Liverpool: Exciting times ahead under Rodgers

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Now we all know that you can never judge the way a team's season will go just by one game, especially if that game is a testimonial match during the club's pre-season preparations.

However, one just can't help but admit that Liverpool's performance against Olympiakos on the occasion of the testimonial fundraiser held in honour of long-serving captain and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard was a source of great encouragement for faithful Kopites and neutrals alike.

Brendan Rodgers fielded a starting XI that did not feature any retired legends of yesteryear, as Jamie Carragher and Robbie Fowler would have to make do with being on the bench for the first half of the game.

New signing Iago Aspas started up front ahead of Luis Suarez, with Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho on either flank, supported by the midfield trio of Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen.

Kolo Toure took his place on the right side of the central defence, alongside club vice-captain Daniel Agger. Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique started as the full backs, with new signings Simon Mignolet in goal.

Carragher, Suarez and Fowler all came on with more than an hour gone, and every contribution they made to the game, however little it may have been, was greeted with roars of applause from the stands.

Rodgers has received a lot of flak from several sources, and has been the subject for immense criticism for his activity in the transfer window, as his acquisitions of Aspas, Toure and former Barcelona B midfielder Luis Alberto have been perceived as a waste of money and attention.

Part of the dissatisfaction with the former Swansea manager's services at Anfield probably stems from the fact that Liverpool failed to qualify for even the Europa League at the end of the 2012-2013 season. 

These factors have all welled up and contributed to a generally pessimistic outlook for the new season of Barclays Premier League football.

Well, Rodgers and Co. couldn't have come up with a better response to the criticism and pessimism, as Liverpool were absolutely excellent from the first minute of the game to the last.

Alright, Olympiakos weren't the greatest team on the day, and barely managed to create a decent goal-scoring opportunity, but that should be put down to some astute tactical organisation by Rodgers, combined with fantastic team ethic, excellent possession football and the ability to launch counter-attacks at a very high tempo.

Let's briefly take a look at how each of the players did, individually and as part of the team as a whole. 

Quite honestly, Mignolet didn't have much to do. A couple of hopeful crosses were mopped up efficiently, and the Belgian custodian displayed confidence while commanding his area.

A very composed performance was rewarded with another pre-season clean sheet, but the former Sunderland keeper did suffer a couple of scares, one when he was quickly closed down by two Olympiakos players, and another, when his punched clearance took a deflection off Toure, causing uncertainty for a moment.

Johnson and Enrique are great Premier League full-backs, without the slightest doubt, and put on excellent displays. Solid defensively and explosive while bombing up the flank, both full-backs supported their wingers to perfection.

Agger and Toure put in assured shifts, perfectly complementing each other's styles of play. While he was once a master at going on penetrating runs up the pitch, Toure played the role of experienced campaigner, and was content to sit back and keep the distribution going, playing simple passes to team-mates.

Agger, on the other hand, bombed forward at every opportunity, providing the extra man in midfield. A couple of sloppy passes were made, but as the season progresses, these lapses of concentration will soon be ironed out.

The midfield. Lucas Leiva was, in one word, awesome. While his more attacking team-mates will get most of the plaudits over the next nine months, if Lucas can stay fit and replicate his performance against Olympiakos, he will be an instrumental figure in determining the fate of Liverpool's campaign.

Ever so efficient in possession, Lucas excelled at curbing the offensive instincts that no doubt come naturally, considering his nationality, and played the role of holding midfielder to perfection, mopping up any and all loose balls, supplying Gerrard and Allen, and sitting back. And repeat. Lucas made sure that Rodgers' tactics of constant possession and distribution worked. A superb performance. 

Allen and Gerrard were excellent as well. Gerrard was, true to nature, everywhere. One minute he was defending, the next he was out wide playing cute combinations with Sterling and Johnson. Then he was making deadly surging runs from midfield (he was put clean through on goal twice). An excellent performance.

Allen, the £15 million signing from Swansea, was a pleasant surprise. He started his Liverpool career brilliantly, winning the man-of-the-match award for the 2-2 draw against Manchester City at Anfield last year, and was crucial in helping the team adapt to Rodgers' style of play.

After a series of ordinary performances, he was faced with criticism from all quarters, and considered a flop signing. However, he proved his worth by putting in an energetic performance.

He played in a role that was relatively unusual for him, that of the attacking midfielder, with his back to the Olympiakos goal. The decision to play him in that position turned out to be a masterstroke, as he applied immense pressure on the Greek club's players in possession, forcing them to make poor passes, leaving Gerrard and Lucas to mop up the loose balls.

His tendencies to fall back ever so often meant that a hole was created between Liverpool's midfielders and Aspas, which allowed Coutinho and Sterling to cut in to great effect. Allen missed a sitter of a chance in the first half after some typically excellent combination play from Coutinho and Aspas, but made no mistake moments later.

Henderson came on and scored with his first touch after an excellent counter-attack, and provided the team with his relentless energy and running for the time he was on the pitch.

The offensive trio of Sterling, Aspas and Coutinho were magic. Aspas has already been deemed as not good enough, having played for a Celta Vigo side that avoided relegation from La Liga on the last day of the season, but the Spanish striker showed that he is settling into his new club very quickly, with a display marked by continuous effort up front and a few excellent pieces of skill. His game was cut short on 61 minutes as he made way for Suarez, but he got a decent assist to his name.

Sterling and Coutinho spent all day terrorising the full-backs to no end. Coutinho showed that his telepathic understanding with Enrique will continue to flourish down the left side, and dazzled Anfield with his trickery, skills and excellent vision.

Sterling was equally exciting on the other flank, bringing Johnson into the game often, and cutting in from the flank to combine with his team-mates. He got the assist for Henderson's goal.

This summary of each player's performance in the role he was assigned serves to show how well Liverpool's players have adapted to Rodgers' ideas. He has got his players to play in a tactical setup that utilises all of their strengths to perfection, while effectively nullifying their weaknesses.

It remains to be seen how this Liverpool side will fare against English powerhouses like Chelsea and the Manchester clubs over the course of the season, but from what we saw on offer against Olympiakos, Rodgers has made a promising start to the season. 

His new signings may not be the greatest players, admitted, we will not see Aspas score the winning goal in a major international tournament the way a Liverpool striker did in 2008, Luis Alberto may not become the next Xabi Alonso, but Rodgers has made his four signings with an eye on how they'll fit into the team and complement the qualities of the current squad, instead of on the names on the back of their shirts.

He has bought the players he feels are right for his squad and his tactics, instead of buying the biggest names on the market and then adjusting his tactics around them. While this approach may not give fans the results they want in the short run, it will pay off in the long term.

Liverpool's squad is outclassed on paper by the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal, but the way the likes of Coutinho and Sterling are playing, the club's fans should have plenty to look forward to as Rodgers continues to tweak his tactics and find the right players for the job. 

Although the Premier League is getting tougher with every season, and finishing in the Champions League qualifying spots is easier said than done, Liverpool are playing some excellent football as a team, and should be able to challenge for a top four finish.

All they need is either to be able to convince wantaway striker Suarez to stay, or sign a replacement with similar quality. Another winger would also be a welcome addition to the squad, giving the Reds the firepower up front to go with excellent build-up play and distribution of the ball.

Liverpool's squad looks like it has a great combination of youth and experience, and should continue to grow in stature over the next few years.

While I will not go so far as to say Rodgers will have the kind of impact on the club that the iconic Bill Shankly did, it is fair to suggest that his revolution at Liverpool is well underway, and it will be absolutely fantastic to see how the club progresses under the Northern Irishman as he looks to return the mighty Reds to the elite echelons of European football, a stage they last conquered in 2005.


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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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