The previous campaign of 2014/15 was one of major disappointment, especially when comparing to the season before. Still, there were a few standout performances from Brendan Rodgers’ men, and these results should be the standards Liverpool hope to reach on a more consistent basis for the new campaign.
3. vs Swansea City (H) 29 December 2014
This victory came at the beginning of the Reds’ 13-match unbeaten run at the turn of the year, and was the first indication for Rodgers that his new found 3-4-3 formation was working. The manner of the result was not so much the amount of goals or types of goal scored, but more of the overall team effort that allow the Reds to dominate the game from start to end, something not seen in during the season up till that game. Two slick team moves were rounded off by wing-back Alberto Moreno and attacking midfielder Adam Lallana, while an unfortunate own goal by former Red Jonjo Shelvey and a Lukasz Fabianski clearance that deflected off Lallana gave Liverpool their biggest margin of victory of the season – achieved without a certain Steven Gerrard, who did not even come off the bench.
lallana scores in his best performance so far
The vindication of this performance led to Rodgers sticking to his unorthodox formula that allowed the Reds to go on that long unbeaten run, however it also blinded the manager to the flaws of his 3-4-3 formation that eventually derailed Liverpool’s late top four charge.
2. vs Tottenham Hotspur (A) 31 August 2014
Winning at White Hart Lane by such a margin might have made the top, but such is Liverpool’s recent record at Spurs that a 3-0 victory could now be seen as routine. This early season victory did give Reds’ fans early optimism, or false hope, that their side might been able to mount another title challenge. The quick, dynamic and lively movement of Liverpool’s front men, supported by Raheem Sterling at the tip of a midfield diamond, had seen off Mauricio Pochettino’s new side as easily as a Luis Suarez-led side had decimated Andre Vilas-Boas’ Spurs in the previous campaign to a wider margin of 5-0.
Sterling’s early goal inside 10 minutes was reminiscence of the Reds’ blitz of the previous season, but it was the last time Liverpool scored that early until Emre Can’s 9th minute goal in a 2-1 home defeat to eventual champions Chelsea more than two months later. Alberto Moreno’s half-pitch sprint and powerful finish reminded most fans of a former favourite John Arne Riise, but was probably the new Spaniard’s only high in a difficult season for him.
The early promise of Sturridge combining with new signing Mario Balotelli was evident in this victory. On hindsight, the style which saw the Reds see off Spurs would have been replicated had it not been for an injury to Daniel Sturridge a week later, while on England duty. That was the start of Sturridge’s long layoff throughout the season which ultimately left the Reds, and Balotelli, wanting in the goalscoring department.
1. vs Manchester City (H) 1 March 2015
At the height of the Reds’ unbeaten run at the start of the year, Rodgers’ side simply blew Manuel Pellegrini’s City side away. Riding high from a magnificent run thus far, Liverpool were all over City from the get go, harassing City’s stars and ensuring they didn’t have a moment to rest. This high pressure paid dividends for Jordan Henderson’s emphatic opener, as the Reds managed to hassle the ball off City’s midfield at the halfway line, drive forward in numbers that gave Henderson the required room to launch his curling effort past Joe Hart.
henderson (L) & coutinho will be vital clogs in the new season
Despite Sergio Aguero’s brilliance that set up Edin Dzeko for City’s equaliser, the Reds never relented and their efforts paid off in the second half. Player of the season Philippe Coutinho picked up the ball near the left side corner of the box, shuffled the ball to his right, before launching a stunning effort into the top corner of the net that meant Hart was again beaten from long range. The Reds resolutely held on, like they did 11 months earlier, and took all three points. It was probably more of Pellegrini’s naive tactics than Rodgers’ 3-4-3, more of Pellegrini’s inflexibility playing into the hands of Rodgers’ energised side. This victory for the Reds was probably a double-edged sword for their manager, as it firmed up Rodgers’ belief that this formation would do well against all the top sides – which alas, did not happen.
With the new campaign a matter of weeks away, Rodgers will do well to look back on these three performances, taking both positives and negatives out. It is quite interesting that these three wins did not come out of Rodgers’ favoured formation, 4-3-3, but instead the 4-4-2 diamond and 3-4-3.
This could show the flexibility the Reds have in switching between tactics and still gaining the required result. However it should also serve as a warning to Rodgers that he needs to settle on a main formation in time for the grunge opener against Stoke City, giving his side as much time as possible to gel and take on a difficult start to the season in barnstorming fashion.