The Northern Irish boss needs congratulating for what he’s done at Anfield…
Brendan Rodgers has transformed Liverpool into every neutral’s favourite side, and genuine title contenders at the same time.
Before the season even began, he was laying the foundations for Liverpool’s (so far) excellent campaign.
By first flatly refusing to sell Luis Suarez, and then actually convincing him to to stay, the Northern Irish manager showed a stubborn streak, but more importantly, the courage in his own convictions.
Tottenham didn’t want to sell Gareth Bale either, and despite recouping £80m for his services, Andre Villas-Boas quickly discovered it wasn’t as easy to win matches without a player capable of bagging 30-yard winners every week…
It would be fascinating to see just how well Liverpool would be doing without the Uruguayan sensation. While the player obviously deserves plaudits for his genius, Rodgers needs credit for managing to keep one of the world’s best players at a side without Champions League football.
While Suarez is unquestionably brilliant, the team is the real star. Liverpool have scored more league goals than any side in European football this term – including Bayern Munich (who are undefeated and 20 points clear in the Bundesliga) and Real Madrid (who are spearheaded by Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo).
By deploying Steven Gerrard in an anchoring ‘quarterback’ style midfield role, Rodgers has given the rest of the side the creative licence with which they can tear teams apart. The Reds battered Spurs 5-0 at White Hart Lane, thrashed Everton 4-0 at home, and put on a devastating show of counter attacking football to beat Arsenal 5-1.
In that fixture the Reds were 4-0 up in 18 minutes, and it could have been more.
By encouraging his side to simply outscore the opposition, the players enjoy a freedom of expression, and the knowledge that they will not be cast aside for creative flair.
Chelsea, under Jose Mourinho, are probably going to win the league, but they’re one of the few sides in Europe who can win 4-0 attritionally. It’s ruthless, relentless, effective, but it isn’t very exciting. Unlike Rodgers, Mourinho can hand select his signings from Europe, which has enabled him to put together an extremely well equipped squad. Predominantly, Rodgers has had to work with what he already had, or see a bargain in some out of favour stars – like he did with Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in January 2013.
Sturridge has emerged as one of the most lethal strikers in Europe, bagging 18 in 17 top flight starts this term. Teenager Raheem Sterling’s pace and directness make him one of the most exciting prospects in the world. Jordan Henderson’s played every minute of every Premier League match, impressing everybody with his incomparable work-rate and ability to retain possession in the middle of the park.
Eighteen months ago, the suggestion that these three would probably be starting for England at the World Cup was laughable. Now, it’s a reality, simply because nobody in the country is playing better.
Rodgers trusted these young stars, and they have improved enormously as a result. Jon Flanagan and Coutinho also come under this banner, and the latter in particular has the potential to be as good as any playmaker in the league.
The manager does not simply deploy a Newcastle mid–1990s gung-ho approach, though. He’s tactically exceptional and versatile. At the start of the season, the Reds deployed a wing-back formation, enabling Suarez and Sturridge to both play as central strikers…
When Rodgers realised this left the side short in midfield, he switched to a more standard 4-3-3, encouraging Suarez and Sturridge to rotate between the left-wing and striker berths. This enabled Sterling to thrive out on the right, and Coutinho to drop into a deeper midfield position, helping him become more patient in his attacking play.
Versus Southampton away from home in the Reds’ last fixture, Rodgers used a diamond formation, using Sterling as dynamic option from the bench. The 19-year-old came on and scored with his first touch. The Reds won 3-0, moving up to 2nd in the table.
If he was going to be criticised for anything this season, it would be his ability in the transfer market. But Liverpool’s average signings are more the fault of the club. Any fan who thinks the team boss alone signs players has spent too much time on Football Manager.
Rodgers earmarked moves for the exceptional Willian, Europe’s third top marksman Diego Costa, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – who moved to Borussia Dortmund. Instead, he was given the likes of Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto, Tiago Ilori and Victor Moses. Combined, those four have made 11 Premier League starts, showing just how little Rodgers probably rated them in the first place.
Of the players he did really want, Mamadou Sakho has suffered with injuries and Simon Mignolet – while not brilliant – has not been woeful either.
So while Rodgers can give the odd cringeworthy press conference, he needs to rewarded for his faith in young English players, and his penchant for aesthetically superb football. In a time where managerial sackings are the norm, Rodgers has trusted his hedonistic footballing philosophy, and it’s paying dividends.
If any top flight boss deserves the Premier League Manager of the Year award, it’s the calmly spoken Liverpool man.