediocrity.
Liverpool are littered with sub-standard reinforcements with no long-term future at the club, a collective condemnation of their transfer committee.
How much influence Rodgers has in the club's recruitment policy remains a bone of contention, but £200 million ($402m) has been mostly squandered on inferior players.
The sign says: "This is Anfield". But the names on the bench do not. They scream incompetence.
Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, Javier Manquillo, Glen Johnson, Brad Jones, Rickie Lambert and Kolo Toure could not be sure of selection in any of the Premier League's top-seven sides. More than half would fail to make the Villa side at Wembley.
Villa's game plan was fixed, clear and achievable, relying on their battering ram up front to knock down Liverpool's cardboard fortress. And still, Rodgers had no answer to Benteke.
But then, he offers no practical solutions for his own deficient forward line.
Despite the enforced absence of Daniel Sturridge, Balotelli, Borini and Lambert all started on the bench. Sterling was again tasked with leading the line. Again he failed.
The youngster continues to get ideas above his pay scale and Rodgers relents. He glosses over Sterling's ill-judged TV interview and continues to play him up front.
Both moves highlight Sterling's immaturity and his poor sense of timing. Such demands would not be tolerated under either Mourinho or van Gaal.
When Rodgers hints at an overly passive, lack of focus at Wembley, he acknowledges his culpability.
He can't play with the big boys. He is often overwhelmed by the occasion.
Chelsea and Crystal Palace killed him last year. This time around, it was Basel in the Champions League, Chelsea in the League Cup, Besiktas in the Europa League, United and Arsenal in the EPL and now Villa.
Mourinho and van Gaal are masters of manipulating matches from the sidelines, but Rodgers freezes in the biggest spotlights.
There's a Liver bird on the badge, but a rabbit in the dugout.
DID YOU KNOW?
Phil Taylor, the predecessor to Bill Shankly, was the last Liverpool manager to go through his first three seasons without winning a trophy, finishing emptyhanded during his reign from 1956 to 1959. He resigned after a frustrating start to the 1959/1960 season.
"It looked as though the occasion got to us. That can happen and we’ve come up short in a few games. The focus can go awry and we were too passive."
- Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
"We will be the underdogs, the pressure is on Arsenal... They can make this pitch look very, very big so we're going to have to get a plan ready. We think we can cause them problems. "
- Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood on meeting Arsenal in the final
"We didn't play, we looked very nervous for some reason. We were very disappointing. I thought Aston Villa were much better than us."
- Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard
Reds tradition: They all won it within 36 months
First trophy: 1961/1962 English Division Two title Took the Reds from the old second division into the top tier and turned them into a force with three league titles, two FA Cups and one Uefa Cup.
First trophy: 1974 Charity Shield Extended the dominance into the continent, as the Reds won the European Cup three times (1977, 1978 and 1981). His total tally: 20 trophies in nine seasons.
First trophy: 1984 League Cup First English manager to win the Treble, after adding the Division One title and European Cup to the League Cup in 1984.
First trophy: 1985/1986 English Division One title. The club’s first player-manager won the league and FA Cup Double in his first season. Also led the Reds to their last league title in 1989/1990, before he quit as the Hillsborough disaster took its toll on him.
First trophy: 1992 FA Cup The Reds went into freefall and finished sixth in Division One in his first full term, but the muchmaligned Souness still has the FA Cup win, albeit achieved with him taking a withdrawn role on the day of the final, due to heart surgery.
First trophy: 1995 League Cup Won the League Cup in his first full season in charge in a reign that coincided with the rise of Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman. Amid a rise in expectations, the Reds finished only third and fourth in the league in the following seasons.
First trophy: 2001 League Cup Initially brought in as joint-manager with Evans, but the latter let Houllier take sole charge after an indifferent run. Under Houllier, the 2001 League Cup win sparked a trophy avalanche, as the Uefa Cup, FA Cup, Community Shield and Uefa Super Cup followed.
First trophy: 2005 Champions League Masterminded the Miracle of Istanbul in 2005 as the Reds clawed back from 3-0 down at half-time to pip AC Milan on penalties in the Champions League final.
Trophyless, but reign lasted only six months.
First trophy: 2012 League Cup The King of the Kop returned for a second term after being appointed as interim manager by new owners Fenway Sports Group. Dalglish led the Reds to the League Cup in 2012, their first trophy in six years.