Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Brendan Rodgers has set Liverpool on road to history

Carnlough native Brendan Rodgers has guided Liverpool to a staggering 10 successive Premier League victories which have put the Anfield men in sight of their first title in 24 years. Here, Stuart McKinley cites 10 ways Rodgers has transformed the club

Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez have been instrumental to Liverpool's rise in the Premier League this season

1. No shortcut to success

After having his playing career cut short at only 20-years-old, just two years after leaving Ballymena United for Reading, Rodgers set about pursuing a career in coaching, laying solid foundations by making frequent trips to Spain while working with young players at Reading. He didn't copy other's methods, he picked out bits he liked, adapted them and applied them to his own group of players. After leading Swansea to the Premier League they entertained and won matches, as well as plaudits. Liverpool knew he was right man to take their footballing tradition forward and it's paying dividends.

2. Smart business in the transfer market

Writing off a £20m loss is a big call for any manager, let alone one with just a single season of Premier League experience who has just stepped into one of the biggest clubs on the planet. Rodgers knew that £35m record signing Andy Carroll just wasn't going to work out at Liverpool and he didn't fit into the Carnlough native's preferred style of play. He was shipped out to West Ham, firstly on loan before being sold for a knockdown £15m. Stewart Downing was sent to east-London as well when deemed surplus to requirements and Jonjo Shelvey was never going to be a Liverpool regular. Charlie Adam, Maxi Rodriguez, Joe Cole and Dirk Kuyt also departed. He spent well too; Daniel Sturridge being the main buy, but smart purchases like Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho and a little-known Brazilian called Philippe Coutinho have all been impressive this season.

3. Knowing his best team – and sticking with it

Squad rotation is the in thing these days, but when Liverpool were sweeping all before them in the 1980s they were often doing it with just 13 or 14 players being used throughout the season. That wouldn't happen now, even though there are four less league games in the 20-team Premier League, but Rodgers' philosophy is 'if it's not broke why fix it?' and you could almost pick his team every week. Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Flanagan, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho, Sturridge and Suarez (plus whoever slots in at the back when fit) is the preferred line up. He sticks with the tried and tested and what he knows.

4. Employing Dr Steve Peters

No wonder England manager Roy Hodgson is taking the psychiatrist to the World Cup.

And it's hardly a surprise that rival clubs have tried to tease him away from Anfield too. Dr Peters' influence on the Liverpool team shouldn't be underplayed. His impact was clearly visible in the way they kept fighting after being pegged back by Manchester City on Sunday.

5. Steering clear of the mind games

Jose Mourinho spends that much time talking about other teams that you wonder when he actually focuses on managing Chelsea. He'll have to try harder if he's going to wind-up unflappable Ulsterman Rodgers. He hasn't got involved in any of that carry on and the manager's tunnel vision is helping his players – it's probably Peters' telling him to control what you can control and not worrying too much about anything else.

6. Single focus

Not Rodgers-made, but with no European football, just three games in the FA Cup and two in the League Cup, the Premier League is all that Liverpool have had to think about since February. Nobody is feeling the pace and that's why they are still going strong, winning 10 in a row.

7. Restoring the Anfield fear factor

FOR a few years Anfield was a happy hunting ground for visiting teams, even those in the lower half of the table. This season they have taken 49 points out of a possible 54 at home. Win your home games you win the league, or at least give yourself a very good chance.

8. Scoring goals

Liverpool's defensive record isn't great – Tottenham are the only team in top seven to have conceded more, with the Reds letting a goal in, on average once every 73 minutes. Scoring 2.7 goal per match makes up for that, with a total of 93 league goals in 34 games. Steven Gerrard, Sturridge and Luis Suarez have scored 62 of them.

9. Building a team

It's not so long ago that Liverpool were considered a one-man team – for years it was Gerrard, then last season Suarez took on that mantle. That's not the case anymore though. Glen Johnson and Jordan Henderson didn't exactly set the world alight in their early days at Anfield and Suarez was followed constantly by negative publicity until recent months. There were also question marks over whether Sturridge would deliver at a big club. Brendan has brought out the best in all of them.

10. Showing faith in youth

Academy graduates Jon Flanagan and Raheem Sterling have been highly impressive this season. Rodgers gave them their opportunity and they have nailed down their spots. The manager's willingness to give youth its chance bodes well for Northern Ireland under-21 international Ryan McLaughlin if he can keep developing.

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