Liverpool’s maiden season under Brendan Rodgers has been plagued by inconsistency; impressive wins were often followed up by unexplainable losses. But the arrival of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho has breathed new life in to the side, and after notching up three wins on the trot (and it’s no coincidence that the two defeats prior to this run of victories came when Sturridge and/or Coutinho was unavailable), the game against Tottenham Hotspur represented a stern test of The Reds’ credentials: Liverpool were yet to beat a top six side under Rodgers, and Andre Villas-Boas’ side were undoubtedly the form team in the country, buoyed by the excellent performances of Gareth Bale.
Rodgers’ team selection was extremely bold, perhaps even a tad naive given Liverpool’s struggles against more dynamic midfielders - in this case it was Mousa Dembele - but it is understandable as to why he chose to only go with two midfielders; he wanted to make a real statement of intent, and up until Luis Suarez opened the scoring, capping off a wonderfully crafted team move, his ambitious selection was paying dividends. After we scored, however, the team lacked the same intensity and energy, and Spurs’ extra man in midfield began to tell, but credit to Rodgers he eventually made the right switch, bringing on Joe Allen for Coutinho which helped them control the last 20 minutes and set Liverpool up for their gutsy comeback.
Ultimately it was not so much the quality of the performance that will have impressed the most, but more the manner in which it came. For too long Liverpool have lacked the resilience to overcome adversity on the pitch; they will often play well, dominate a game and then fall victim to an individual error will cost them a goal which they fail to overcome, highlighted by the fact that this season, every game we’ve won at home has come when we’ve kept a clean sheet. So for us to let a lead slip and have to come from behind – even if we were gifted an extremely fortuitous equaliser courtesy of a woeful backpass from Kyle Walker and a brainfart from Hugo Lloris - against a very good side is just as promising as if we outplayed them - like we did for the most part at White Hart Lane, a game which we lost.
The desire and commitment from the players was the most pleasing aspect of the win, for me, and no player epitomised that more than Stewart Downing (no, seriously). His work-rate all game was excellent; he tracked back willingly to help out the disappointing Glen Johnson, and he constantly took the game to Benoit Assou-Ekotto whenever he was in possession. His performances have actually been pretty good since he became a regular in the side in late November and, while he still hasn’t won all of the fans over, he’s going the right way about it. A strong end to the season from him could see him resurrect his Liverpool career, a feat previously thought to be impossible. Shove your feeding of the five thousand up your a**e, Jesus, this is how you perform a real miracle.
That is the one area of his tenure that Rodgers has definitely failed to be given the credit he deserves: he’s getting more out of several underperforming players from last year. José Enrique, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing are all performing to a much higher level than they did at any stage last year, and Steven Gerrard has somehow stayed fit all season - he’s the only outfield Liverpool player to play every minute of every league game this season - and is showing his best form since the 08/09 season. Even Pepé Reina since his return from injury in November is starting to look more like his old self, the odd error apart. Oh, and then there’s the form of Luis Suarez this season.
It’d be daft to claim that Rodgers is the main reason Suarez is having such an excellent season; he’s always had the talent, he’s just been far more clinical with his finishing than last year - but many fans had doubts as to whether he could play as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 and may be better suited to a wider role. Rodgers, though, managed to find a role in his system that got the best out of Luis, and he’s now reaping the rewards. With Sturridge, Coutinho and Downing all now providing ample support, teams can no longer just focus on stopping Suarez like they did over the first half of the season, and if we’re judging it on performances on the pitch alone - which, I believe, is how the voting is supposed to be decided - then it’s impossible to look past him as player of the year.
That’s four wins on the bounce in all competitions - the first time in over two years since that has happened - and with Southampton, Aston Villa, West Ham and Reading up next, we have a great chance of continuing this winning run and maybe even leapfrogging Arsenal in the table. Talk of possibly sneaking in to the top four is still ridiculous, even if Chelsea do still have to visit Anfield, and thankfully both Rodgers and Gerrard have said that they’re not thinking about that. We just need to win as many games between now and the end of the season and see where that takes us, but the toughest fixture we had left is out of the way, and in the context of our season it was our biggest win under Rodgers yet.