It’s been a difficult season for many Premier League managers, but only some have thrived under the pressure…
This has undoubtedly been one of the most intriguing and keenly contested Premier League season’s yet.
Never before have we had seven teams with realistic ambitions of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, and all prepared to spend big to get there.
Credit has to go to Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers, who looked cut adrift from the top four race just a couple of months ago.
Reports in today’s national press are leading with headlines such as: ‘Brendan Rodgers feared sack before timing Liverpool rally to perfection’.
While we’ll never know how close the Kop boss actually came to an Anfield exit you have to admire the brave steps he took to rescuing his side’s season.
In mid-December, with Liverpool in tenth and nine points back from fourth place, it was he who took the decision to trial a 3-4-3 formation and he stuck with it despite a 3-0 drubbing by Manchester United first time out.
Rodgers saw enough potential to stick with his new-look team, asking a number of players to play out of position to accommodate three centre-backs, wing-backs, and attacking midfielders that would drift around a central frontman.
His risk has paid off big time – players have steadily adapted, results have improved, and suddenly their haul of summer signings – who looked so poor on first viewing – have been given a fresh impetus. Alberto Moreno, Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana and Emre Can suddenly look like a £60m quartet, rather that a series of high-profile mistakes.
Compare this to the unwavering stubbornness of Rodgers’ rivals – Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini – ageing managers so stuck in their ways that it’s hard to see them ever adopting a whole new way of playing.
They play the same team, with the same system, and buy new players that will fit in with what they already have.
All that and more was fully evident at Anfield on Sunday, when the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling ram rings around the ageing legs of City’s crumbling back four.
The fluidity on display within Liverpool’s system was just too hot to handle, while City’s 4-4-2, which was admittedly enough to take apart Newcastle the week before, looked stale and predictable.
Wenger is equally unwavering, as proved by his lack of success in Europe over the last five years.
His quality of player is enough to see off your average Premier League team, but they’re predictability will seem them found out time and time again at the highest level.
The Gunners have a wealth of attacking talent that requires a high standard of discipline to stop. If you are able to frustrate them, as AS Monaco were last week, they will become more frustrated, push forward, and become increasingly vulnerable to the counter attack.
Rodgers is not alone in his excellence. His links with Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who he worked under during the Portuguese’s first spell at Stamford Bridge, are widely known, and it’s easy to draw the comparisons in his managerial style – the no-nonsense approach, the command of respect he has from his players, and his willingness to adapt to changing situations.
The Liverpool boss has made mistakes this season, and the first-half of the season cannot be ignored – but he has been proactive in dealing with the issue.
If Mourinho is the master, then Rodgers is his quick-to-learn apprentice.
As for Wenger and Pellegrini, it’s quickly becoming a case of adapt or die.
If things carry on the way they are, they could both find themselves out of a job come the end of the season.