Liverpool have started the new term in fine fashion. While others are still getting their feet under the table, the Reds are immediately gaining good grades with solid, if unspectacular, performances. Having been handed a less than satisfactory report card last season, Liverpool have learned from the mistakes made and are setting out to make amends.
Nowhere were these lessons more evident than on Monday night at the Emirates. Last season, Liverpool tried to go toe-to-toe with Arsenal. In some ways, it worked. Liverpool just edged the possession stakes, having 51% of the ball.
Fat lot of good that was though, as they went on to lose the game 4-1.
This time around, the Reds were clearly drilled in a more pragmatic approach. Before the game, Rodgers referred to “dangerous possession” and “dominating the space”, not the ball. A far cry from his footballing philosophy when he first arrived at the club.
The 0-0 draw saw Liverpool have just 34% possession – the least a Brendan Rodgers Liverpool team has ever had in a Premier League game. Death by football it certainly wasn’t, but we conceded four fewer goals and gained one more point than in April. Progress.
Another reason that Liverpool were able to earn a point of the Emirates was because of a settled back four.
There’s no doubt that Mamadou Sakho is a better footballer than Dejan Lovren, but the Frenchman’s injury record is patchy at best. This season, Rodgers has clearly decided that he doesn’t want to chop and change his defence on a regular basis, as was the case last season.
Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, Lovren and Joe Gomez have played all 270 minutes of football so far this season and the goals conceded column reads ‘nil’. As much as we all love Sakho, you can’t argue with that.
Not only have the Reds learned lessons from last season, but the young crop of players are improving game on game in 2015-16.
Joe Gomez has been magnificent so far. In the midst of an assured debut at Stoke, the 18-year-old made just one mistake as he misjudged a high ball when challenging Jon Walters. Nothing came of the chance and in the two games since, the 18-year-old hasn’t made the same error again. He passed yet another test with flying colours at the Emirates.
The Stoke match also saw Christian Benteke make his competitive debut for the Reds. It was clear that he had never played with his teammates before, as no-one anticipated his flick-ons. The Bournemouth match began in the same vein, but there became a better understanding as the game progressed and Philippe Coutinho often latched onto the Belgian’s headers at Anfield.
By the time we played Arsenal, Benteke’s teammates had learned that the 24-year-old never loses a header. James Milner, Roberto Firmino, Emre Can and Coutinho regularly won the second ball to lead many Liverpool charges towards goal. Expect more of the same in the coming months.
Rodgers also showed that he’s learning lessons on a game-to-game basis by deploying Can in a more advanced central midfield role on Monday.
The German struggled on the turn in a 40-minute cameo at home to Bournemouth, so was instead tasked with a more front-foot approach at the Emirates which worked wonders in the first half. Even when Lucas was subbed, Can stayed in the advanced role, with the more mobile Milner dropping into the deepest midfield position.
The start to the season hasn’t been perfect and Liverpool will make their fair share of mistakes this season, but on the evidence so far they’ll bounce back pretty quickly.