Liverpool suffered six losses and two draws from their opening twelve matches this season, putting Brendan Rodgers under considerable pressure to retain his position as club manager. However, the club have since experienced something of a quantum leap in fortunes as they are currently enjoying an unbeaten run of seven Premier League matches.
In fact, their loss at Old Trafford in the league in mid-December was Liverpool’s only loss in their last 11 league matches, along with three draws. Thus, it seems, Brendan Rodgers has finally found a way around being without either Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge.
Liverpool’s problems in the early part of the season were two-fold: Rodgers was tinkering with the side trying to find his most effective eleven and formation; and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, negative results had a profound effect on the squad itself. Poor tactics led to poor performances which reflected in the results. A string of bad results made the players’ shoulders droop even more, leading to even poorer performances and match outcomes.
It’s long been stated that the mark of a good manager is an ability to lift his players after a loss, and it is something Rodgers appeared to struggle with in those opening dozen or so games. Something had to give as the Liverpool rearguard was incapable of anything approaching a clean sheet, and goals were simply not forthcoming at the other end.
And then – breakthrough! Three at the back, four in the middle, and three more up front. This formation has allowed Philippe Coutinho to perform at his creative best, also allaying any fears that he would be restricted if Adam Lallana featured in the same line-up. And the fact that the former has now penned a new long-term deal with the club only serves to strengthen the rediscovered belief in the team.
Lucas, once reviled, has been rock-solid in his defensive-midfield role, and no longer gets his pocket picked quite as often as he used to. I still feel a little unsure about him at times, but if he is able to build on the confidence gained, and continues to be wary of what’s around him, he may yet win me over.
Steven Gerrard, who’s best years are certainly behind him, has also carved a new niche for himself within the team. Gone is last season’s holding role in midfield, giving way to a more advanced position and allowing him to do what he’s most accustomed to – setting up attacks or even playing as a third striker when called upon. Gerrard, in my opinion, may not form part of Liverpool’s strongest eleven any longer this season, but he certainly still has a pivotal role at the club – at least until he departs for LA Galaxy in the summer.
Meanwhile, Simon Mignolet’s good work between the sticks has nearly gone unnoticed. Maligned when the season was in its infancy, and perhaps rightly so, he’s now helped Liverpool become one of only five teams in the league to have kept three or more clean sheets so far this campaign (the others are Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Newcastle; and Southampton leads the way with four so far).
Am I the only person who finds it strange that Liverpool have performed better defensively with three at the back, rather than with four as in the early part of the season? Regardless …
Mamadou Sakho is still prone to a risk on occasion, but that doesn’t seem to have unduly affected the team’s performance or results in recent outings.
Another key change was switching Alberto Moreno from a defensive role into a much more suitable position as a winger. Moreno never really seemed to get a handle on defence in the Premier League, but his searing pace and rifle left foot mean he’s ideally suited to life on the left flank.
It also goes without saying that Raheem Sterling’s mid-season break was something well deserved and needed. If anything, he should have been allowed time off a little sooner in the season following reported claims of being too tired to feature for the England national squad. His performance level and work ethic tapered off quite badly at one stage, and his one-on-one miss against Manchester United in December really set alarm bells ringing.
But he’s enjoyed a welcome return to form – ballistic speed, lightning-quick feet, and an eye for goal. I still don’t think Sterling is really suited to a role as out-and-out striker, but Daniel Sturridge’s return should mean that more goals are shared between them. Some are already hailing the potential of this partnership as the new SAS, but only time will tell. It could even be that Mario Balotelli strikes gold in the run-in to season’s end with the company he’s able to keep these days.
While recent results have lifted the confidence of the team no-end, I would argue that the teams faced posed no great threat. Fair enough, both Swansea and West Ham sat above Liverpool before being overtaken, but these are not traditional rivals for a place in Europe. Thus sterner tests lie in wait, starting with Everton in the Merseyside derby this weekend, and then it gets sterner still with Tottenham, Southampton, and Manchester City all on the horizon.
I can’t wait – I LOVE this game!