Brendan Rodgers Deserves Praise for Liverpool's Tactical Masterclass vs Arsenal

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Brendan Rodgers Deserves Praise for Liverpool's Tactical Masterclass vs Arsenal
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Upon his appointment at Anfield in June 2012, Brendan Rodgers said "I want to use the incredible support to make coming to Anfield the longest 90 minutes of an opponent's life," as quoted in The Liverpool Echo.

After 11 home victories in 13 Premier League games this season, the latest being the incredible 5-1 thrashing of then-league leaders Arsenal, that statement is becoming to ring true. It was certainly the toughest 90 minutes Arsenal have suffered this season.

Liverpool were simply sensational and deserve all the plaudits coming their way following the victory.

Raheem Sterling put in the performance of his career and is now being discussed as England's replacement for Theo Walcott at the World Cup this summer. Daniel Sturridge continued his incredible form to make it eight goals in his last eight games.

There was not a single player on the pitch who didn't impress; Philippe Coutinho's creative talents were fully exhibited; Jordan Henderson's pressing, tenacity and drive were displayed; Martin Skrtel continued his turnaround from 12 months ago; Steven Gerrard again led the team in his new role.

With the greatest respect, even Aly Cissokho was impressive at left-back. We've not even mentioned Luis Suarez. Wow.

 

Rodgers

Michael Regan/Getty Images

For all the individual and collective praise of the players, it's easy to forget the one man who perhaps deserves the most praise.

Football supporters, and the media, are very quick to criticise the manager when things are going wrong, so it's only right to praise them when things are going right. And they certainly went right on Saturday.

Pre-match, the Liverpool fans site AnfieldIndex ran a poll via their twitter asking supporters whether they would start Joe Allen ahead of Coutinho—the Brazilian having been off-form in the West Brom draw last time out.

Over 70 percent of supporters picked Allen, no doubt fearing Liverpool's midfield being overrun, just as they were at The Emirates in the corresponding fixture.

Alas, Rodgers showed huge belief in Coutinho and made a pretty brave selection, just as he did against Everton in the last home match. It paid dividends. Coutinho was mesmeric.

You could see the player's appreciation for Coutinho, particularly Sturridge after his goal, rightly acknowledging the Brazilian's impressive through-ball. “When Coutinho’s right, he is the difference that makes Liverpool," said Luis Suarez to ESPN Brazil, via Sambafoot.

 

Tactics

In their last three home games, Liverpool have used the exact same starting XI. Except the tactical differences have been huge.

Against Aston Villa, Rodgers attempted to use 4-4-2, something he admitted failed. Against Everton, the Reds changed to 4-3-3, with Suarez and Sturridge interchanging who played left and centre.

 

 

Against Arsenal, Rodgers switched Sterling to the left—offering more cover for Cissokho and pressing Bacary Sagna—with Suarez playing predominantly from the right side, but drifting inside to play between the lines.

Rodgers explained this post-match, quotes via The Daily Star:

"We switched Raheem Sterling over to the left side to penetrate and to control Sagna a little bit. Overall, the players were tactically brilliant and you saw their appetite and hunger for the game. That was important for us.

"We were brilliant, a wonderful performance in such a prestigious game between the two teams. We do a lot of work on our pressing. I always feel if we press well, we can pass well."

 

Praise

The Telegraph's football correspondent Henry Winter rightly praises Rodgers's tactics in his column post-match:

He has transformed the team, individually and collectively.

The tactical intelligence, the hunting of the ball in packs, the pace on the counter, the numbers in the middle and the relentless working for the cause, particularly the wide players like Suárez and Sterling tracking back, that is the Rodgers’s way.

While Wenger sat stunned, Rodgers was beckoning players over during breaks in play, continuing to coach and coax, such as when Henderson sprinted across for some new commands after 75 minutes. 

 

Improvements

Rodgers has made improvements to every single Liverpool player.

Skrtel is like a different player to the one who lost his side to a retiring Jamie Carragher a year ago, not just with his two goals on Saturday but also his defensive work, his positional play and his ability in possession.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Sterling is a markedly better player than the one who burst onto the scene at the start of last season, adding an end product to his game more recently.

Sturridge is a clinical goalscorer, high on confidence.

Suarez is a player now willing to allow others to influence games, no longer trying to do too much—he believes in those around him, such as Coutinho and Henderson.

The way Liverpool began the game on Saturday was reminiscent of the energetic, pressing, fast-tempo performances that Rafa Benitez used to engineer from his sides in Europe—against Juventus and Real Madrid at Anfield most memorably.

Benitez led Liverpool to their fifth European Cup, Rodgers is leading Liverpool back to Europe's elite competition.

 

Follow me on twitter: @mattladson

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