The Comeback Kids – Rodgers’ Regrouped Reds
Top 4 Finish
This season’s race for the Top 4 was always going to be hugely exciting. Apart from a couple of clubs – Chelsea & Man City are out on their own – the chasing pack is stacked.
The usual suspects – Arsenal, Manchester United and Spurs – are there, with a sprinkling of Southampton and West Ham added to the pot to create quite the wicked flavour going into the final few months.
Liverpool, as predicted during the summer, would initially struggle and then find their feet as the campaign grew on. True to form, Brendan Rodgers’ boys are eventually starting to click and while it’s probably taken a little longer than most would have thought, chances of another crack at the Champions League aren’t anywhere near as unrealistic as they were a couple of months ago.
There are a number of possible reasons for the upturn in form but most pertinently, without the mercurial talents of Luis Suarez, Rodgers has belatedly found a style that suits the squad. It’s arguable he may have accidentally stumbled upon it but, either way, it’s working a treat.
Since their disastrous Champions League exit to Basel they have lost just a single game – the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford in which they pretty much battered their bitter rivals and still somehow lost. Unbeaten in their last eight games, they’ve won six of them and, oddly, it’s flown a little under the radar.
Rodgers’ switch in formation from 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-3 has meant incorporating the majority of his best attacking players into his line-up and this has been fundamental to their surge up the league.
Whilst they have yet to recreate anywhere near the explosive style of last season, there are signs that, at the very least, the attack has clicked in a functional sense.
Lazar Markovic – the £20 million signing from Benfica – has begun to settle with regular game time, reinforcing every inch his reputation as one of the best young wide players in Europe whilst Emre Can has been immense since being moved into the back three.
The former Bayern Munich youngster was arguably Rodgers’ and the infamous transfer committee’s best signing at just £10 million. Tall, powerful, quick and technically excellent, the German international is equally adept at central midfield as he at centre-back. That Rodgers has only begun to play him consisently now is rather bemusing, frankly, but his presence had added a steely resolve to the defence.
The rebirth of Lucas Leiva as the side’s midfield anchor has also been hugely significant. In the 13 appearances he has made, Liverpool have lost none and rumours of his desire to leave for pastures’ new will fuel the worries of Reds’ fans. The Brazilian – much like Javier Mascherano at Barcelona for instance – is a key component of this particular team and his departure would leave a gaping defensive hole.
Another huge boost to Liverpool’s Champions League hopes will be the return of Daniel Sturridge. The England striker has been sorely missed and the placebo effect his reintroduction will have on the side should provide a goal head start in most games, never mind his goal-scoring prowess.
His last game in Liverpool colours was the impressive 3-0 victory over Spurs at White Hart Lane with the dovetailing of Balotelli and Sterling particular impressive. One wonders whether his reappearance will also have a positive impact on the enigmatic Italian and lessen the burden on his shoulders.
Their next five Premier League fixtures are pivotal. Games against West Ham, Everton, Spurs, Southampton and Man City – their direct rivals for the Top Four – will have a massive bearing on their hopes for the rest of the season but Rodgers’ regrouped Reds are starting to look the part once more. If you’re a betting man, one wouldn’t discount them just yet.