To call Liverpool's first half of the 2014-15 campaign a difficult one would be an understatement. After 17 matches, the club has only earned 22 points and scored 21 goals, the exact same return they had at the same stage of Roy Hodgson's disastrous half-season at the club. This time around, though, they've conceded three more goals, 24 in total, and have a -3 goal differential.
Yet many are finding hope in the results of the past week. It may be a stretch to find encouragement in a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United, a victory over a Championship side in the League Cup, and a home draw with Arsenal, but if you squint just right it's there. It's there in the chances created and the pressure in the final third and the squad's ability to hold onto possession as well against Arsenal as Bournemouth.
"We're at our best when our game is aggressive and I think we've had to adapt the way we play because of personnel," said Brendan Rodgers. "The period after the Crystal Palace game, we needed results and needed to steady the ship and get some performances in, but I knew longer term that that wasn't going to get us where we want to go and certainly wouldn't have us nearly winning the league like last season."
Liverpool followed up their 3-1 defeat to Palace with a stretch of moderate success, beating Stoke and Leicester and drawing with Sunderland in the league while looking a generally more solid side. They lacked any sense of dynamism, though. They were a flat side, grinding out results. And then they fell out of the Champions League, having failed to advance from a group they had been favourites to finish second in.
"So for us it was about trying to find the solution to get back that intensity and tempo to our game, which is critical in terms of how we work," added the manager, further explaining his decision to shift formations and refocus on pressing the opposition high up the pitch. "That's the key, that real aggressive pressure at the top end of the field. The players are starting to adapt and performances will get better and better."
In players like Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, and even Philippe Coutinho, Rodgers does have at his disposal creative attacking players who will work hard to close the opposition down. The problem before the past few matches was getting them all out on the pitch at the same time. Now that he has, though, there do seem genuine reasons to be encouraged by Liverpool's performances, even if reasons for concern do remain.
If pushed to its logical end-point, there is also room for further improvement in the current approach. With Emre Can, despite that he seems stuck on the bench, Rodgers appears to have a perfect rotation option for giving either the tired Steven Gerrard or out of form Jordan Henderson a spell off while putting out a side that will press and harry the opponent with even more aggression than the one that started last Sunday's match.
Whatever Rodgers chooses to do with his available personnel against Burnley tomorrow, though, it seems a safe bet that the 3-6-1 and a focus on pressure and possession will remain. Hopefully, nearly half way through a season filled with struggles and false dawns, it will turn out to be the approach that truly gets Liverpool's season back on track.
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