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Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool Formula Takes Time to Settle

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In Brendan Rodgers' third season at the club, a familiar pattern has emerged. It's time to take a closer look.

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It's clear that the relationship between Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool looks far healthier in the second half of the league campaign. Rodgers' "way of working" takes time for it to fully bloom, but that's widely known by anyone paying attention. However, it may be pertinent to look into the details of each season instead of indiscriminately lumping the three together.

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While the current campaign has twelve games remaining before its conclusion, Liverpool have provided enough of a turnaround to be considered as on of the main challengers for one of two places in the top four below Manchester City and Chelsea. Joe Allen claimed that Liverpool have overcome the loss of Luis Suárez, who underlined his quality by terrorising Liverpool's next opponents. The improvement from the mixed months of October and December along with the footballing squalor experienced in September and November has been notable, but Liverpool are still chasing others ahead of them.

Liverpool haven't recorded a big win in the Premier League so far this season, a feat that was achieved numerous times over the past two domestic league campaigns. Liverpool have only won by a three-goal margin twice in the league against Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City in games that were closer than the scoreline suggested. Other competitions are notable for a similar lack of convincing winning margins with the 3-1 victory over Bournemouth standing alone as the only cup game at home or abroad where Liverpool scored more than two goals. For most of this campaign, the absence of Luis Suárez and Daniel Strurridge made it difficult for Liverpool to find an attacking formula. The figures from the past 76 league games illustrate Brendan Rodgers' talent for building attacking sides. Liverpool won by three goals or more nine times in the league in 2012/13 and and eleven times last season.

There is a more compelling case for the defence. Since a 3421 formation was deployed against Manchester United in December, Liverpool have recorded six clean sheets in ten games that leaves the side with a total of ten with twelve league games to go. This compares favourably with last season's ten clean sheets, and the sixteen recorded in Rodgers' first season can be reached, surpassed even. That figure from Rodgers' debut season is impressive considering an exceedingly wretched start  to the Rodgers era and struggles in November and December. A patchy defensive balance was found in December even with error-strewn defeats against Stoke City and Aston Villa, with twelve of the sixteen clean sheets recorded coming from that month onwards.

While Liverpool's attacking spark would flicker at various times in the first season, going missing on occasion when frequent defensive errors condemned Brendan Rodgers' side to defeat, Rodgers' second season traded growing defensive stability for a lethal attack. Interestingly, the full attacking potential was unlocked at a similar stage last season in December after defeat at Hull City; the Reds won four in a row convincingly before losing away to Chelsea and Manchester City in the the final two games of 2013. 2014 saw many a defence dismantled including the rearguards of Everton, Spurs, Arsenal, and Manchester United.

Daniel Sturridge could be a spark in a similar manner to when he first arrived at the club just over two years ago and hasn't found his best form yet as he works his way back to match fitness. Perhaps Jordon Ibe could provide freshness in attack as Philippe Coutinho did after the magical Brazilian arrived in the same January transfer window as Sturridge in 2013. Liverpool won seven, drew four, and lost one of their remaining twelve league games to complete the first full entry in Brendan Rodgers' scrapbook. Chelsea, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, and Southampton were closely fought games in that final stretch. If Liverpool replicated that run, it's likely that a top four place would be secured with 71 points. Although Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea make up a third of the remaining league schedule, Liverpool have recorded more points than any of them in 2015 to date.

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The current formula is different to the ones that preceded it but can be just as potent. How potent? We're going to find out in a run of games, where the tactical and motivational juju of Brendan Rodgers will be tested across an unparalleled number of games between now and May.