The Boxing Day - A Liverpool FC half season wrap
Those were Brendan Rodgers famous quotes when he became the manager of Liverpool F.C.
Come December 26 and the traditional Boxing Day match, he would have managed 19 premier league matches not taking into account the Capital One Cup and Europa League, which would take his total to 31 competitive games. Judging him outside of the confines of the league is for another article on another day though.
As it stands at this point of time, Liverpool is 8th in the table with 25 points from 18 games, 5 points behind 4th placed Arsenal for the all too crucial 4th Champions League place. The win/loss/draw stands at 6/7/5 and the goals for/against stands at 27 to 23.
The wins at home came against Reading, Wigan, Southampton, Fulham and away against Norwich and West Ham, whose current positions in the table are 20, 18, 17, 13, 10 and 12 respectively. The draws have come at home against City, Stoke, Newcastle and away against Sunderland, Everton, Chelsea and Swansea, whose current positions are 2, 9, 14, 15, 5, 3 and 11. The losses have come at home against Arsenal, United, Villa and away against West Brom and Tottenham, whose positions are 4, 1, 16, 7, 6.
Looking at those numbers without taking anything else into account, it would seem like Liverpool have been consistent in dispatching those that are below them with consummate ease and are drawing opponents around them while losing to opponents much above them. Also, the draws against Newcastle, Sunderland and the loss against Villa stick out as sore thumbs while draws against City,Everton and Chelsea seem to be much better at this point of time.
But looking at this sequentially, we are presented with Liverpool gaining 2 points from its first 5 games (2 wins and 3 losses), and then starting off on an 8 game unbeaten run which featured 3 wins and 5 draws, ending with a loss at the hands of Spurs at the end of November. During the former period, Liverpool’s GF/GA stood at 4/9 putting the GF/GA per game ratio at 0.8/1.8 while during the unbeaten 8 game period, GF/GA stood at 13/6 where the GF/GA per game ratio improved to 1.63/0.75. Overall, the GF/GA stands at 27/23 which puts the ratio at 1.5/1.28. Now, how does this compare to the present top 4 and our contenders to the top 4 spot ?
|Position||Team||Points||Points Per Game||GF||GA||GF Per Game||GA Per Game|
What strikes out from there is the GF of United and Chelsea and the GA of City and Stoke (who, by the way, boast one of the meanest defences in Europe right now and is our next game). Of these four, three occupy the top 4 position and the other is in contention for the 4th place. So while defensively we are the 8th best team in that list (which is actually one clean sheet away from propelling us to 5th best), offensively we are 7th best which needs quite a few 3 goal per game kind of games to propel us to anywhere near the hovering 4th/5th place come end of the season. And for us who have been watching this Liverpool play this season, it has been apparent that with each game the confidence seems to be growing in the players on the ability to create more chances and we have to agree with Brendan Rodgers that we do need offensive signings who create more chances/score goals in the January window to finetune this problem. What is astonishing about the defensive part is the ability to sustain this run in the absence of Lucas Leiva who has been THE lynchpin and a Joe Allen who has seemed more at home playing ahead of Lucas than in the Lucas-slot-in-as-the-third-centreback role. Also, the ability to maintain Agger’s fitness and the growing stature of Martin Skrtel in club and world football has had its impact too in the defensive setup, not to mention the early success of Glen Johnson at left back.
So how has Brendan Rodgers done so far?
Its a question to which there is no simple answer. There are people out there who say he has done much better than anticipated and there is a section which feels that it has been an underwhelming experience. So what do the stats say?
|First 19 games||W||D||L||Points||GF||GA||GF per game||GA per game|
|Rafa 1st season||9||4||6||31||33||20||1.74||1.05|
|Rafa last season||9||3||7||30||36||25||1.89||1.32|
|Kenny full time||9||7||3||34||24||15||1.26||0.79|
While there is no surprise that Kenny’s 6 months takes top billing as we all witnessed one of the best Liverpool sides in recent memory who thrashed opponents playing some of the most sublime football possible, while conceding the second least goals per game with his full time team taking the top spot there. But where Kenny really fell apart during his first half of his full time handling was the same problem that dogged Brendan Rodgers – that of too few chances to goals conversion. It is pleasing to note that, though Brendan’s team has almost exactly the same points as Roy’s time here, it has been achieved with fewer losses and with a much better strike rate. And addressing the elephant in the room, BR’s team has performed much poorly while compared to both of Rafa’s first and last (a benchmark for many as the minimum needed to pass muster to have our faith in him in the long term) in terms of goals scored and conceded more than his first and almost as much his last season.
|Home (of the first 19)||Played||W||D||L||Points||GF||GA||GF per game||GA per game|
|Rafa 1st season||9||7||1||1||22||19||7||2.11||0.78|
|Rafa last season||10||6||2||2||20||26||11||2.6||1.1|
|Kenny full time||10||4||6||0||18||14||8||1.4||0.8|
|Away (of the first 19)||Played||W||D||L||Points||GF||GA||GF per game||GA per game|
|Rafa 1st season||10||2||3||5||9||14||13||1.4||1.3|
|Rafa last season||9||3||1||5||10||10||14||1.11||1.56|
|Kenny full time||9||5||1||3||16||10||7||1.11||0.78|
The home table shows Brendan in the poorest light possible, while his team have been very adventurous on the road, perhaps too adventurous. Its clear that BR needs to keep his attacking instincts away from home while addressing the problem that has dogged his predecessors in the away goals conceded area, while he has to deliver much more on the home front by increasing his goals scored tally to almost twice as much.
Brendan Rodgers came with the reputation of Swansealona – a portmanteau of Swansea and Barcelona given affectionately to his 4-3-3 philosophy at Swansea which had the stats to prove and rival even the best of what Barcelona had to offer in terms of possession, passing rate and accuracy. This 4-3-3 involved the fullbacks pushing up and the central pivot dropping back to form the 3rd centreback, wingers that pressed up, one midfielder that kept the ball ticking between defence and attack and one who would arrive into the box. So given his first signings and the way the team performed, people were skeptical about the success of the system at Liverpool and there were growing rumbles about how Rodgers should not be rigid with no plan B and should look to utilise the players available in the formation rather than the formation dictating the players role (for which Arrigo Sacchi had a superb quote which is for another article on another day). No one knows whether Rodgers heard it but one could see that given his early setbacks, Rodgers tried to tweak certain areas of the team which, by the time Borini got injured, assumed the favourite of the old 4-2-3-1 that destroyed opposition teams under Rafa Benitez. But what followed in the games against Everton and Chelsea took a lot of people by surprise. Leading 2-0 against Everton, the Reds were subject to furious pressing by the opposition which got them back into the game with 2 goals of their own as the teams headed into the break 2-2. What happened after halftime was Liverpool going for a 3-1-4-2 to counter Everton’s game, though one never knows how the game would have gone had at this same point of time Mirallas was not subbed off for a midfielder. But BR was vindicated with what appeared to be a winner right at the end of injury time only for it to be wrongly chalked off. If this did not surprise people, what followed in the Chelsea game did. Rodgers used the same platform for an attacking variant in a 3-4-1-2 against Chelsea, knowing that Juventus had made Chelsea struggle with exactly the same 3 man defence. But given Sahin’s ineffective game, it changed itself to a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 system when Suso came on, which meant we finished the game with a well deserved point. And Rodgers did not stop there. His usage of Jonjo Shelvey in the false nine position (out of necessity in the aftermath of Suarez 5 game yellow automatic ban) that he experimented with in Europe was tried against the Hammers to great effect in that Shelvey caused a lot of problems to the Hammers defence though the return was much lesser than was shown at the final whistle as Shelvey showed his age in his finishing or lack thereof.
So Rodgers has shown that he has enough plans to keep his opposition guessing and to ensure his team takes the win but there are 2 important points that he has yet to show he has a lid on – that of substitutions (he has had his share of baffling substitutions this season already) and that of making his original 4-3-3 work. Because rest assured that just because he got the results does not mean that Rodgers wont go back to what propelled him into the Liverpool job in the first place.
The 4th position has been the last qualifying position for English league clubs since the 2001-02 season. So eliminating all previous seasons before, lets have a look at the following table
|Season||Position of LFC||Points of LFC||Points of last UCL place||Points of winners|
So as you can see, the average points needed to qualify for the last UCL position has been 68 points. So for us to keep that as the goal of the season and achieve it, we need to ensure that of the many permutations available we have to achieve either:
(a) 12 wins, 8 draws with no loss.
(b) 13 wins, 5 draws with 2 losses.
(c) 14 wins, 2 draws with 4 losses.
So its quite a task in front of Brendan Rodgers to carry out either of the three scenarios with success.
So the early judgement of Rodgers is that here is a man who has his own vision to play football but he is not one to shy away from his mistakes and change for the better. Yes he talks quite a bit more than what Liverpool fans are accustomed to but then he gets the job done and for that he deserves a pat on the back. While the points WILL be the measuring stick of Rodgers, it would not be fair to him to be judged solely based on that. What he has done so far here has earned my respect and that of most Liverpool fans who are willing to sit along to see where this ride will take us come end of the season. Just one thing Brendan, remember what you said a month back when reporters asked you about the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo.