Last season's memorable Premier League campaign was notable not only for the goals, but for an exciting, relentless style of play that overwhelmed opponents. Brendan Rodgers' squad--often limited to the same starting eleven with a few new faces popping up from match to match or in the final minutes--ran their opposition ragged, executing a system that was designed to wear teams down and challenge them to keep up. That rarely happened in an impressive four-month run that fell just short of Liverpool's first league title in over two decades, and hopes were high that this style would continue into the current season.
For two or three weeks in August it did, but the fall and winter produced forgettable, bland, and ineffective football that led to speculation about whether or not Rodgers would have his job at the new year. The players were poor, but Rodgers had failed to make a number of seemingly obvious decisions through most of September, October, and November, relying on the same personnel and tactics as his side faded from relevance.
Significant changes were needed, and the manager responded, with a number of changes designed to first allow the squad to find their footing and then, ultimately, discover a new identity. Those alterations were, according to Rodgers, made with some very real risks in mind, ones that have paid off more often than not as his squad head into tomorrow with a chance to join the top four:
"Some teams play with a back four and two holding midfielders - six defensive players. We had two [Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel] and didn't concede a goal. Our ability to press the ball is vital, whatever system we play. But in a three, Emre dropping back in there, who is so comfortable on the ball and can defend, reads the game and is so strong, that gives us great balance.
"It also gives others the opportunity to go and press the game and be really aggressive. We are virtually pressing and attacking with five or six, and negating the counter-attack by having the back three and at least one controlling midfield player. It is a risky game. But I've taken risks all my life to get to where I have got to."
It's not the same system that tore through the Premier League last spring, it's far closer stylistically than what they produced earlier in the season, with smart pressing and more aggression without the ball leading to more control. And while they're inching ever closer to last season's form, they're yet to replicate the total dominance on display against the likes of Arsenal, Everton, and Spurs.
Tomorrow would be an awfully nice time to do so.
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