Brendan Rodgers: Has His First Season at Liverpool Shown Signs of Progress?
Liverpool’s thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Champions League-chasing Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Sunday afternoon could, when we eventually look back at Brendan Rodgers’s managerial career with the Reds, be seen as a watershed moment in the Northern Irishman’s time on Merseyside.
"All season people have spoken about us not beating anyone from the top 10, then it was the top eight and top six and top four," said Rodgers after the mach (via BBC Sport).
"The game against Spurs was a stringent test and [the players] came through it. We know where we want to be eventually but this is another marker for us in terms of our growth."
Rodgers obviously feels that under his stewardship, Liverpool are making progress and, looking at the bare statistics, it would be hard not to agree with the former Reading, Watford and Swansea City head coach.
For the record, Sunday’s win was Liverpool’s third in a row in the Premier League, the first time the club have managed to achieve that feat since Rodgers replaced previous incumbent Kenny Dalglish in the Anfield dug-out, and incredibly it was also the first occasion that the Reds had gone on such a run since May 2011.
As Rodgers alluded to in his post-match press conference, Liverpool have now removed a rather significant monkey from their backs by overcoming a side in the top six of the Premier League for the very first time under their new manager, a significant moment perhaps in the growth of this team.
It is all very well swatting away the challenges of the likes of Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers and Swansea without breaking sweat, however, until you can lay down a marker against a Premier League heavyweight, then all talk of progress must be put on hold.
Now though, Rodgers and Co can look forward to the remaining nine league matches of the season with great heart, optimism and even a little relish as they see just how far this wave of momentum can carry them.
And Liverpool really do have what they commonly refer to in US politics as the "Big Mo" behind them at present: no team in any of Europe’s top-five leagues have had more shots at home than the Reds this season, while no side in the Premier League have scored more home goals than the Merseysiders’ 26 this year and, prior to Sunday’s win over Tottenham, Liverpool’s previous six top-flight victories had consisted of a pair of 3-0’s, 4-0’s and 5-0s.
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Impressive stuff by anyone’s standards and when we talk about “progress” being made or not being made under a new manager, the first thing any observer will look at to measure this is whether or not the team in question is actually getting better and improving from game to game under that trainer’s coaching.
Well, in this regard Liverpool under Rodgers have made great strides after what was a more than tricky start to life at Anfield for the new man, who in all fairness to him was handed a nightmare start to his Reds coaching career with early league tests against the likes of champions Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, the latter two resulting in defeats.
However, Rodgers has always pleaded for patience from the Liverpool fans and to be judged at the end of his first campaign on Merseyside, as opposed to after just one month in the job, which is fair enough. And to his credit the team has shown clear and obvious improvement from game to game this season, so much so that the Reds are now sitting in third place in the 2013 form guide behind Manchester United and Spurs respectively.
At Anfield in particular there has been a drastic upturn in fortunes compared Dalglish's tenure, where Liverpool won just six home games in the whole of the 2011/12 campaign, while since just the turn of this year the Reds have already won four of their five league encounters at home.
And what’s more, it is important to remember that this is for all intents and purposes still very much Dalglish’s team, with Rodgers given just a fraction of the financial backing that "King Kenny" received from Fenway Sports Group, both initially when he replaced Roy Hodgson in Jan. 2011 and then again that following summer.
Rodgers had to make do with scraps in comparison when trying to mould a side in his own image, certainly last summer when he first took over, and if some of his initial forays into the transfer market can be questioned, although also understood in light of these financial restraints, then his more recent buys have appeared so far to be much more successful.
Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho were brought in during the January window from Chelsea and Inter Milan respectively, with both hitting the ground running, adding considerably to the team in the process.
Meanwhile, whether through luck or judgement, the new manager has also drawn out better performances from the likes of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Jose Enrique and most clearly of all, Luis Suarez.
In the last campaign under Dalglish, Liverpool finished eighth in the league on 52 points, but they did win the Carling Cup and also reached the FA Cup final, only to lose to Chelsea (for which the Scot was sacked lest we forget). This time around the Reds currently sit sixth in the standings on 45 points and look well placed to improve on last season’s performance in the league in terms of both points and their finishing position, although Rodgers’ three cup runs have all ended in disappointing failure this campaign.
Have Liverpool improved under Rodgers?
However, if there was one area where Liverpool have seemingly regressed it is in the defensive part of their game, where under Dalglish and Steve Clarke they were generally watertight and hard to penetrate, whereas against the top sides under Rodgers clean sheets have been harder to come by than an Andy Carroll goal at Anfield.
And yet, even in this aspect one can still see signs of improvement, with Liverpool having shut out their opponents in three of their previous five matches in all competitions.
So Rodgers’ Revolution is clearly under way at Anfield, with clear signs of progress across the board for all to see and with the potential perhaps to even make this a season to remember in the final nine games of the campaign.
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