As a region, Merseyside is currently awash with positivity when it comes to soccer-related matters.
Supporters of a red and blue persuasion have been equally boisterous about the prospects of their sides as we kick-off 2014, with Liverpool and Everton sitting fourth and fifth in the table respectively. At the time of writing, they are both within touching distance of the summit of the Premier League table and seem set to battle it out for a Champions League spot for the duration of the campaign.
Short term, that’ll be the primary aim for both Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez. But they have both spoken at length this season on the long-term strategies they are trying to establish. Encouragingly for the duo, they are already sampling some immediate success via their implementation. And they aren’t the only ones who look set to reap the benefits.
England manager Roy Hodgson was at Goodison Park for Everton’s 2-0 win over Norwich City last weekend. Whilst the primary reason for his visit — Ross Barkley — was out injured with a broken toe, he would have been vastly encouraged by the English influence within what was an attractive, technical and dominant performance from Martinez’s team.
Influences like Phil Jagielka, who has been reveling in his role as captain; taking his game up a notch and developing as a leader in the first half of the season. He was accompanied by Leighton Baines — who continues to cement his role as England’s premier left-back with excellent showings — as well as Gareth Barry, who surely has an outside chance of making the squad if he maintains his level of performance. Youngster John Stones also got a run-out and, like Barkley, he is beginning to look a superb young prospect.
The same applies across Stanley Park, as Rodgers has laid down a blueprint from which English players can blossom. Glen Johnson looks to be Hodgson’s preferred right-back, whilst the returning Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge will naturally give this Liverpool side a suitable boost in the remaining games. There’s also the heightened maturity and on-pitch improvement showcased by both Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, who are beginning to nail down a place in the team after initially being on the fringes of the first XI at the inception of this campaign.
The performances, effectiveness and very inclusion of these players suggest both Rodgers and Martinez appreciate the importance of having a nexus of English players within a successful Premier League side. The duo have struck a blend between the experienced England internationals and those younger players who will have their sights set on appearances at many a major international tournament to come. It’s a balancing act Hodgson himself must aspire to achieve if his side are to have a successful World Cup outing.
But the way these players are operating within the confines of a strict, technical-based system is perhaps the most encouraging aspect from the England team’s perspective. If you were to highlight two teams in the league who play in a stylistic manner akin to the requirements of international football, the two Merseyside clubs would be close to the top of that list.