English Premiership

Rodgers' Reds re-energised

2015-02-23 13:42
Brendan Rodgers (AFP)

London - Following a dismal start to the Premier League season, Liverpool have closed to within two points of the Champions League places thanks to a run of 10 matches without defeat.

A 3-0 loss at Manchester United on December 14, five days after elimination from the Champions League, left Liverpool 10 points below their rivals in 10th place, but they are now breathing down United's necks in the battle for a top-four finish.

Ahead of a showdown next weekend with Manchester City, the team who pipped them to last season's title, here are five ways in which manager Brendan Rodgers has engineered Liverpool's mid-season revival:

1. Tactical re-organisation

Liverpool began the season with a four-man defence, but after losing seven of their first 16 games, Rodgers rejigged his team, introducing a three-man defensive configuration in a loose-limbed 3-4-2-1 formation. It has yielded defensive stability - Liverpool have conceded only seven times in their last 10 games - and greater zip and dynamism in attack, where the positional fluidity has allowed Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho to thrive, plugging a void created by Daniel Sturridge's long spell on the sidelines due to injury. "We have great control of the ball and we've got the ball longer in the opponent's half, which means they don't have to defend as much," Rodgers has explained.

2. Converting Can

A $15.1 million signing from Bayer Leverkusen during the close season, Germany Under-21 international Can's Anfield career got off to a slow start as he struggled to break into the side. But since being drafted into the back three mid-way through a 1-0 win at Burnley on Boxing Day, he has imposed himself with a calmness and a composure that has radiated throughout the team.

3. Restoring Mignolet's confidence

Following a shaky start to the campaign, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was dropped - "indefinitely", in Rodgers's words - for Liverpool's trip to Old Trafford in December, with Australian Brad Jones coming in. However, an injury to Jones enabled the Belgium international to reclaim his place in the game at Burnley and he has since grown in confidence, helping Liverpool to record five successive clean sheets away from home for the first time since 1985. Speaking after a 2-0 win at Aston Villa last month in which Mignolet excelled, Rodgers said: "I felt today he looked like a Liverpool goalkeeper."

4. Integrating new signings

The £75 million that Liverpool received from Barcelona for Luis Suarez was reinvested in the squad, but the new signings initially looked like an expensive collection of misfits as Rodgers's side toiled during the season's early months. Now, however, Can is a first-team regular, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic have proven their worth as wing-backs, and Adam Lallana has shown glimpses of his talent. Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert are still to convince since arriving from Southampton, but Mario Balotelli has begun to exert an influence and Liverpool have also been enlivened by Rodgers's decision to blood exciting 19-year-old winger Jordon Ibe. "Slowly but surely, Rodgers is finding players he can rely on in every position and even better, he has got competition for places too," said former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson.

5. Addressing the Gerrard question

Hanging over Liverpool's troubles in late-2014 was uncertainty over the future of their emblematic but waning captain Steven Gerrard, who had yet to extend a contract scheduled to expire at the end of the season. But after Rodgers told the 34-year-old he could no longer guarantee him a first-team place, Gerrard announced that he would be leaving at the end of the season to join the Los Angeles Galaxy. With Gerrard's immediate future resolved, his team-mates have been able to focus on giving him a triumphant send-off by breaking into the top four and reaching the FA Cup final, which falls on his 35th birthday.


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