Liverpool and Rodgers can celebrate progress
There’s been a lot of talk of ‘progress’ around Anfield in the past few months.
Young players have been bloodied. There was that draw at Man City. The pass completion rates have flown through the roof. These points of nonsense is what the vast majority of Liverpool fans have been desperately clinging onto and spouting through gritted teeth to mates down the pub for what has seemed like forever. But as Liverpool clung on to their 3-2 lead against Tottenham on Sunday, it felt as though things were actually falling into place.
It wasn’t the best performance of the season. But a win against high-flying Spurs — third in the league and unbeaten in twelve — was a genuinely good win that threw weight behind next year’s run at qualification for the Champions League.
Firstly, three points against someone that wasn’t Norwich or a weakened Swansea. All too often this year Liverpool have flattered to deceive, hammering sides that are overawed by the Anfield experience or that were outdone by Luis Suarez, before floundering against Aston Villa or West Brom. Liverpool are on a good run against good sides, and unless they render this article obscelite with a half-hearted performance against Southampton on Saturday, they are looking like a proper side themselves.
Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho, the two major additions in January, have shown their worth with a string of exciting showings; Sturridge’s injury issues aside. Coutinho’s role in Liverpool’s first on Sunday was a joy to behold, and if the two can stay fit, the front three, including Suarez, is of top four quality.
Coutinho has played a big part in Rodgers’ moment of genius. Any supporter who followed the cringe-worthy pre-season documentary series that followed his entry into the Liverpool hot-seat will know of the handful of minor tactical changes he speaks of, that make a big difference on the pitch.
2-1 down at home, taking off an in-form, assist-laden flair player for an out-of-form, deep-lying midfielder sounds like the workings of a mad man. Alas, Coutinho for Joe Allen proved a master-stroke, which flipped the game on its head. Allen’s inclusion killed off the threat of Moussa Dembele, the most influential player on the pitch up to then, and provided Liverpool with a level of control missing alongside one of Lucas’ weaker displays. The outrage on twitter at sixty minutes was turned to ninety minute elation by one bold Rodgers’ move.
And with any good win, the big players stood up to be counted. Suarez collected the man-of-the-match champagne after opening the scoring, and captain Steven Gerrard scored the winner after a typically influential performance. The much maligned Stewart Downing continued his run of good form, as did Jose Enrique, and as mentioned, the struggling Allen went some way to turning the game. A fancy system is jolly nice, but if your players don’t perform, the results won’t be.
Anfield is starting to feel like a proper place to play football again, something that can be traced back to the fans’ hair-raising Zenit showing, Rodgers is on song, Suarez can’t stop scoring, and you can’t help but feel that if Liverpool had managed to get this run going three weeks earlier, they would be sat on the edge of Champions League qualification.
As it is, they can only celebrate progress.