As things stand, Liverpool look likely to finish the 2012-13 Premier League season in seventh place, a minor improvement from last season’s league finish, though with a better goals scored and conceded tally.
Since Brendan Rodgers’ appointment in the summer, there has been a constant and fierce debate on his impact at Liverpool. The work he’s trying to do is abundantly clear: create a young, dynamic side capable of playing exciting passing football, but whether he’s done well enough in his first season has split the Liverpool fans.
There have been a number of bad decisions Rodgers has made while he’s felt his way through his first managerial job at a high-profile football club, but at the same time, evaluation of a manager must be fair and balanced.
So here are five of Brendan Rodgers’ best decisions he’s made since taking up the Anfield reins. Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
The most apparent of all five was clearer earlier on in the season, when a host of youngsters from the Liverpool academy made their first-team debuts.
Perhaps this was done to make a point, that the first-team squad simply didn’t have the required depth and quality to sustain a challenge at the top level, but whatever the reason, it has seemingly revitalized the youth setup, with young players now having a real chance of making it into the senior squad.
The likes of Suso and Jack Robinson were given sporadic chances in the first team, but the surest beneficiaries of Rodgers’ policy were Andre Wisdom and Raheem Sterling, who for a few months were fixtures in the Reds’ first XI.
They may have been eased out of the first team in recent months, perhaps as part of Rodgers’ policy to manage young players and their development, but their impact was substantial: Wisdom proved to be a reliable stand-in at right-back, while Sterling earned himself an England call-up and debut following several sparkling performances on the wing.
With a renewed emphasis on youth development at Anfield, Wisdom and Sterling could well be the first of the current crop to graduate to regular first-team action next season, and that can only be good for the long-term future of Liverpool Football Club.
A big reason behind the aforementioned lack of squad depth in the early months of the season was the loan departure of Andy Carroll to West Ham United and the failure to secure an adequate replacement for the vacant striking berth.
Fabio Borini’s injury didn’t help, but conversely this glaring lack of firepower persuaded the Liverpool hierarchy to sanction two signings in the January transfer window, both of whom have made an extremely positive impact to the squad since their arrival.
Perhaps we’ll never know Rodgers’ exact involvement in the signings of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, but presumably he will have had a significant say in the pinpointing of these two targets.
Certainly he deserves credit for integrating them into the team seamlessly. Sturridge’s explosive start was hampered by injury (though his recent return against Chelsea on Sunday showed that he might be back at full fitness and sharpness), but Coutinho has overcome initial skepticism about his physicality to become a key flair player in the Reds attack.
The uninspired signings of Joe Allen and Borini last summer were a low note in Rodgers’ Reds career thus far, but if this summer’s transfer business is as successful as January’s, Liverpool fans may be in for an exciting 2013-14 season yet.
Much like Allen and Borini were last summer, Stewart Downing proved to be an expensive transfer failure after his big-money move from Aston Villa, signed during Kenny Dalglish’s second stint as Liverpool manager.
After a season with no league goal or assist, Downing looked to be on his way out of Anfield. Indeed, he was told that he could look for a club by Rodgers and was publicly challenged on his work rate and desire, before being deployed as an emergency left-back.
But that seemed to work.
Left-back was an outlet for Downing to get some semblance of regular playing time, and soon Downing was given more opportunities to impress, as full-back and back on the wings.
Such has his improvement been that Downing has forced himself back into the starting XI and has become a key component of Rodgers’ squad.
While Downing deserves credit for seemingly turning his Anfield career around—at least for the time being—Rodgers should also be recognized for his willingness to give second chances. (Jordan Henderson has also been a beneficiary, but his resurrection hasn’t been quite as complete.)
The aforementioned public challenging of Downing showed also Rodgers’ ruthless side: that he is willing to do what it takes to inspire a turnaround in form, whether it be of the player himself or of the team as a whole.
The most obvious example of this is his recent benching of erstwhile starting center-back Martin Skrtel, whose inept performance against Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup seemed to have been the last straw for his manager. Another unconvincing showing against Southampton aside, Skrtel has been displaced in the starting lineup by the soon-to-retire Jamie Carragher, which speaks volumes about Skrtel’s disappointing form.
Then there’s the in-game ruthlessness. Rodgers has been unafraid to ring the changes when he sees a need to shake things up, whether that be at half-time, like his introduction of Daniel Sturridge against Chelsea on Sunday, or even during the first half, like his substitution of Suso around the half-hour mark in November’s league game against Wigan Athletic.
There is a temptation in some quarters to put the early substitutions down to the wrong starting lineup or tactics—but after several years of delayed substitutions under Rafael Benitez and Kenny Dalglish, this should be a welcome sight at Anfield.
Brendan Rodgers sounds like an ideologue. His elaborate and wordy press conferences have evoked the memories of an eloquent Bill Shankly, but to some detractors, have not been backed up by results.
In his first few months, Brendan Rodgers even managed like an ideologue. That he favors a possession-based system is well-known; but in his first few months, his team took this to extreme levels. Even in clearing the ball out of defence there seemed to be an overemphasis on passing it out in triangles rather than clearing it as necessary, and the players’ seeming uncertainty with the new system meant that this approach led to many a defensive error.
But a textbook example of long-ball football suddenly showed up in a game against Newcastle United, when Jose Enrique’s long pass was exquisitely turned by Luis Suarez into one of the goals of the season, and that seemed to have been the catalyst for more varied play.
Since the turn of the year, there has been a more diverse brand of football played at Anfield, with Rodgers’ charges appearing more confident and flexible in switching from passing and possession to a quick counterattack when needed.
As Rodgers looks to further stamp his influence on his squad next season, he will need to figure out a balance between different styles of play if he is to remain on course in his pursuit to introduce a pleasing and result-yielding brand of tiki-taka at Anfield.
For now, however, flexibility is welcome and necessary, and Rodgers should be commended for recognizing that.