Manchester United supporters bellowed out “20 times, 20 times” in the final minutes of their clash with Liverpool on Sunday.
Despite being 3-0 down to their great rivals after an insipid display, they remained resilient, reminding the traveling fans from Merseyside of their decorated past. A past in which they’ve won 20 league titles, two more than the Anfield outfit.
But as the Liverpool players celebrated their win at the final whistle in front of an emptying Old Trafford, it was embarrassingly apparent that whilst recent history might belong to the Red Devils, the future, the here and now, in fact, belongs to the Merseysiders.
Things are looking dazzlingly bright for Liverpool, and it’s primarily down to the work of their boss Brendan Rodgers. At the final whistle on Sunday, the former Swansea City chief understatedly saluted the traveling support, before striding down the Old Trafford touchline wearing a wry smile. It was a showing from his team that revealed to the watching world just how far Liverpool have come under his management.
And if there was any lingering doubt heading into their clash with Manchester United, the Reds from Merseyside showed they are ready to win this Premier League. The fans know it, the players know it and whilst he will be keen to keep the pressure off his team, Rodgers will know it too.
The Liverpool boss has taken a back-seat during his team’s recent renaissance, with the media preferring to lavish praise on the mercurial duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
Let’s not forget, Rodgers was ridiculed by many in the written press during the early stages of his tenure, mainly due to the toe-curling awkwardness of the Being Liverpool documentary. But as this team continues to grow under the tutelage of the Northern Irishman, his appointment is looking increasingly like a masterstroke by the Reds’ owners; those who prematurely mocked him look rather foolish with Liverpool sitting just four points off the Premier League summit with one game in hand over Chelsea.
The former Swansea boss has done a truly remarkable job at Anfield to date. He walked into a club that was on his knees after the underwhelming, indulgent reigns of Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish. But since day one he’s had a clear vision, unyielding belief in his methods and has subsequently impinged these values onto his players.
And he’s done things a little differently from the norm, something Rodgers seemingly prides himself on. He’s made the bold decision to ship out circa £65 million worth of talent when he moved on Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, Jonjo Shelvey and more recently Stewart Downing. Not to mention his decision to keep a then-volatile and banned Suarez despite his desperate pleas to leave the club; a decision that could have easily blown up in his face.
The players that he’s entrusted to take the club forward have benefitted massively from Rodgers’ coaching, Suarez included. His handling of Raheem Sterling has been magnificent, the improvements in Jordan Henderson’s game have been phenomenal and the mature performances of Jon Flanagan are a testament to the belief that the current set-up festers in young players.
As for the Uruguayan, Rodgers has propelled his game to stratospheric new levels after he and the Liverpool owners refused to be dictated to by the player in the summer. Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho are another duo who have flourished after being given regular first-team football following their arrival in January 2013, whilst Steven Gerrard has reinvented himself as a superb deep-lying midfield man.
Rodgers has adapted as a manager, too, humble enough to deviate from the “death-by-possession” mantra he harbored on his arrival for the sake of the team’s development.
Many expected Liverpool to become the Premier League’s stylistic equivalent to Barcelona, but these days they are much more comparable to Borussia Dortmund: aggressive off the ball, remarkably incisive with it and bursting with young, fearless talent. This season, the Reds have been devastatingly swift with their transitional play and pass in a much more vertical, direct manner. It’s been downright thrilling to watch.
It’s also a shift in style that has given Liverpool an astute tactical versatility. This season they have played on the break, pressed aggressively, recoiled into a solid shape and when the situation demands, kept the ball to slow things down. The players have also taken to a host of different formations, as a proactive Rodgers has tinkered with how to get the better of the opposition and the optimum from his sublime striking duo.
The lack of European football has been bittersweet in that sense. As we’ve already touched upon, individual players have reaped the rewards of Rodgers’ coaching skills, which will have been more focused and beneficial given the lack of midweek games. But that extra time has also allowed the manager to work on tactics, systems and strategies. Additional time that the players and manager are clearly relishing.
The results have been stunning, as Liverpool have become the most vibrant, eye-catching team in the Premier League since the turn of the year. But beneath that swagger and offensive showmanship is an underpinning will to win that has been instilled by Rodgers. A combination that could facilitate Liverpool’s first league title since 1990.
Given the progression of this Liverpool side, Rodgers has naturally become a unanimously popular figure with the Anfield faithful. From this standpoint, there is little doubt he is the right man reawaken this sleeping giant of a football club.
He is a fine figurehead for the Reds; his footballing acumen, amicable nature and eagerness to immerse himself in culture of the local community has helped garner great esteem from the people of Liverpool. But you suspect nothing would endear him more to scousers of a red persuasion than a Premier League title win.
It might come this season, it might not. But if Liverpool as a team and Rodgers as a manager continue to improve at such a rapid rate, it certainly won’t be too far down the line.