Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool: The Top Three Performances

Liverpool boss celebrates

photo from bit.ly/S5o6Ta

A rollercoaster ride does not adequately describe the Rodgers’ regime but it has certainly been topsy-turvy, or inconsistent to put it another way.

Rollercoasters travel to tremendous heights and deep lows but Liverpool’s ups and downs have not quite reached the excited, emotional fervour of a fairground attraction. Instead the journey has progressed in slow inclines and declines but the general trajectory of this path has been upward. For every good result there seems to be a complementary poor one; for every Young Boys game, you can bet on Liverpool producing a performance such as that shown on a visit to Stoke.

Nonetheless, signs of progression are still there.

Liverpool have made great leaps in improving the style of football played on a consistent basis this season and dominance in possession has now become an expectation rather than a rare treat. Young blood has reinvigorated an ageing squad. Some overpaid and older players have been moved on. Former fringe players have emerged as key first team members. Steven Gerrard has played every minute of every league match. Suarez has improved his overall contribution by adding vital goals to the team.

But there are concerns as well.

Pepe Reina does not appear to be as assured as he once was and Liverpool’s defence has been too frail at times, giving rise to the recent return of Jamie Carragher to add vital mental strength. Joe Allen has failed to replicate his Swansea form regularly. Stewart Downing’s performances have improved immeasurably but he needs to add more goals and assists to remain a first team member in the long run.

With all these positives and negatives, choosing the best three Liverpool performances under Brendan Rodgers is quite difficult because head-turning results have been few and far between this season. Had Liverpool secured a victory against a team placed above them in the league table, the task would have been easier—such as had they held onto the 2-1 lead against Man City on Sunday, for example.

So finding the right balance between performance and result is important because it is nothing new for good Liverpool performances not to be rewarded with maximum points.

Usually there are reasons for this; defensive errors, lapses in concentration, failure to take chances, mistakes by officials, a sending off or an injury. These can transform what should have been three points and a good performance into one point, or no points, but still a good performance.

Brendan Rodgers’ stewardship has given rise to plenty of encouraging performances over the course of the Reds’ season.  When Man City visited Anfield back in August, Liverpool were excellent and, like Sunday’s encounter at the Etihad where Reina made an inexcusable decision to vacate his goal line, a late defensive error from Skrtel ultimately proved costly.

Man Utd provided the opposition in the first home after the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

Pre-match displays of friendship were soon forgotten when the action got under way and Jonjo Shelvey’s red card proved to be pivotal to the result. Despite Shelvey’s sending off, Liverpool’s performance honoured the 96 because they dominated the majority of the game, only for van Persie’s late penalty to inflict an unwarranted defeat.

In the Europa League, the 5-3 victory away at Young Boys was memorable for numerous reasons. It was the game that propelled Andre Wisdom into an important first team role, Suso put in an eye-catching display and Shelvey continued to show his promise with two important goals from the bench.

The performance during the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park was marred by an astonishing late flick of the assistant referee’s flag. A last minute Luis Suarez winner at Goodison would have tasted sweet for many years but it was not to be. Everton deserved a point from the game because they had more possession, more shots, and controlled the game for long periods.

A hard fought point at Stamford Bridge in November and four wins out of six league games in December—with particularly impressive results away at West Ham and at home to Fulham—provided the start of Liverpool’s improvement. The Reds also destroyed a QPR side that was all-at-sea defensively in the first half at Loftus Road.

January was a tough month with the fantastic home wins against Sunderland and Norwich sandwiched between four difficult away trips; two FA Cup ties against lower league opposition and two in the league, against Man Utd and Arsenal.

The trip to Old Trafford was disappointing because the team did not show up for the first hour of the match while the Arsenal match was frustrating because of Liverpool’s collapse in the last half hour. If Liverpool had managed to weather the Arsenal storm for around 15 minutes after going 2-0 up then perhaps a victory could have been secured; instead, Liverpool’s defence were overrun and were lucky to travel home with a point.

So there have been some quality displays over the course of the season and it could be argued that some performances did not translate into the results they deserved.

The chosen three games demonstrate a range of qualities that have been evident in the team this season.

Pleasing attributes such as a strong team ethic and work rate, improvements in the use of possession and converting chances, and the emergence of a key English core in the side have been influential in the final decisions.

 

3. West Ham 2-3 Liverpool

 The visit to Upton Park typified Liverpool’s strong team ethic this season and also highlighted the side’s ability to fight back from losing positions. Before the game, there was plenty of discussion about whether Liverpool could score goals and win games in the absence of the suspended Luis Suarez and this game showed that when the main man is missing, others can step into his shoes.

In addition to this fighting spirit, Glen Johnson put in an attacking masterclass, particularly in the first half, and scored an absolute belter. Liverpool’s possession stats were impressive for an away game: 61.4% possession and 535 passes at 83.2% accuracy.  They managed 17 shots with 33.7% accuracy, which could have been higher.

With this result Liverpool secured back-to-back league wins for the first time under Brendan Rodgers and jumped into the top half of the table.

West Ham controlled a long period in the game and looked comfortable at 2-1 ahead.  But Liverpool showed great character in the last 15 minutes to come back with goals from Joe Cole and Jonjo Shelvey (he was awarded the goal by the dubious goals panel). Turning a defeat into a win can have a massive psychological effect on a team. It renewed optimism in the squad and showed the fans the team was able to dig deep when it mattered.

2.  Man City 2-2 Liverpool

Craig Bellamy described this match as the ‘game where Liverpool arrived’ in the Sky Sports studio. Man City may have been without key duo Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure but Liverpool really showed how well they can compete against the top sides in the league.

Like City’s visit to Anfield earlier this year, Liverpool deserved to get three points and only a late individual lapse in judgement prevented them from doing so. Only Reina will know why he went chasing that pass to Aguero because it seemed Martin Skrtel could have easily shepherded the Argentinian towards the corner flag. Reina’s error cost Liverpool what would have been a priceless victory.

Wonderful strikes from Sturridge and Gerrard had put Liverpool in firm control with only 15 minutes left. Sturridge continued to show he can alleviate the goalscoring burden on Suarez’s shoulders and put his most impressive performance in a Red shirt despite picking up a thigh injury in the first half.

Gerrard also put any early season doubts regarding his form firmly behind him with a goal reminiscent of his wonder strike against West Ham in the FA Cup Final in 2006. Gerrard’s goalscoring rejuvenation and his contribution in assists have been vital in the past two months.

Before this encounter Man City had not conceded in 2013 but Liverpool really exposed the champions and will be frustrated not to have won the game. Liverpool’s managed 56% possession and racked up 21 shots, in comparison with City’s 9 attempts. To dominate away at the champions illustrates just how much Liverpool have progressed this year.

1.  Liverpool 5-0 Norwich

If only every Liverpool game was against Norwich…

After the 5-2 victory away at Carrow Road earlier this season, the Liverpool  squad must have been supremely confident going into this match and it showed during the game.

Liverpool had 67.7% possession, made 694 passes to Norwich’s 318, and had a passing accuracy of 90.3%. They had 18 shots, which was not their highest tally by a long way, but the 5 goals scored indicate a vastly improved conversion rate.

Handing out real beatings against lower-ranked teams at home has been an issue in recent years but this game, along with others this season, highlighted that Liverpool have come a long way in this area. There were three English goalscorers with Gerrard, Sturridge and Henderson grabbing goals, while Raheem Sterling was pivotal in forcing Ryan Bennett’s own goal.

Suarez also continued his goalscoring form both in general and against Norwich specifically. Five different scorers show that there is no longer an over-reliance on the peerless Uruguayan.

But it wasn’t just about the quantity of goals, each goal was of a high quality.

Henderson and Gerrard’s strikes were both great, Sturridge’s stepover for Suarez’s goal was different class, Downing’s volleyed cross for Sturridge’s tap in was executed perfectly and Sterling showed strength and pace to force the own goal.

This season Liverpool have shown they can see off the so-called weaker sides at home without too much fuss and it has been a welcome hallmark of Rodgers’ team. This was a high quality performance, a comprehensive result, a clean sheet, a spread of goalscorers, and the benchmark for future performance against weaker teams.

Results in the past two months have been an improvement, the January acquisitions have strengthened the Liverpool squad and some really tough fixtures are out of the way.

The next few months should see this side gel and develop further and another strong run of results should build a platform for a Champions League push and encourage further rebuilding in the summer.

Match stats courtesy of Liverpoolfc.com and bbcsport.co.uk.

About Kealan McGuinness

I am 24 years old, living in Dublin Ireland. I am a huge Liverpool FC fan and just love writing and talking about all issues Liverpool!
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