Football is a results business. You will notice the columns on a league table do not include tiki-taka ratings or nutmeg tallies. The parachute money a club receives when it is relegated does not come printed with a consolatory message about how unlucky you were last season, talking of "when you got the ball down and played some nice stuff." Having a "philosophy," as Brendan Rodgers does, only works if you win.
The Northern Irishman built his reputation at Swansea City on combining a style that is easy on the eye with success. Transferring this to Anfield has been a difficult process but now, after climbing into 6th with three consecutive wins, he appears to have gotten the balance right between style and form. How long will it last?
Whilst Liverpool fans are riding this wave, let's join them on a rose-tinted surf through the recent past to find and rank, in descending order, Liverpool's best performances under Brendan Rodgers since he was appointed in the summer.
1 December 2012
Liverpool 1-0 Southampton
This may not have been the most entertaining of games, but Liverpool's defensive resilience shone through in this game more than any other.
Whoever, came up with the saying "the best form of defense is attack" has clearly never watched a football match. You are at your weakest when you lose the ball going forward. If you are trying to defend a single-goal lead, as Liverpool were in this match, keep your tactical discipline and starve your opponents of the ball.
This was executed to the letter by Liverpool, who enjoyed 64 percent possession and restricted Southampton to long-range efforts—of which only one was on target throughout the entire match.
Lucas Leiva proved what an asset he is since his return from injury in August and was particularly astute, acting as a rudder/anchor/other maritime metaphor when Liverpool did have the ball, and squeezing the space in front of the back four when they didn't.
Rodgers has championed the importance of a clean sheet to his players and they have responded well with this game a catalyst; they currently are second in the league's "clean sheet table." Fans will not remember the highlights in years to come, but the lessons learned from this performance was a watershed moment in Liverpool's season.
20 September 2012
Young Boys 3-5 Liverpool
If the Southampton game was remarkable because of their discipline, this game will be remembered for its wonderful recklessness. Liverpool's youngsters traveled to play—you guessed it—Young Boys, and put in a performance with no inhibitions, of joy and childlike curiosity.
Rodgers' decision to field such a young side—not including Jamie Carragher, the average age of the starting XI was 21 years old—said a lot about his faith in his younger players.
Tactically it was a nightmare—three goals were handed to the Swiss team in the most naive fashion—but it was a coming of age for Andre Wisdom, Suso and Danny Pacheco, who performed calmly and with no small talent. It was such a refreshing performance to see a group of players play with no fear, and really impressed me with how they handled a foreign and intimidating environment.
Far from a polished performance, but it had huge promise and that sticks out in my mind as a formative match for many of Liverpool's young squad.
29 September 2012
Norwich 2-5 Liverpool
Rodgers' first league win for Liverpool came at Norwich. Up to this point, Liverpool had endured three losses and two draws, and confidence appeared to be draining out of the team.
With that record, to say Rodgers was brave in fielding the youngest Premier League starting side since 2003-04 (via The Guardian), is an understatement. But rather than the youth, or even the "relentless possession" (via LiverpoolFC.com) they enjoyed, it was Liverpool's, or rather Luis Suárez's finishing, that was the outstanding factor—the Uruguayan hitting a hat-trick and laying on another assist.
In the games leading up to this one, Liverpool had been wasteful and have often been wasteful since—recently becoming the first club in Europe's top five leagues this season to hit 500+ shots (via OptaJoe) but only scoring 67 goals. In this game, they netted five goals from nine shots.
Whether you like him or not, Suárez is one of the world's best in his position and inspired Liverpool to their first, and one of their best wins under Rodgers.
10 March 2013
Liverpool 3-2 Tottenham
Not only was this the first time Liverpool strung three wins in a row together under Rodgers' stewardship, but it was also the first time they had beaten a team from inside the top eight all season. (via BBC)
Last weekend's win was a product of Liverpool's excellent recent form that has seen them rise from 12th to 6th, now just seven points from a Champions League place. While Rodgers' rhetoric at press conferences is very much "one-game-at-a-time," he must know that such a marked improvement could potentially lead to somewhere a bit more continental next season.
Prior to this game, Tottenham hadn't lost a league game in 15 matches, and it will give Liverpool great confidence and belief to know that they can keep a player like Gareth Bale relatively quiet whilst also allowing their best players to shine, whether it be through nice build up play, as Suárez's opener was, or through taking advantage of mistakes as their second and third goals were.
There are many occasions where Liverpool have played brilliantly against top-four opposition but not come away with the win (their loss at Old Trafford in January and drawing away to Chelsea in November particularly spring to mind) but to come from behind to win, even if it was a little ugly, definitely makes it one of Rodgers' most important victories.
3 February 2013
Man City 2-2 Liverpool
Not one of the best results of the season, but certainly one of the best performances. To come away from The Etihad feeling like you should have won says something as to how far Liverpool have come under Rodgers since the beginning of the season.
Of particular note was how well Suárez linked with Daniel Sturridge in such a short space of time, following the Englishman's move to Liverpool in January. Sturridge lashed home an excellent equaliser in the first half, and combined defensively with Suárez to press and force City's defense into rushed clearances rather than their normal methodic short distribution. The emergence of Sturridge has hugely alleviated the pressure on Suárez to win the ball higher up the pitch, not to mention the increased creation of chances.
The result? Liverpool had 56 percent possession and racked up 21 shots, in comparison with City’s nine attempts (via theliverpoolword.com). Borrow a bit of that finishing from the Norwich game and this match would be sitting pretty at the top of this list, but as it is, it will have to settle for second place.
19 January 2013
Liverpool 5-0 Norwich
This game, everything clicked, with all five factors we've so far discussed playing their part.
- There was a clean sheet, with Norwich managing just two shots the entire game, and a defense based upon possession—68 percent to be exact—and calculated, tactically astute attacking play.
- Younger players came to the fore, with Wisdom impressing and Jordan Henderson putting in his best Liverpool performance to date, which started with him opening the scoring from outside the box.
- The finishing was clinical: five goals, all of them ruddy beautiful.
- The Norwich game started Liverpool's belief and recent resurgence—since that night at Anfield, Liverpool have lost just once in six outings.
- The partnership between Suárez and Sturridge was at its most devastating. Both scored, with Suárez's strike coming about by a wonderful dummy from Sturridge to leave the Norwich's Michael Turner on his backside. "That goal was a wonderful demonstration of how the two players can link together. It was great vision from Daniel," said Rodgers. "They linked very, very well. There was a real fluidity to our movement at the top end of the field." (via The Guardian)
The reason why this is Liverpool's best performance under Rodgers is that on top of the factors above, it was the closest to the manager's philosophy of short, incisive passes with quick movement, built on a bedrock of possession and tactical awareness. It is important to stress that this win was also not dependent upon Suárez, as many other of the wins have been, but inclusive of him.
Other honourable mentions of matches I might have added to this list include another 5-0 win over Swansea and a 3-0 away win at QPR, but I decided against them for the reason of the opposition being substandard, rather than Liverpool being exceptional.
Swansea were too distracted by their League Cup final that coming weekend, and as somebody that was there at Loftus Road, QPR were so bad, my eyes started to water. Or bleed, I can't be sure.
Hit me up on Twitter @michaelbutler18 if you fancy a nice chat/heated discussion/flat-out argument about any of this.