Liverpool’s recent run has put them among the most in form teams in English football right now. Unfortunately finding their form after their ousting from the Champions League group stages, they still have a chance to end the season on a positive note, as they are alive in both the FA Cup and Europa League, and can still qualify for next years Champions League play by finishing in the top four in England.
Many factors have contributed to the recent upswing in form. Many have attributed it to manager Brendan Rodgers’ new formation with three defenders, opening things up on the attack with some extra fire-power flying up the wings (credit Lazar Marković, Alberto Moreno and newly discovered Jordon Ibe with that). But, in my opinion, although Rodgers has been brilliant of late with his decisions, he doesn’t deserve all of the credit. I believe that there are three real factors besides the new formation that have helped propel Liverpool back to a legitimate threat in the Premier League.
Martin Škrtel leading the defence
It’s tough for players who have played in the common four-man defensive formations for all or most of their life to suddenly adopt a new three-man formation mid-season. It’s even harder when you’ve got a centre back considered “past his prime” who has been shaky, a predominantly left-footed centre back who draws a collective gasp every time the ball touches his awkward feet, and a 21 year old central midfielder who has been thrust into a defensive position.
Martin Škrtel, age 30, has been revitalized, and other than a shaky first half against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup, has been just phenomenal in the defence. Because of the assurance in his play, he has brought some pressure off of the sometimes clumsy Mamadou Sakho and the young German former midfielder Emre Can. Sakho has been a lot better, and although his play sometimes makes viewers uneasy, he is a steady option at the back.
Can has had some bad moments, like conceding a penalty against Chelsea, but, for the most part, he has played brilliantly at the back. Together, the three have made up for the terrible performance by the back four in the beginning of the season.
Glen Johnson is rarely used nowadays, Alberto Moreno has moved to left wing where his speed is better utilized and his lack of defensive skill is less exposed. Dejan Lovren has played sparingly, and is working his way back into the rotation.
All of this improvement has also helped Simon Mignolet gain his confidence back as well, now that he has a steady defence in front of him. Škrtel and crew have done a great job getting Liverpool back on track.
The return of Sturridge
Daniel Sturridge is considered one of the best talents in English football, and he has proven it in his time with Liverpool, especially when he was paired with Luis Suárez. With Suárez now at Barcelona, Sturridge was supposed to form a partnership with newcomer Mario Balotelli. Instead, Sturridge has been hurt all season, and Balotelli has fallen out of favour.
Despite a near return in the autumn, it took until 2015 for Sturridge to finally return, but, when he did, he showed how important he is. He’s scoring goals, creating chances, and opening up space for others.
Rodgers has experimented with Sturridge and Balotelli since his return, and it has only led to better output. Along with helping Balotelli, Sturridge also helps youngster Raheem Sterling move back to his comfort zone on the wing. Sturridge has also already opened up more opportunities and spaces in play for the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Jordon Ibe, and others. Sturridge’s return gives Brendan Rodgers a plethora of options at the attacking end of the field.
Aside from Sterling’s injury, which is not severe, Liverpool has been bolstered by the squad’s youngsters’ ability to stay healthy throughout the season. Sterling is 20, Jordon Ibe is 19, Emre Can is 21, and many other important players are 26 or younger. Often, this means that players are gifted, but not polished, and that’s what it seemed like at the beginning of the season. As the season has progressed, these players have become more refined, and the recent record has shown that.
The most important part of the youth of this Liverpool squad, however, is their durability. In the bulk of a Premier League season, injuries can make or break a season, and the team has not been helped by injuries to veterans like captain Steven Gerrard or the recently in-form Lucas Leiva. Can and Ibe haven’t been in the line-up as much as others, but are starting to play more as the season progresses, so their health is vital.
Other players such as Coutinho, Marković, Sterling, and even Jordan Henderson at age 24 have played so many games that their bodies are taking a lot. Sterling has shown that, as he has missed a few games with an injury, but came on as a sub against Beşiktaş, and then started and scored against Southampton. But, for the most part, these young guys have shown resilience, bravery, and strength by playing so much and playing at such a high level. Not only does this bode well for this season, but for the future as well.
Brendan Rodgers has shown why he’s a fantastic manager, but the performances by the players and these three reasons are a huge part of Liverpool’s recent success. The huge win against Southampton was incredibly important, but the squad needs to come back strong against Manchester City this weekend.