With six games left to go in Liverpool’s English Premier League season, it is perhaps an appropriate time to reflect on the progress of Brendan Rodgers’ Anfield revolution.
The overall state of the Reds has been debated and argued in many quarters—as it stands, Liverpool have 49 points from 32 games, with 59 scored and 40 conceded; the corresponding stats from last season are 52 points, 47 scored and 40 conceded.
From the looks of it, yes, but Liverpool are also in danger of missing out on European football entirely next season, something they didn’t last year.
For now, let’s look at individual progress at Anfield—specifically, which individual players have made progress this year.
Here are Liverpool’s four most improved players of the season. Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Without a doubt, the first on this list must be Stewart Downing.
Signed for an eye-opening £20 million by Kenny Dalglish in the summer of 2011 (via The Guardian), Downing went on to infamously notch zero goals and zero assists in the Premier League in his first season as a Reds player.
Faced with the threat of an Anfield exit early on this season (via The Telegraph), Downing has resurrected his Liverpool career via a series of cameos across the midfield and even a temporary slot at left-back, before making the right wing position his own.
While by no means one of the most exciting wingers in the English top flight, Downing has added industry and work rate to a decent set of abilities on the right flank, and he looks a completely different player than the one who toiled on the pitch just a few months ago.
For that, Brendan Rodgers deserves credit—but so does Downing himself. His current EPL tally stands at three goals and three assists.
Henderson also faced an uncertain future as a Liverpool player last summer when he was reportedly offered to Fulham in exchange for rumored target Clint Dempsey (via The Telegraph), but turned down the move to prove himself at Anfield.
And in the eyes of Brendan Rodgers, who recently told him he could leave the club, Henderson has seemingly regained his trust following a series of encouraging performances in attacking midfield (Liverpool Echo). In recent weeks—the disappointing game against West Ham United on Sunday aside—Henderson has shown a newfound confidence and a swagger about his game that was previously missing.
Often misused by Dalglish on the right wing, Henderson has found a place in Liverpool’s stacked midfield as a hardworking advanced midfielder, and, like Downing, has contributed three goals and three assists this season.
The turnaround isn’t complete yet, as Liverpool continue to be linked with a plethora of attacking midfielders, but Henderson’s improvement deserves recognition.
Now on to two less conventional nominees, the first of which is talismanic forward Luis Suarez.
It seems almost inconceivable that Suarez, who has displaced Fernando Torres as a Liverpool fan favorite and who possesses a talent that few others have, had room for improvement, but a simple look at his record for the season tells us all about his progress as a player.
Last season, Suarez was the epitome of a profligate Liverpool side, scoring 11 league goals from a whopping 108 total shots, and it is in finishing that Suarez has exhibited a major improvement: This year, his tally lies at a league-leading 22 goals from 174 shots with six games left in the Premier League season.
But it’s not just in scoring that Suarez has improved.
Sure, controversy will never be far from the Reds No. 7, as his handball goal against Mansfield Town proved, but it is undeniable that—even accounting for his public admission of diving against Stoke City (via The Telegraph)—simulation has by and large been a much less prominent feature of his overall player.
And then there’s also the small matter of him being one of the favorites for the Player of the Year award this season—An impressive year all round.
Finally we get to our last candidate, who, despite his penchant for the heroic and the spectacular all throughout his Reds career, has frankly defied expectations for the season.
Because, at 32 and after an underwhelming first half of the season, who would’ve thought Steven Gerrard would come back from being “past it” to one of the best midfielders still in the Premier League?
To think that, after a season where he was troubled by injuries and had minimal impact, the Reds skipper would be one of the few players in Brendan Rodgers’ squad to have played every minute of every league game this season, and that he would be one each short of double figures in both goals and assists with more than a sixth of the season to go—surely this wasn’t to be expected this time last year.
Add to that his full and complete transition from an attacking powerhouse to a deep-lying playmaker, albeit through a rocky start to the campaign, and what we have seen is a reinvention of one of the greatest midfielders of his generation.
But in hindsight, none of us should really be that surprised: He is Steven Gerrard, after all.