Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.
Brendan Rodgers’ task from the beginning was an unglamorous one; take a wildly underperforming squad to the precipice of Champion League football. I was one of those who doubted his attempt to revaluate the fundamental ideologies of a club so deeply ingrained in the consciousness of football lovers everywhere. But, it seems that it was all potentially part of a herculean teething process and Liverpool look to have found a semblance of genuine consistency that, maybe not this season, should be capable of recapturing those mythic European nights of not so long ago.
The bold move to send Andy Carroll on loan was received with deeply negative sentiment in the Anfield terraces for various reasons beyond the manager’s control. Fabio Borini’s injury at the time meant that there was no support for the irrepressible Luiz Suarez and it left the striking department fairly shallow. Additionally, it was an obvious distillation of Rodger’s commitment to a Eurocentric approach that eschewed the comparatively barbaric direct approach that Carroll represented. The arrival of Daniel Sturridge has given Liverpool an alternative form of striker that is in stark contrast to Carroll. His speed and trickery has blended masterfully with that of Suarez, and his presence seems to bring a more direct energy to a team whose play was often too lateral.
Another exemplary achievement of Rodgers has been his reintegration of players deemed to be superfluous to the needs of the club. Jamie Carragher, in his last season, has cut an impressive teutonic figure in the heart of defence with Daniel Agger, while Jose Enrique has got to be the most improved player in the Premier League. His transition from static left-back to buccaneering full-back has been staggering and bears testament to Rodgers’ ability to harness the talent at his disposal. Stewart Downing has started to look dangerous down the right hand side while Jordan Henderson has started to grow into his role whenever given the chance.
That is not to say that all is perfect. The acquisition of Joe Allen was supposed to embody the philosophy of Rodgers in idyllic fashion, but the young Welshman has failed to make any real impression at the club. Perhaps it is in the Welshman that one can observe a microcosm of Rodgers’ development as manager of Liverpool. His initial stubborn adherence to his ideology has developed and matured as the season has gone on. Reina has started to kick forward much more often with the presence of Sturridge and perhaps a slight alteration of Rodgers’ overall vision. The league is saturated with physical teams that demand a more direct application and Allen will have develop the physical side of his game more if he is to adapt fully to his role. When he plays, it reduces inspirational skipper Steven Gerrard to the holding role, which is akin to having Lionel Messi in goals.
The star for them this season has got to be Luiz Suarez. The Uruguayan terrier has managed to curtail some of his more melodramatic histrionics while focusing purely on being the creative fulcrum of the Liverpool attack. And now he is not alone. He does not cut a forlorn figure similar to that of a child with no one to play with. In Phillipe Coutinhio and Daniel Sturridge he has allies in his wizardry that takes away the overwhelming responsibility of being the creative force behind everything good that Liverpool does. The one disturbing prospect for Liverpool is the potential departure of the star due to the allure of Champions League football. The player has continuously reiterated his complete devotion for the club, but then again so did Robin Van Persie.
The criticism that has been labelled of Liverpool’s side over recent years has been that they pitch up for the big games but fail to produce consistently against lower opposition. This season has been the complete antithesis of this pattern, with the victory on the weekend over Spurs being their first against top 6 opponents this season. They have been hugely competitive in the big encounters, but have just lacked the nuance to see them through. Their draws against City home and away were compelling illustrations of Liverpool’s increased competitiveness against the champions. But it is their ability to beat the teams that they should beat that has seen them rise meteorically up a fiercely competitive table. The media tends to explode the big matches into mini cup finals but the three points on offer away at Old Trafford carry the same weight as the ones at home to Wigan.
They now lie only two points behind Arsenal, who do have a game in hand over the Merseysiders. With Arsenal’s form ebbing and flowing so dramatically, Liverpool will feel that the Gunners are well within their grasp. And who could discount a massive collapse from Chelsea, whose propensity to self-destruct is continually gaining legendary status. Rodgers will know it’s a long shot, but he won’t stop believing, and the way his players are playing at the moment who could blame him. Even if they don’t quite get that fourth spot this season, they will have gained a league of supporters drawn to an attractive, and most importantly winning, brand of football. And they thought there would be no life without Andy Carroll.