After Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace at Anfield, Liverpool again returned to the top of the table, at least for 24 hours. If you had told Brendan Rodgers this at the start of the season, or even the last time Liverpool sat atop the English football pyramid, Rodgers would have taken it in a heartbeat.
All this was done without the influential Philippe Coutinho and evermore important Glen Johnson. After Johnson limped off during the victory against Manchester United and when Coutinho got subbed off in the next league game at Swansea City, the Reds hit a bad patch of form. The 2-2 draw against the Swans was followed by defeat to Southampton at home and an unlucky solitary goal defeat to United at Old Trafford.
Having to accommodate the loss of Rodgers’ first choice right-back and number 10, he finally settled to a 3-5-2 formation after the experiment of Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure at full-back failed big time against the Saints. This was arguably, when things turned back round again.
Filling The Gaps
An impressive 3-1 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, a place where the Reds could only draw 1-1 last season, proved to Rodgers that his 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 formation could work, even though he would have preferred Coutinho in the number 10 position rather than Victor Moses, known more as a winger.
Jordan Henderson at right wing-back did not seem odd, but his deliveries left much to be desired every time he took up threatening positions down the right flank. It just seems that, with slightly lesser defensive responsibilities, this right wing-back position seems perfectly suited for Johnson – just as it is for Jose Enrique on the opposite side. Johnson would have the freedom to attack, knowing that he has Toure behind him, and that Toure has two other central defenders beside him.
Rodgers should be commended for sticking to the same in the victory over Palace. With Lucas Leiva banned after his fifth yellow card against Sunderland, Henderson was predictably pulled inside while surprisingly, winger Raheem Sterling got the nod ahead of predominantly centre-back Andre Wisdom for the right wing-back slot.
Sterling did do his job commendably, using his renowned pace to keep track of Jimmy Kebe and then Dwight Gayle. However, his lack of strength and positioning was exposed time and again, and even upfield doing what he does best, his lack of quality in the final ball let down his good work with the ball at his feet. The return of Johnson could not come too soon.
Solid At The Back & Up Top
The defensive trio of Toure, Sakho and Martin Skrtel has looked really solid for the past two victories. Though some lack of communication caused some problems between the trio, the overall performance, especially that of Toure, has been heartening to watch. The mere fact vice-captain Daniel Agger have a hard time getting back into the first XI – though in all fairness Rodgers will reinstate him once he is fully fit – it just shows how much depth and options Liverpool has at the back right now, a far cry from last season’s back-ups of woefully out-of-form Sebastian Coates, now injured, and the aforementioned Skrtel.
The striking duo at the moment, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, may be making the headlines with their wonderful link-up play, movement, and of course, goals, but much credit has to be given to the likes of Henderson, Moses and Enrique too.
Henderson, whether at right wing-back or central midfield, has improved immensely this season, harrying opponents and also more significantly, playing better passes and doing a solid job wherever he is deployed. Moses has done well as a number 10, shielding the ball in offensive positions as well as running at defenders, helping the likes of Suarez by taking the attention onto Moses himself.
Enrique is surprisingly underrated as well. Even though his main job is to defend, his attacking instincts are actually vital to Liverpool’s offensive play. Whether it is linking up with an offensive player on the left to get to the byline, or doing his trademark pin-point crosses to either striker, mostly Suarez, from deep, he has added an element of unpredictability to Liverpool’s play.
Now, opponents not only have to pay attention to the movement of Suarez and Sturridge, they have to find out what Enrique is going to do with the ball. This added dimension to Liverpool’s play, especially from a full-back of all people, will be very heartening to Rodgers. Add Johnson’s direct dribbling on the other side, Liverpool suddenly have width even without playing wingers.
Seven games in, title talk should not even across the mind of Rodgers and Reds fans. Neither should a title challenge. The aim is still top 4, and staying as high for as long as possible will only aid in this goal. Bring European football back, and Rodgers will have extended his goodwill and time with the club.