Brendan Rodgers’ revamped Liverpool side are already looking a solid outfit both on and off the pitch this season.
On the pitch, it is already very apparent that Rodgers is keen to address both the defensive and offensive issues that became all too familiar during the previous campaign. He has firmly reestablished an influence on the way the side performs and looks to have a greater understanding with regards to the way he must setup and prepare his side.
The manager has turned a greater focus towards defensive organisation and discipline as evidenced by Liverpool’s solid approach to the first three Premier League games, earning three clean sheets as well as two wins and a draw. Having three central midfielders as part of the 4-3-3 formation used against Arsenal highlights the concentration on the players maintaining their shape, which was something Rodgers foreshadowed when he proposed plans to dominate space in their Monday night game at the Emirates.
Whether it be a midfield three or two, each player looks well drilled with James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can posing as the obvious pressing midfielders who are needed in order to deny the opposition time on the ball. This, in itself, grants Philippe Coutinho more freedom to drift into different positions, ensuring he is on the ball as much as possible and depicting a needed predictability in terms of making the Brazilian the main man.
Winning the midfield battle has, so far, promised to reduce the chance of Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren being left to deal with attacking midfielders on their own, while it also allows the back four more time to get into shape, hinting at the need for organisation that Rodgers is clearly trying to achieve. An injection of hard work and impetus has been reminiscent of the intense pressing and fight shown from the players during the 2013/2014 season where the team finished second.
It seems as though the players, unlike times last season, are familiar with what is required. None of the players are being used in positions they are uncomfortable which is so vital to creating the right balance throughout the side.
Having a right footed player in Joe Gomez at left back is also a clever and purposeful move with the youngster less likely to bomb forward as much as a left footed left back would, such as Alberto Moreno. Gomez has already benefited Dejan Lovren by occupying narrow positions when without the ball, preventing Lovren from being exposed on his own at the left side of defence- which happened far too regularly when alongside Moreno.
Both Gomez and the already impressive Nathaniel Clynne have contributed to the enhanced defensive stability. The use of the same back four for the first three games expresses Rodgers’ desire to create chemistry and understanding throughout the team and especially in defence- something that proved so vital to Chelsea during their title winning campaign in 2014/2015.
The selection choices act as an intriguing insight into the way Brendan Rodgers plans to conduct his business this year. The faith shown in Dejan Lovren at centre back was surprising at the beginning of the season after the Croatian struggled to settle down, however information suggesting Mamadou Sakho was not a Brendan Rodgers signing is useful in helping fans realise that the manager is in full control this year.
He is under no pressure to make use of signings carried out by the transfer committee or owners, as evidenced further by the omission of Lazar Markovic and even Mario Balotelli- who has rejoined AC Milan on a season long loan. Rodgers knows what he wants and Lovren, when in the form he showed at Southampton, represents a player the former Swansea manager enjoys working with in terms of his ability to pass out from the back. Despite Joe Gomez arriving with very little experience, he is not afraid to make the big call to leave Moreno out in favour of the English defender. Big calls like this are needed at such a big club like Liverpool.
Work off the pitch has also set the bar for a solid season in terms of Rodgers refusing to be stuck in two minds in his decision to sell players. It has been clear that if he has no plans for them, he is not afraid to let them go. The decision to loan Mario Balotelli back to AC Milan reiterates the manager’s control with it being very clear in the first place that he wasn’t keen on bringing the Italian to the club. He has taken a firm stance, as he should, and ignored the debate surrounding whether the controversial striker deserves another chance by keeping him away from the first team in order to create a familiar environment at Melwood.
Moreover, Rodgers and the club remained professional when deciding to sell Rickie Lambert after just one season, avoiding letting sentiment get in the way of what is most important in the present and future state of the club. Christian Benteke has been a signing Rodgers has supported and wanted which, despite doubts over the Belgian, emerges as a potentially huge positive for Liverpool fans in terms of their manager having a good idea as to how he wants to set his side up.
A new sense of predictability at Anfield could be helpful this season. With Philippe Coutinho the prominent attacking midfielder and Christian Benteke the most likely goal scorer, other teams must be well equipped to deal with the obvious threats that Liverpool pose. Liverpool remain in control, despite the obvious tactics, and can use this as a way of challenging teams to plan in more detail ahead of games against the Reds. It puts other Premier League teams under more pressure to plan for games against Liverpool, which will distract them from other areas of the game at the same time.
There appears to have been more thought put into this season by both club and manager with big calls being made in the best interest of the team. The lack of goals has been addressed, as have the team’s defensive weaknesses. So far, Liverpool look set for a solid season, if they continue in the same manner they have started.