London – Liverpool's 4-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend took them to the top of the Premier League table, raising hopes of a first English title since 1990.
Their title tilt has been masterminded by manager Brendan Rodgers, who oversaw a seventh-place finish last season in his first campaign since succeeding Kenny Dalglish in July 2012.
Here, we look at some of the methods that the 41-year-old has used to turn Anfield into a fortress once again:
1. A new identity
- Liverpool have long been associated with pass-and-move football, but the club lost their way during Dalglish's second stint as manager, typified by the club-record £35 million ($58.3
million, 42.4 million euros) acquisition of target man Andy Carroll in January 2011. Rodgers has taken Liverpool back to their roots, instituting a patient, possession-based game and urging his players to play the ball out from the back even when they are put under pressure. “Under some of the previous managers, when things haven't been going well, we'd tend to go more direct and get the ball forward more quickly,” captain Steven Gerrard told FourFourTwo magazine last year. “But Brendan wants us to play from the back and improve our angles so we pass with more incision and pace. He wants us to stick to Plan A.”
2. Shrewd signings
- Four consecutive seasons without Champions League football have hit the club in the pocket, but Rodgers has helped get around the problem by showing an eye for a bargain in the transfer market. Daniel Sturridge cost only £12 million when he signed from Chelsea in January last year, but he has emerged as one of the deadliest strikers in the country, scoring 34 goals in his first 43 games for the club. Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho, signed from Inter Milan for £8.5 million, has also proved a shrewd acquisition, although of the six players who arrived last year, only goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been able to hold down a first-team place.
3. Getting the best out of Suarez
- There was a time during the close season when the prospect of seeing Luis Suarez in a Liverpool shirt again seemed a distinctly remote possibility. Having been banned for 10 matches after biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic, the Uruguayan complained about his treatment by the British press and then accused Liverpool of breaking their word by denying him a move to Arsenal. Rodgers stood firm, however, and Suarez has rewarded the Northern Irishman by producing the best season of his career, scoring 29 league goals and developing a superb understanding with Sturridge. He signed a new contract in December and is the overwhelming favourite to be voted the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year.
4. Squad rotation and man management
- Raheem Sterling disappeared from view mid-way through last season after bursting onto the scene, with Rodgers explaining that he was worried about him getting burnt out, and the 19-year-old winger's electric displays this term have vindicated the manager's cautious approach. After a rocky start to his Anfield career, former Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson has blossomed under Rodgers's guidance, while 21-year-old full-back Jon Flanagan has grasped the opportunity to claim a starting berth with both hands.
5. Tactical flexibility and bravery
- Rodgers learnt at the knee of Jose Mourinho during his time as a youth coach at Chelsea and he is forging a reputation as a similarly resourceful tactician. Liverpool have used a variety of different playing systems this season, deploying a 3-4-1-2
formation during the autumn and alternating between a 4-3-3 and a 4-3-1-2 in recent weeks. Speaking after the victory over Spurs on Sunday, Rodgers said: “The last four games we played a diamond (4-3-1-2); today it was 4-3-3. We have got flexibility and that is what we are trying to develop, and the players are comfortable with that.” His commitment to fielding two strikers has enabled Liverpool to plunder 88 league goals in 32 matches, while 33-year-old Gerrard has been a revelation in a new midfield holding role. – Sapa-AFP