When Ryan Bennett deflected Raheem Sterling’s cross into his own net, Liverpool notched their fifth goal of the game against Chris Hughton’s admirable but ultimately outclassed Norwich City. Not only this, at that point Liverpool registered their 40th league goal of the campaign. Last season the Reds didn’t hit that mark until the 33rd game, specifically Andy Carroll’s injury time winner against Blackburn in that wacky 3-2 epic at Ewood Park. Last Saturday’s fixture against the Canaries was, in contrast, only the 23rd game. Further than this, last season Liverpool only scored three or more goals on seven separate occasions in the league. Again, that mark was equaled at the weekend.
At the other end of the park, a defence many claim is performing worse this season have registered 9 clean sheets so far. In 2011/2012, after the full 38-game campaign was said and done, only 11 clean sheets had been recorded.
Now, of course, statistics like this aren’t everything. Ultimately points are the most valuable currency, but I think you’d have to be especially cynical to deny that the above represents progress for Brendan Rodgers’ men. More goals, and on more occasions, and a tendency to shut the opposition out with greater regularity. What’s not to like?
The performances, too, are getting better. Since Jordan Henderson’s reintroduction to the team it seems there’s been a real surge of increased cohesion on the pitch. That’s not a sly dig at Joe Allen, a fine player who’s just off form at the moment, but right now with the England Under 21′s captain pressing ahead of Steven Gerrard and Lucas, the team is ticking nicely. Lucas mops up, Gerrard rolls back the years with his distribution and all action displays, and Henderson links the play together.
The weekend’s game was grand for Kopites; goals for Luis Suarez and new signing Daniel Sturridge prompted joy amongst the fan base. Some suggested Sturridge would be too selfish to work alongside Liverpool’s top scorer, but it seems to be going well so far. In defence, Carragher returned to offer a commanding performance, demonstrating the leadership abilities Rodgers had recalled him for.
Perhaps the nicest part of Liverpool’s victory, for me, was the performance and goal by Jordan Henderson. First of all, of course, what a cracking finish it was. You could see by his celebration how much it meant to him. Under the surface, and less obvious but equally impressive, was his overall game. Pressing, energy, availability, regaining possession, recycling possession – all very important elements in Rodgers’ system. Many seem to have made their minds up on the lad and don’t want to change it come hell or high water. To them he’ll always be a £20m anonymous flop and that’s that. It certainly isn’t that black and white, but don’t let that stop them.
Last season he was played far too often in a struggling team, almost always out of position and subsequently out of his depth. Rumours of a swap deal for Dempsey surfaced at the tail end of the summer transfer window, but he’s since pressed on with a fantastic attitude and dragged himself back into the manager’s plans. Tributes must be offered to Rodgers on this. Henderson, Downing and Enrique had pretty low stock after last season. Enrique had started very well for Kenny Dalglish after a transfer from Newcastle but, by close of business in May he was looking like a liability, and fans questioned his future alongside the side’s other new boys.
Since then Rodgers has, as he said so himself, restored value to them. After a wonderfully wacky period in the forward line, Jose Enrique was completely re-energized and looking back to his best. Sadly injury sees him out of action right now, but he’s back on song. Henderson meanwhile is coming into his own with a series of great performances; he’s been key to the recent run of comprehensive victories. Perhaps the most heartening thing for him, aside from the lovely and much deserved standing ovations, is just how many fans were baffled and disappointed to see him left out of the starting lineup against Manchester United. And then there’s Downing who, quite clearly, is as good as he’s ever been for Liverpool. Of course, he’s still a bit anonymous and probably doesn’t have a long term future at the club, but for better or worse he’s never been more productive or useful in a red shirt.
The acquisition of Sturridge has proved a swell move, with very encouraging performances to go alongside three goals in his first three games. Rumour has it there’s more fresh faces on the way, too. Wesley Sneijder was a strong possibility but, after contract negotiations failed to reach a happy compromise, he’s signed for Galatasaray. I hereby offer my approval of FSG’s resolve on this one. All things considered – age, injuries, lack of playing time, MASSIVE WAGES – it was going to be a big risk. Might have been great, but so long as we bring in somebody else we shouldn’t regret it too much. Coutinho seems to be the next target, but you can never be sure. I remember how many medicals Gaston Ramirez had!
Even when – or rather, if – we bring in more new players, I still don’t expect to see Liverpool’s inconsistencies being fully eradicated. It’s much too early for that. I do, however, see potential for a very strong finish to the season, which will likely see the club pull away from the likes of Swansea and West Bromwich Albion (two great teams this year) and finish in the top seven. Where exactly, is far too close to call, but I wouldn’t bet against the Reds finishing higher than many anticipate.
Liverpool’s inconsistencies, alongside their apparent mental fragility, have seen numerous unacceptable results this season. In manner, if nothing else. Defeat away to Stoke wasn’t the biggest shock, but the gutless manner of it all was certainly a very big disappointment. Elsewhere, a home defeat to a struggling Aston Villa and that opening day defeat to WBA stick in people’s minds. To the casual observer they operate as a barrier, birthing hesitance when it comes to offering Brendan Rodgers or his Liverpool team too much praise.
It’s still early days in his reign but, for me at least, the seeds of real progress are beginning to sprout. Call me naive, optimistic, deluded – whatever you like… I’m too busy enjoying a replay of Jordan Henderson’s goal to care.
What a hit, son. What a hit.
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This article was first posted on January 21, 2013