Liverpool’s thrilling run to the finish line in last season’s Premier League was indisputably the highpoint of the campaign.
While the Reds were knocking around in the upper reaches of the table during the early exchanges, their spellbinding streak of victories during the run-in—including a whopping 11-game winning run—took them to within an inch of the championship. All in all, it was a surge that came out of nowhere for the Anfield club, but a similarly unexpected upturn in fortune is happening again this season; something Brendan Rodgers must take a great deal of credit for.
In all three of his seasons in charge of the Merseyside outfit, his team have enjoyed magnificent second halves of the campaign. Preceding the aforementioned one, the January signings of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho helped Liverpool fly up the table, while in the current campaign, the Reds’ 2-1 win over Manchester City last time out cemented their status as the form team in the division.
Naturally, cynics will point to the opening stages of these campaigns as a cause for concern, for the Reds have often served up moribund displays. But there’s definitely something in Rodgers’ managerial make-up that primes sides for the run-in much more astutely than others in the division; to do it three times in succession is surely no coincidence.
Like last season, a change in system seems to have pushed Liverpool onto stratospheric new heights. Following the departure of Luis Suarez in the summer and the long-term injuries suffered by Sturridge, the team were trapped in a malaise and sleepwalking through games in early exchanges. Rodgers and the players were locked in a strive for incision, as the cutting-edge that was so prominent in 2013/14 was scarce.
But pushing Raheem Sterling to the point of the attack in a 3-4-3 system and packing the team with effervescent, industrious players has allowed the Reds to rediscover their patented ferocity. It’s a trait that became their hallmark when Rodgers decided to set Liverpool up in that devastating diamond system towards the back end of last season.
On both occasions, a shift in formation has seemed to replenish and refocus this team. So often sides go through the entire campaign with a monotonous deployment of a particular system and principles that must become tedious, but to mix things up seems to add a refreshing edge to the group. The players seem to flourish taking on new roles and differing tactical instructions too.
To implement these bespoke, scarcely-used systems isn’t really the done thing for managers, especially in mid-season. Familiarity is a fillip for most managers to cling in amongst the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Premier League, but Rodgers is a manager seems intent on staying ahead of the curve.
After all, how many managers have employed the diamond formation—something that was previously scarcely used throughout the Premier League era—after Liverpool’s successful deployment of it? How many coaches will look at the form of this current Reds team and try to mirror the bespoke principles of the 3-4-3 that is currently serving them so well?
The adaptability of these players is a testament to Rodgers’ coaching too, another facet that surely enhances this team’s performance levels in the second half of the season.
Not only are Liverpool one of the fittest teams in the division, but just look at the refinements made in Sterling’s game as a centre-forward already this season. In addition, both Emre Can and Lazar Markovic—young players enjoying their first ever campaign in England—have blossomed in unfamiliar roles at center-back and right wing-back respectively.
Give him a player who has fundamental but malleable talents, and it seems Rodgers relishes the chance to refine their skills. The likes of Coutinho and Jordan Henderson have blossomed into classy players under his tutelage and it’s no surprise that as the season rolls on, we’re beginning to see more and more from the new signings made by the Reds in the summer.
Of course, Rodgers still has much to learn as a boss. In the transfer market, he remains a little erratic when it comes to his choice of personnel. In Europe, he’s toiled. And as noted, the Reds can struggle to achieve their free-flowing best in the opening stages of the Premier League. But these late-season surges are facets of his management that bode well as he looks to construct a squad capable of challenging for major honors.
After all, it’s better to have some irrepressible momentum pushing a team on in the second half of the campaign—when titles and trophy-winners are determined—than in the opening stages. It’s a quality all the very best managers seem to eek out of their teams too; Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United were notoriously ruthless when it came to the run-in, while Jose Mourinho’s teams are renowned for being clinical on the home straight.
At the time of writing, the Reds are two points behind their great Manchester rivals in the race for fourth place. But with the impetus and assurance gained from their stellar performances in 2015, you suspect Rodgers would politely decline the chance to trade places with the Red Devils as he plots another charge towards the Champions League spots.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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