As the season begins to head into its peak, for the first time in a long time, Liverpool are ‘Title Contenders’. The phrase has been lauded onto us by pundits, newspapers, rival fans alike, whereas our own fans are the apprehensive ones. ‘One game at a time’ we will all say and rightly so, out of the fear to hope for more. Times have been tough, four long years without Champions League football, a disastrous manager and owners, two seasons finishing in 8th and 7th. The storm we have walked through has felt long and arduous, has left us all tentative towards the hope and glory that Brendan Rodgers can bring to us. But following this season’s impressive achievements so far, even the most sceptical fan can see what Rodgers has done and the potential we have.
Rodgers has rebuilt this club from the ground up. Our once great youth set up that produced Fowler, Owen, Gerrard, Carragher had grown stagnant and our famous world class academy graduates turned into well.. Jay Spearing. We can see now a trust from Rodgers in his youth to step up when the seniors aren’t enough and a response from the young players that proves they are up to the task being set. With the likes of Flanagan, Sterling, Ibe, Suso, Wisdom and now Texiera all making impressive appearances for the Reds under Rodgers, it’s easy to see the change he is having. Now these players may not be of the world class calibre of Gerrard, but each of them have done exactly what Rodgers wanted from them, to work hard and perform for his team and that has generally paid off for Liverpool too.
“I believe a young player will run through a barbed wire fence for you. An older player looks for a hole in the fence, he’ll try and get his way through it some way, but the young player will fight for you.”
Rodgers couldn’t have been more right when he said this. Without the inexhaustible money offered to the likes of City and Chelsea, Rodgers was forced to rely much upon the youth before FSG invested in his players in the later transfer windows.
We can then see the style of football we’re playing is finally the fast paced, short passing, clinical play we like to see at Liverpool. Now, under previous managers we’ve still never been a long ball team, however not until this moment did we have the fluidity and the smoothness in our play which can only be found when looking back at the sides that graced Anfield’s turf in the 80’s. As Lawrenson said, it was like looking back at the ‘old days’. Rodgers came here with an idea of ‘total football’, to imitate Swansea and pass the opponent out of the game. As his time here has progressed, so has the man at the helm. He is no longer bound to needing high possession, he is ready to adapt and change the side and tactics of his players and the team to best suit our opponents. This ability to adapt has kept Rodgers side the most effective it can be, with our almost Rafa-esqe counterattacks completely dismantling the league leaders in 20 minutes. That’s not to say he hasn’t made mistakes, such as a back four of centre halves, but his tactical awareness and decisions are improving as the team grows too.
The morale and performance of the team and of almost every individual in the group has improved since Rodgers arrival. His man management is exceptional, he’s managed to tie down Luis Suarez to a new contract and make him happy playing for LFC again. He tailored the team to Suarez’s strengths and made Suarez a better player for it. The drastic improvements in Jordan Henderson are perhaps the clearest evidence you need to see Rodgers ability to bring out the best in his players. From an overpriced fringe player, Henderson is the beating heart of the Liverpool midfield and essential to the team’s play. The mentality of the team has grown into a group of fighters. In previous seasons once we started badly we would slump and should no force to get our way back in the game. Now can see, although they were poor performances, against the likes of Newcastle, Villa, Fulham we have come back to collect points which in seasons gone by we would not have. There is sense of belief within the squad, the belief that they can win and fans need to take that belief too.
All of these successes in the current side are down to the work of Brendan Rodgers and better management of our great club. But, there is still much work to do that is quite out of Brendan’s hands. FSG were caught out by the transfer failings of Comolli and Daglish in Downing and Carroll and now will only sanction money to the point they believe a player is ‘worth’ which is complexly determined by mathematicians, using contract length, age, form etc. to build a players monetary worth. I think we’d all agree we don’t want to over pay for players again, but sometimes a few million extra is necessary to capture players you need and I hope FSG and Ayre realise this is necessary should we make the Champions League. Should we get top 4, we need real investment. The squad we have is small and any first team injuries leave us very weak with little quality replacements. Over the summer Rodgers will need to amass a squad ready to play twice a week not once a week as we have this season. This will mean not selling many of our already small squad and adding a lot to it. Without investment in quality over the summer, Champions League and BPL action will drain the team too much and by the end of next season we could be back to finishing out of the top four. Tottenham and United will invest in the summer and will chase us hard for the top four every year they aren’t in it, which will be very difficult to fend off without a larger and better squad.
Not only do we need investment in our players, but in our Stadium. Anfield has been home to some of the greatest sides, the greatest players, the greatest managers to grace the footballing world. It does, however, need expansion to make it on par with the other European giants. We have seen the effects a new stadium can have on a club through Borussia Dortmund, who also have an exciting new manager and a great young side. The Liverpool supporters have often been described as the best in the world and the larger the stadium, the more we can utilise that. At 97 decibels, Anfield is officially the loudest stadium in the Premier League, with 15,000 less seats than the Emirates or Ethiad and 30,000 less than Old Trafford. So the plans to expand Anfield to around a 55,000 seats can only pave the way for a better long term future of club before it’s too late to catch the other big teams up. We’ve heard a lot of talk and had a lot of false promises over the last few years regarding this, so for Brendan and the team to push forward in the coming times we need a FSG to make these developments happen as soon as possible.
So, there’s a lot to look forward to and a lot that needs to be done to get where we need to be. Brendan Rodgers is hopefully being rewarded with a contract extension in the summer and long may our outstanding progress continue under him. As fans we need to forget the trauma and mistrust that Hodgson left us with towards our managers, and appreciate the truly remarkable work Rodgers is doing for Liverpool Football Club and give him our full support in getting us to that golden sky we’ve been waiting for.
Author’s Twitter: @SamGreet123