When Brendan Rodgers took on the somewhat poisoned chalice of a job as new Liverpool boss, he brought with him his own natural footballing ideals. And credit to him for that.
The Reds played an expansive brand of football and nobody could argue that they were very entertaining to watch. Take the 2013-14 season for instance. With Raheem Sterling coming into his own, supporting the dynamic duo of Suarez and a mostly-fit Daniel Sturridge, the team amassed a superb tally of 102 league goals in 38 matches. This statistic alone tells you all you need to know about where their philosophy lay.
Of course, losing their talisman to Barcelona at the beginning of last season was always going to limit their attacking prowess. I mean, how do you replace the irreplaceable? This was compounded by the fact that Sturridge was on the side-lines for many more match-days than the previous season.
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The end result was a paltry 52 league goals. Coupled with a turgid last six weeks of a campaign which saw the once-European giants heading to The Britannia on the last day of the season and get smacked with six strokes of the cane, Rodgers was suddenly looking over his shoulder.
Stevie Gerrard has now headed to the States and it’s really strange seeing a Liverpool squad-list without his name included. For so long their captain and best player, he was the driving force behind so many of those surges forward in their chase for glory during 2013-14. It was not to be as his slip in midfield led to the Chelsea win that took the championship out of their own hands.
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The Liverpool boss has dipped into the transfer market as much as the Chairman has allowed and, on reflection, he’s made mistakes. Most notably was the procurement of Mario Ballotelli, the Italian enigma, a talent no doubt but a hot-head who Rodgers clearly felt he could get the best out of. It just hasn’t worked and without a solid attacking unit, they failed miserably against the top teams last season.
However, times they are a-changing, it seems. The purchase of Christian Benteke raised a few eyebrows but he has proven Premier League pedigree. His goal against new boys Bournemouth on Monday night cemented Liverpool’s second successive 1-0 victory. It wasn’t pretty, just like their narrow win against Stoke last week. But it’s another three points and you can’t help but wonder that if they had been capable of playing the same game at the business end of 2013-14, might they have finally got over the line?
Rodgers has brought in the big Belgian and is playing him as an out-and-out target man. Philippe Coutinho is clearly relishing the extra responsibility of being their only true playmaker. His “touch map” from Monday’s match shows a constant supply of ammunition for Benteke. And Jordan Henderson is in the form of his life, providing yet another assist during the latest win.
The new captain is thriving and his ten assists in the PL since the start of last season is more than any other English player. Indeed, since his Liverpool debut, only Gerrard has more Premier League assists for Liverpool (25) than Henderson (22).
Okay, Liverpool managed only two shots on target from 18 attempts on Monday, and this will need to improve if they want to be challenging at the top. But the very fact that they’ve secured six points from their opening two matches, despite the relative lack of clear chances, illustrates that Brendan Rodgers isn’t just a one trick pony.
The first big test is just around the corner though; Monday night’s travels to North London to face Arsenal will show just where they are. If they play the same type of football displayed two years ago and don’t hit the target more regularly, they might find themselves on the receiving end of a hiding. But if they keep it tight and sneak a third 1-nil on the trot, would they then be classed as title contenders?