With the Premier League title looking set for Anfield, CaughtOffside analyses how manager Brendan Rodgers has transformed the Reds this season.
After winning their last 11 Premier League games on the bounce, Liverpool head into this weekend’s Super Sunday clash with Chelsea with a five-point lead at the top of the table.
Victory over Chelsea, who are likely to rest a number of key players in preparation for Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Atletico Madrid, would see the Reds’ already-short title odds of 1/5 reduce even further.
The Merseyside club are seemingly poised to collect their first ever Premier League crown in their 22nd season in the modern top flight.
But, after the Reds finished seventh, sixth, eighth and seventh in the past four campaigns, just how has Mr Rodgers transformed a team of upper-midtable no-hopers into fearsome title favourites?
Here are three key factors.
1. Rehabilitating Luis Suarez
With Suarez having been banned for a combined total of 20 games in less than three seasons for multiple misdemeanours – including using racist language towards Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – Rodgers could almost have been forgiven had he capitalised on Arsenal’s summer interest and sold the controversial Uruguayan for a modest profit in August.
However, the Reds rejected a £40,000,001 bid and a defiant Rodgers remained faithful to Suarez, even when the player publicly expressed his desire to join the Gunners.
That faith has been spectacularly rewarded. After returning from suspension in September, Suarez has started 30 Premier League games in a row, netting 30 goals in the process. Furthermore, he has only picked up five yellow cards – four fewer than skipper Steven Gerrard.
The former Ajax star has formed a frightening partnership with England international Daniel Sturridge. The pair have contributed 50 of Liverpool’s 96 Premier League goals – helping the Reds become the division’s leading scorers. The Anfield outfit have scored an average of 2.74 goals per league game, while Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal have averaged 2.6, 1.91 and 1.77 respectively.
2. Promoting youth
With the likes of Jon Flanagan, 20, Raheem Sterling, 19, and Philippe Coutinho, 21, all starting 20 or more league games under Rodgers this season, Liverpool have been a side powered by youthful energy. Only Aston Villa and Southampton have fielded starting XIs with a lower average age than the Reds in the top flight this term.
Rodgers has instilled a real hunger into his young players and that has resulted in Liverpool consistently starting games better than their opponents. They have scored first in 27 of their 35 league matches, while 60.42% of their goals have come before half time. In total, Liverpool have netted 58 first-half goals, which is 17 more than Manchester City and twice as many as any other side.
With youth, often comes pace – and Liverpool have been fearsomely fast this season. That superior speed has made them deadly on the break and they have scored nine counter-attacking goals in the league, which is more than Man City, Man United and Arsenal have managed between them.
3. Cup failure
As well as the vitality of youth, Liverpool’s freshness in the Premier League has been a result of their lack of games elsewhere.
After failing to qualify for European competition for only the second time this century, the Reds were left with just the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup to distract them from league matters. Those distractions were short-lived, as defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal ended Liverpool’s challenges in rounds three and five respectively.
While rivals Chelsea and Man City have already played 53 competitive games each, Liverpool have only had to juggle 40 matches so far – 11 fewer than they had played at this stage last season.
Their reduced workload has meant that Rodgers has had no need to rest his star players and has therefore been able to develop a real sense of on-field familiarity within a fairly settled team.
Such stability has surely been a major factor behind Liverpool’s current 11-game winning run, which has included victories over Arsenal, Man United, Tottenham Hotspur and Man City. The super streak is a club record and is just three wins short of the overall Premier League record that Arsenal set in 2002.