11 games in, so far so good. Sitting second in the table is quite a feat for Brendan Rodgers’ invigorated Liverpool side, however, what’s more impressive is when you look at how well Liverpool have performed if you compare results with the corresponding fixtures of last season. It certainly highlights the improvement Rodgers’ side has made so far, going into the third international break of the season.
The only exception is the comparison of the home victory against Crystal Palace this season, and FF is going to compare it to the home victory over Queens Park Rangers last season, just because Palace was the third best/play-off winning side in the Championship last year, while QPR were the bottom team last BPL campaign. The Reds are 4 points better off compared to the corresponding fixtures of last season, managing 23 points compared to the 19 gained last year.
The three consecutive 1-0 victories at the start of the season already gave Rodgers’ current side a 5 point head-start. The home game against Stoke last year was one of those poor performances from Rodgers’ side, being bullied by then-Stoke boss Tony Pulis’ usual aggressive and direct strategy that unsettled Liverpool, which contributed to the Reds profligacy in front of goal that afternoon. This year though, Daniel Sturridge proved the match-winner with his fine left-footed strike from the edge of the penalty box, and a second-half defensive display coupled with Simon Mignolet’s late penalty save on his Anfield debut saw the Reds scrap through with two more points. This mirrored the home game against Manchester United, in which Liverpool lost last year to a late, controversial Robin van Persie penalty, as the Reds grabbed the early lead through Sturridge before grabbing another extra two points with a disciplined defensive display in the second-half. Sandwiched in between those two wins was another winner by Sturridge – this time a brilliant solo-effort – at Villa Park, where Liverpool also won by a one-goal margin last season.
Following the first international break was Liverpool’s away tie at Rodgers’ old club Swansea City. The Reds drew this game last season, and this year was no different with old boy Jonjo Shelvey having a hand in all four goals in a crazy 2-2 draw. Again, Liverpool defended for the majority of the second-half before seeing out a hard-fought draw. The Reds suffered their first defeat of the season at the hands of high-flying Southampton at Anfield, which was in stark contrast to their domineering 1-0 victory last season. Dejan Lovren exposed Liverpool’s weakness from set-pieces, which was subsequently the main cause for the Reds’ concession of goals in their next few games. The Reds simply lacked any sort of creativity and drive in this game, none more emphasised with the deployment of four centre-backs.
The Reds finally regained some of their early season form with a gritty 3-1 victory at Sunderland, bettering last season’s 1-1 draw. It marked the return of Luis Suarez from suspension, and he made an immediate impact, scoring two goals and causing havoc alongside fellow goalscorer and joint top-scorer Sturridge, while at the same time both started to show some phenomenal understanding as a strike partnership. It marked the first time Rodgers switched to a 3-5-2 formation, and also marked the first time Liverpool scored in the second-half of a Premier League game. Another 3-1 victory followed, this time at Anfield against play-off winners Crystal Palace, seeing the Reds, as mentioned above, equal their victory over bottom-side QPR last year. Again, Sturridge and Suarez found the net, while Steven Gerrard netted a penalty, all in the first-half again, before Dwight Gayle further exposed Liverpool’s frailties at set-pieces when he nodded on a free-kick into the far corner of Mignolet’s net.
The end of the second international break saw the usual eventful game against Newcastle United, which did not disappoint, but saw Liverpool having to share the spoils at St. James’ Park after going behind twice. This could not mirror the three points gained at Newcastle last season though, after that memorable 6-0 thrashing. Yohan Cabaye’s long-range belter was cancelled out by another Gerrard penalty, marking his century of Premier League goals, after Magpies defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa saw red with a professional foul on Suarez inside the penalty box. With an extra man, the Reds were looking to go on and grab three vital away points, but conceded again to another set-piece, this time from substitute Paul Dummett, who finished from close-range following Cabaye’s magnificent delivery.
The response against West Bromwich Albion was impressive, though, and totally reversed the hardly deserving 2-0 defeat against Steve Clarke’s men at Anfield last season, as Suarez grabbed a hat-trick and Sturridge scored an audacious chip. A harshly conceded penalty converted by James Morrison dampened what was a magnificent victory. The visit to the Emirates was next to face current table-toppers Arsenal, and Liverpool did worse than their 2-2 draw last season. The 3-5-2 that Rodgers persisted for the last few games came undone, with Arsene Wenger’s midfielders’ fast passing and quality movement tearing the Reds’ defence apart. Suarez and Sturridge had poor games, while Gerrard was well under-par, leading to a 2-0 victory for Wenger’s Ramsey-inspired Arsenal side.
Finally before going into this third international break, Liverpool switched back to 4-4-2 and reintroduced vice-captain Daniel Agger, and subsequently mirrored their efforts – and scoreline – against Fulham at Anfield last year, winning 4-0 again, their biggest scoreline this season. Gerrard, after coming under criticism for a drop in performance levels in the last few games which was especially highlighted at the Emirates, had a hand in all four goals, assisting three in the process. His first was a wicked free-kick that Fulham defender Fernando Amorebieta could only turn into his own net. Gerrard then whipped in a corner that Martin Skrtel attacked and scored, the latter’s first since he scored against Fulham in that corresponding fixture last season. The third goal was assisted by a Jordan Henderson through ball and finished expertly by Luis Suarez, but not before Gerrard nutmegged United old boy Dimitar Berbatov before finding Henderson. In the second-half, the two Englishmen then hassled another United old boy, Kieran Richardson, off the ball before Gerrard slid the ball through for Suarez to finish with much aplomb again.
The Reds has had a fine first third/quarter of the season so far, and really need to carry on their momentum after this current international break. The past weekend could not have been any better, with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City both losing, while Chelsea escaped with a lucky draw. Arsenal’s loss to United also saw the lead at the top cut to 2 points, while Liverpool cemented their place just behind the Gunners. The other positives also saw Gerrard regain some form before getting a well-deserved break, giving way for Joe Allen to find some much-needed match fitness, while Suarez continued his fine form in front of goal, and Liverpool’s defence finally kept a clean-sheet in a long time.
Next up, city rivals Everton and Roberto Martinez.