Football, like hair, is often described in terms of shape. This is partly because, like hair, when trying to convey the interwoven complexities of beautiful function it can be useful to step back and take in a broader perspective. We're not quite sure what specific texturing technique is making Brad Pitt's hair pop in Fight Club, but take a few steps back and all that matters is it looks damn fine. And hard as it is for us to step back from the fractious first half of this 2014/15 season, Brendan Rodgers still clearly has a genius footballing mind. The guy gets how to develop players, how to manipulate a set of skills, and how to parlay combinations of individuals into his overall tactical plan. The problem is Brendan Rodgers also has a deeply rooted habit of routinely asking for the borderline impossible.
As much the architect of a bit of unabashed 90s flavor as he has been the architect of his team's current league position, Liverpool's leader has inspired an avalanche of unflattering euphemisms this season. Yet when one looks at the last three games from a broader perspective, a form seems to be appearing on Liverpool's immediate horizon. What was once reminiscent of a babbling, bumbling band of baboons has begun to demonstrate some real shape. The Gaffer has been laboring in the lab, and it's starting to bear fruit.
If you ask us, the first couple days after a haircut are the best. The magic is happening and the follicles are jibing. C'est moi in the reflection with windblown shades of Borini? But through these heady hours, you are still vaguely aware that you'll never be able to consistently replicate this jelly. You've got underlying constraints that are going to rear their head sooner or later. So it was for Liverpool during that smoldering second half of the 2013/14 season. If the shambolic defending was being sufficiently propped up, it wasn't completely immaterial. If the decrepit groin of a once fantastic captain was delivering set piece wizardry at a phenomenal rate, it was still all just a slip away from harsh reality. The first half of this year has more than underscored these same failings. Take too much off the top, and suddenly nothing is sitting the way we envisioned.
The good thing about these periods is they tend to be transitional, in one way or another. The hair grows into a new phase, or you decide to start from the beginning, shearing away the problems. The last three games seem to indicate that Rodgers has opted for the former option. He's grown a bit of a possessional monster out of a striker-less attack, buttressed by a rudderless midfield, and safeguarded by a defense tha-SQUIRREL!!!! It's been somewhere between a 3-1-6, a 3-6-1, and a 3-3-4 depending on the situational realities of the game, and how many fingers you're using to cover your eyes as Dejan decides to step up for an interception. Lazar Markovic is apparently at his deadliest as an inverted wingback that never wingbacks. After a, frankly, torrid spell of form, Jordan Henderson is once again providing anything and everything that we need him to provide. Raheem Sterling continues to demonstrate that there is no ceiling to his game. Whether due to genius or panic, BR has reached into his bag of tricks and pulled something out that may be devastating. In particular when combined with the clinical finishing waiting in the academy, on the rehab table, and in the transfer list.
The United game brought with it a lot of ugliness, and warranted the barrage of negativity that followed on. However, it also brought periods of play where Liverpool's shape was evident. It allowed them to hunt in packs on the press in certain areas of the pitch, and begin to effectively combine in possession. It accentuated the impact of our creators. On another day, both Sterling and Balotelli put those chances away, let alone a fit Sturridge. With ALL OF THE MIDFIELDERS, we were able to produce the type of chances we dispatched with such regularity during our march to second last year. That's a world away from where this started.
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The Bournemouth game will, in our memory at least, always be defined by the hair. With the United result still ringing in our ears, things started off with our first glimpse of absurdly early life crisis Raheem Sterling. Not a pretty start. Then we lined up against whatever this was. Even our sweetest dreams threatened to turn into nightmares with Lallana's confusing new cut , before it all made sweet music again in the post-match interview. Even Henderson had clipped some more subtle edginess into his repertoire. The hair eventually gave way to familiar issues of Lucas and Gerrard trying awkwardly to share space, calamitous defending providing goalmouth opportunities that were mercifully wasted, and the lack of a reference at the top. We found our feet in the game, though, and at times it proved to be bedazzling.
Sterling became more deliberate in using pace to exploit pockets of space off the back line. Coutinho looked comfy up high, and Lallana's movements began gelling with their surroundings. Then Lazar happened, and we passed the ball - by our official count -1,753 times on our way to multiple goals. Fowler, we even let one in on the other end, just to embellish the feel of home. If the United game was the initial trimming on the sides and back, and the Bournemouth game was the blending and texturizing up top, then the show against Arsenal was the moment when the product gets styled in, leaving the shape undeniable.
Because of the way Liverpool have floundered this year, a home point is going to be twinged with frustration from here on out. However, that should not dilute the excitement for what happened against the Gunners. That possessional game looked completely natural. Coming from a team that is capable of looking so dimwitted on the ball, the patiently threatening possession on display last Sunday was a real joy to behold. People like Lallana and Markovic clearly help us settle into the sort of rhythm that BR has professed to be his ideal modus operandi. It appears as if the spark has been struck over these games. Now it's a matter of making it catch.
Infuriating selections and substitutions aside, the realm of the ludicrous does seem to be a hotbed for the best of Brendan Rodgers' footballing ideas. Decisions and tactics are ridiculous and self-flagellating all the way up to the point where they're producing multiple goals a game, and giving robust defenses a case of the jellybones. Then again, as with hair, achieving a specific shape isn't always ideal. There are people who just don't need to experiment with Pompahawks, just as there are teams who are simply ill equipped to execute a flowing 4-3-3.
It's fair to question whether putting Markovic at left wingback really is the best way for the Serbian to have an impact. Are we actually making gains defensively with three centerbacks and no goalkeeper? The gripes have a familiar ring to them. But it should be noted that there were also gripes to be had with the defense-compromising, counter-attacking juggernaut we rode to great success last year. The bottom line remains the same: open the floodgates and genius is underscored, keep them shut and... well, we'll always have Norwich City and 5-1 against Arsenal at Anfield.