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Dublin: 7°C Saturday 26 September 2020

7 reasons why Liverpool have confounded their critics this season

Players with a knowledge of the history of the club, an ability to adapt tactically and more of the Reds’ strong points.

NO MATTER WHAT happens between now and the end of the season, this campaign will be looked back upon as a highly successful year for Liverpool FC.

It has been a genuinely incredible journey for Brendan Rodgers’ side, which has seen them go from a team that many people expected to collapse on the back of Luis Suarez’s seemingly inevitable departure, to an outside bet for a top-four place, and finally, to their current position as the bookies’ favourites to lift the Premier League title.

With that in mind, below we identify seven key factors in the Reds’ remarkable rise.

1. Players with a knowledge of the history of the club

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Liverpool v Manchester City - Anfield Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

(Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard celebrates with his team after they beat Manchester City)

Against Manchester City at the weekend, Liverpool had three players — Steven Gerrard, Jon Flanagan and Raheem Sterling — who have come through the ranks at the Liverpool academy.

Gerrard and Flanagan have both been at the club since they were kids, while Sterling was signed by Rafa Benitez as a 15-year-old from QPR in 2010.

This may seem like a banal point, but the emotion of the occasion was unquestionably a factor on Sunday — any doubts about that were firmly put to rest amid the sight of Steven Gerrard rallying his teammates with tears in his eyes come the final whistle.

Even Brendan Rodgers, in both his post and pre-match interviews, spoke eloquently about the depth of feeling surrounding Hillsborough and each player’s awareness of its importance in the context of the club’s history.

Therefore, as accomplished as City and Chelsea are, it’s difficult to ever imagine their players being similarly inspired by the history of their respective clubs, as Gerrard and co patently were at the weekend.

2. An ability to adapt tactically

Britain Soccer Premier League Source: AP/Press Association Images

(Joe Allen has been one of Liverpool’s more underappreciated players this year)

While teams can have all the passion and ability in the world, they will inevitably fail if their players don’t possess considerable tactical intelligence.

Throughout this season, whether Liverpool have played 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or the diamond formation, their players have invariably shown an uncanny ability to adapt to their designated roles.

While they have usually made it look easy, such a quality should not be taken for granted — compare them, for instance, to Manchester United. The Red Devils have not been quite so tactically versatile — a classic case in point was the opening stages of their league encounter with Manchester City at Old Trafford, where they were overrun in the opening stages, as a quickly-abandoned 4-3-3 experiment backfired badly for Moyes and his men.

Liverpool, however, have always looked relatively impressive no matter what formation they’ve deployed, and on Sunday, the enforced change to a five-man midfield when Sturridge was taken off injured actually helped the Reds’ cause to an extent, enabling them to gain a greater foothold in midfield and consequently grab the winner.

3. Overachieving footballers

Britain Soccer Premier League Source: AP/Press Association Images

(Jordan Henderson celebrates after scoring past Swansea City goalkeeper Michel Vorm)

For much of the season, Liverpool were thought of as top-four contenders without the depth of talent to challenge for the title.

Not so long ago, as eminent a pundit as Gary Neville was backing them to battle with Spurs and Everton for the fourth Champions League spot. However, a 10-match winning streak has now put them in pole position in the title race.

It has long been obvious that Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were top-class players, yet their brilliance alone could not have gotten Liverpool this far.

Instead, a mixture of rapidly maturing youngsters (Raheem Sterling, Jon Flanagan) and previous misfits with renewed confidence levels (Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen) have ensured the substance that many previously accused Liverpool of lacking has been increasingly evident of late, with the side earning a series of hard-earned victories in difficult circumstances.

4. Lack of distractions

Soccer - Carling Cup - Final - Cardiff City v Liverpool - Wembley Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

(Liverpool’s league form has ostensibly suffered in previous years owing to distractions elsewhere)

Unlike their title rivals, Liverpool have not had to worry about European football this year. Moreover, they exited both the League and FA Cup relatively early, meaning they have played far fewer games this season than most of the teams in the top half of the table.

And accordingly, their impressive fitness has been evident on a regular basis in games during this campaign. Brendan Rodgers’ side’s fast starts to games have become one of their hallmarks — on several occasions, against teams of the calibre of Tottenham and Arsenal, they have had the contest effectively won by half-time.

Indeed, the sharpness the team have displayed early on in matches is reflected by the fact that they have already broken the Premier League record for first-half goals.

Of course, that’s not to say they would have been especially poor if they had to contend with European football, but not having to cope with the arduous demands of Thursday night Europa League games, which they have been regularly forced to endure in recent seasons, has been far from a hindrance this year.

5. They happen to have arguably the best strike partnership in the history of the Premier League at their disposal

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Cardiff City v Liverpool - Cardiff City Stadium Source: David Davies

(Daniel Sturridge celebrates a goal with Luis Suarez)

Granted, as mentioned above, plenty of other Liverpool players have more than held their own, but Suarez and Sturridge’s form has been nothing short of stunning this season, easily eclipsing every other striker in the league with their consistently dazzling performances.

In Premier League history, only Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole’s overall tally of 55 goals in the 1993-94 campaign is superior to the 49 goals and counting that Suarez and Sturridge have accumulated this year — and the Newcastle duo had the advantage of playing a 42-game season.

If Sturridge is ruled out for the rest of the season, as some have suggested he might be after picking up an injury at the weekend, then Beardsley and Cole’s record is likely to stay intact.

However, either way, the Liverpool duo have pulled off a near-miraculous feat and inspired their title challenge in the process — they have more than compensated for the Reds’ often unreliable defence, and the team would be unrecognisable without the potent mixture of pace and skill they routinely provide, as the focal point of the team’s formidable and at times unstoppable counter-attacks.

6. Brendan Rodgers’ near-flawless decision-making

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Liverpool v Southampton - Anfield Source: Peter Byrne

(Brendan Rodgers is the odds-on favourite to be named as the Premier League Manager of the Year)

It seems incredible to think that just over a year ago, Brendan Rodgers was a near-laughing stock in certain circles owing to the unfavourable manner in which the Being Liverpool documentary portrayed him. Some critics went so far as to compare him to David Brent — the dopey protagonist of British sitcom The Office.

While simultaneously silencing his many critics, Rodgers has made many brave decisions in recent times, and most have looked ingenious in hindsight.

Successfully reinventing Steven Gerrard as a more tactically-disciplined, deep-lying midfielder, opting for the more dogged and defensive-minded Joe Allen ahead of the rich creativity offered by Philippe Coutinho in their vital trip to Old Trafford, refusing to accommodate big-money signings such as Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing for the sake of it, placing faith in the inexperienced centre-back Mamadou Sakho for the game at the weekend, the list of unequivocal triumphs goes on…

Yet Rodgers has naturally also had some good fortune — it has been widely reported that he didn’t want to sign Daniel Sturridge, while it has also been suggested from reputable sources that the Northern Irish boss was at one stage keen on selling Jordan Henderson to Fulham. But whether it’s Jose Mourinho, Alex Ferguson or someone else, any manager worth his salt who has ever been in anyway successful has also enjoyed tremendous luck along the way.

And while Rodgers does not merit being compared to the greats just yet, guiding last year’s seventh-place finishers to this year’s Premier League title with largely the same set of players would surely be up there with Mourinho winning the Champions League at Porto and Ferguson inspiring Aberdeen to victory in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, as one of the history books’ list of audacious and improbable managerial feats.

7. Anfield is a fortress once again

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Liverpool v Manchester City - Anfield Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

(Last weekend, players from both teams line up for a minute’s silence in front of fans in the Kop displaying cards to form a message in remembrance of the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster)

“It’s there to remind our lads who they’re playing for, and to remind the opposition who they’re playing against,” so Bill Shankly once famously said of the ‘This is Anfield’ sign that greets players as they emerge from the dressing rooms of the hallowed ground.

The quote and the sign itself were at one point seen as symbolising the daunting task that away sides faced when travelling to Liverpool. Yet the overriding sense of extreme difficulty in avoiding defeat at Anfield diminished as the Reds descended into their well-documented post-80s slump.

Nevertheless, this year, of the 17 games Liverpool have played at home, they have drawn one, lost one and won 15.

Therefore, Anfield is at last a genuine fortress once again and finally, the rich history of the club has been looked upon by its players as empowering rather than burdensome.

This Irish Liverpool fan did not enjoy the dying moments of their game with Man City>

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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