November 9, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Only One Brendan Rodgers

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Big wins against struggling teams have become almost routine for Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers, yet there was something different about Liverpool’s victory over a lacklustre Fulham side today.

The Kop’s chant of  “There’s only one Brendan Rodgers” in the closing minutes felt like the first time the manager’s name had been sung. Rodgers has slowly won fans over after a difficult first 6 months in the job without receiving a full baptism from the Kop, and some fans still harbour reservations. Perhaps after the disappointing defeat to Arsenal those doubts are justified, but this was the 9th time in a row Liverpool have responded to a league defeat with a win – a result that keeps them two points behind Arsene Wenger’s sharp-shooting Gunners who face Manchester United tomorrow.

Liverpool started last season playing well and controlling games without getting the results. So far this season we’ve seen the inverse of that: a somewhat disjointed team who stack up points nevertheless. Today though, the performance matched the result. The side looked well-balanced, not just from left to right, but from front to back. In all the criticism of Glen Johnson’s defending, his ability to consistently get into attacking positions from full-back goes undervalued. His decision-making and final ball can be frustrating, but the overloads his movement creates gives the side’s attack another dimension, stretching the defence and creating space through the middle.

The return to a back four also helped Rodgers’ team get more bodies forward in attack, and the extra man in midfield allowed for more effective pressing high up the pitch, with Henderson, Coutinho and Suarez all hassling defenders to good effect. With the ball, Liverpool controlled the game as well as at any point this calendar year, raking up 68% of possession.

Of course, this was only Fulham, and Rodgers’ critics will argue that his Liverpool side are still flat-track bullies who come unstuck against quality opposition. To this there is some truth: it is only natural that a team still in development should beat inferior opponents but find it tougher against sides with more quality, but there’s also a specific weak-spot in the team. Against Premier League minnows, Lucas can anchor the midfield and Gerrard is given the time and space to assert his quality, but against sides whose ball retention demands more of our engine-room, Lucas and Gerrard’s lack of dynamism, mobility and raw energy is exposed.

With a license to play at his own tempo Gerrard is still an asset, though. The captain’s set-pieces are as good if not better than they have ever been, and if his technique has diminished at all, it isn’t visible to the naked eye. In today’s 4-2-2-2 transitioning into a 3-1-4-2 when attacking, Henderson and Coutinho could float wide to create overloads with the full-back or drop into deeper central or wide positions to solidify the midfield when Fulham had the ball. It’s something I’ve advocated and would like to see Rodgers persevere with. It allows us to field both Coutinho and Henderson just off to either side behind the front two, where their mobility means they can either harry defenders to win the ball back quickly or drop into central or wide positions if we need to re-group. It’s a strategy dependent on the full-backs providing width, and neither Cissokho or Enrique offer half of what Johnson down down the right, or the left, for that matter.

For those of us who have enjoyed recent results, but still looked back on the early, winless days of Rodgers’ tenure fondly, today’s performance was a refreshing tonic. Back came the pressing, the control, and even flashes of tiki-taka midway through the second half. Gone were the frustratingly deep defence, disjointed passing and reluctance to make pro-active substitutions. In replacing Gerrard with the bright and nippy Joe Allen for the final half hour, Rodgers began to exorcise the frustrations of those of us who don’t feel the captain needs to be quite as ubiquitous at 33.

Luis Suarez may have stolen Sturridge’s thunder somewhat in recent weeks, but without his strike partner’s lightening pace and intelligent movement, the Uruguayan might not look quite as good as he does right now. Oh, and how good he looks. While last year’s Player of the Year Gareth Bale is yet to make an impact in La Liga, Suarez just gets better. At times he needs to return Sturridge’s generosity, but El Pistolero looks as driven as ever and more clinical than before.

Rodgers has said he wants to bring in quality to strengthen the first team in January, and if Liverpool are to maintain their current standing, two or three more players are needed to bring this side to the next level where Arsenal currently reside. Even without reinforcements, though, Rodgers’ side have averaged more than two points per game over the first eleven matches this season. Should that form continue, it won’t be the last time Brendan Rodgers hears Anfield sing his name.

1 Comment

  • Good article. Utd won titles based on battering the weaker teams and not dropping stupid points at home to the minnows. It looks like Brendan Rodgers has got Liverpool doing the same – he’s surely won over any doubters now?

    It will be interesting to see who we are able to bring in in January. If we are able to attract a couple of first XI players (and keep a certain Uruguayan), Liverpool will once again be a real force in the Premier League, for the first time since 2009.

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