It’s been a steady improvement at Liverpool in recent weeks, with Brendan Rodgers’ side now able to enjoy a week to relax after the busy festive fixtures. Natalie Cork takes a look at why things have taken an upturn.
If stats and tables are to go by and not the running order of Match of the Day, then it’s pleasing that Liverpool’s form over the last five Premier League games is bettered only by high-flying Southampton — 3 wins and 2 draws is the same as Man City over the busy Christmas / New Year fixtures.
Although it might not feel like it, the Reds have suffered just 1 defeat in 13 games; might we finally have turned a corner in what has been a dejected season so far?
It was somewhat palpable that Liverpool would stagger out the starting blocks this season, suffering a hangover from last year’s second place finish. After becoming accustomed to a great deal of success in the second half of last season, everyone involved with the club had forgotten the bitter taste of defeat.
Even after spending big in the summer transfer window, as the season has progressed, the Reds have suffered decisive injuries to upset the squad. Critics were quick to condemn a demise for the Reds over the festive period after a slump in form, with Rodgers job surprisingly being question by many.
But, through condemnation and anger, ironically it is Rodgers men that have boasted the impressive form over the busy Christmas and New Year period, albeit with a rather kind fixture list assisting this.
It’s no coincidence that Liverpool’s upturn in form has arrived at a time when Rodgers finally seems to have found his best team and settled with a system that gets the best out of his players. Though dealing with heavy criticism, the character loving Irishman has morphed his players into a 3-4-2-1 formation that enables them to play with the creativity and intensity they have lacked since last season.
It is also no coincidence that the Reds solid run has emerged with the inclusion of Lucas Leiva in the team. In a football world consumed by stats, the involvement of the Brazilian has proven to be pivotal in Liverpool’s run. The one game in which the Reds have lost in their last thirteen has been the one that the defensive midfielder wasn’t involved in (at Old Trafford).
Not sporting the characteristic Brazilian inheritance of flair and pace, Lucas’ performances often go under the radar of fans and unmistakably the media. His assurance and willingness to dig deep for the team allows the flamboyant of the team to do what they do best.
In the 10 games Liverpool has played without Lucas, the Reds have managed only a mere 8 points from a possible 30. After receiving such heavy criticism throughout his Anfield career, the 28-year-olds importance to the team comes as a revelation.
Finding their feet
After an irresponsible walkout before the Merseyside Derby in November, Mamadou Sakho has forced his way back into the starting 11 and firmly established his spot in the newly implemented formation. The odd miss-control and eager tackle aside, the Frenchman has looked solid on the left side of the defence with six straight starts in the team.
Emre Can’s assertiveness has no doubt calmed the back three, reducing the pressure and anxiety that has been previously asserted on Liverpool’s defence in recent times. Originally signed as a midfielder, the versatile German has demonstrated to his boss that he can be used across the field by recently operating on the right side of the back three.
In an unorthodox wing-back position, Lazar Markovic has begun to excel and show how patience can ultimately recompense. Although an attack-minded midfielder at heart, the young Serbian does not shy away from the mandatory defensive duties needed as a wing-back. An extremely talented 20-year-old may finally be adapting to life in a new country and will only continue to improve.
And finally, Liverpool’s little magician. Subsequent to an impressive pre-season, Philippe Coutinho failed to continue to step up to the plate in the Premier League. The number 10 was tried and tested in different positions in numerous formations but had little impact on games.
Ultimately, Coutinho has found his feet and appears to be thriving in his new role in this fresh system. The young Brazilian is back to bullying the opposition with his trickery, quick feet and audacious passing – a vision Liverpool fans have waited patiently for.
Five points off Arsene Wenger’s trophy (fourth spot of course), a semi-final showdown with Chelsea in the League Cup, 4th round of the FA Cup and the last 32 of the Europa League – Liverpool’s season has not been the catastrophe that many have depicted.
Although the magnitude of results is not expressing Liverpool’s dominance in games, the Reds are quietly adding to their Premier League tally. Winning games is the first stride; increasing goal difference is subsequent and will no doubt improve with time.
Maybe, just maybe, 2015 will show an upturn in fortune for the Reds.