This article is the second in the ‘Manager of the Season’ series, and makes the case for Liverpool supremo Brendan Rodgers as the Reds chase a first Premier League title.
Even after yesterday’s 2-0 home defeat to Chelsea, Liverpool remain top of the Premier League. Manchester City have a game in hand and can return to the summit of the division with a victory, yet even if they manage to do so and remain their until the season’s climax it shouldn’t take away from what has been a memorable season for the red half of Merseyside. A seventh place finish in Brendan Rodgers inaugural season at the Anfield helm last year may have been uninspiring on the face of it, but it laid the foundations for what has been a thrilling campaign for all involved at Liverpool, who have already guaranteed a top four finish and a return to Champions League football next season.
Rodgers arrived at Anfield having overseen Swansea’s promotion to the top flight via the play-offs in 2011, before helping the Welsh club establish themselves in the top division with a mid table finish the following season. His teams have always had a reputation for playing exciting, forward thinking possession based football and his impact on Liverpool and their players has been clear to see. Luis Suarez has developed into an elite goal scoring and chance creating centre forward, while Daniel Sturridge has grown into a dangerous weapon capable of destroying even the best of defenses. Steven Gerrard has been reinvented in a deeper midfield role under Rodgers, while Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling have begun to make good on the promise they had previously shown as talented youngsters.
Another of Rodgers’ successes this season has been his ability to interact with the Liverpool supporters and project a confident persona at all times, something that David Moyes failed to do during his short stint across Lancashire with Manchester United. The Anfield faithful have taken to Rodgers as if he were a former player, a remarkable achievement in a short space of time after current England manager Roy Hodgson failed to earn their favour. Rodgers has also outwitted some of the brightest tactical minds in the game, Jose Mourinho notwithstanding, including Manuel Pellegrini earlier this month in Liverpool’s 3-2 over their title rivals Manchester City, and it’s under his guidance that Gerrard, crucially, has returned to the top of his game. Once perceived by some pundits as a one trick pony tactically, Rodgers has shown the adaptability with Liverpool’s tactics to dismiss that notion and prove that he has more than one bow to his tactical arrow. While in some games he has adopted a possession based blueprint, others have seen him instruct his players to play deeper and hit their opponents with deadly counter attacks, utilising the pace of Sturridge, Sterling and others excellently.
However one area where Rodgers record has been mixed this season is the transfer market. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet started the season in fine form but mistakes have crept into his game at an alarming rate, making his addition for £15 million look questionable when Rodgers already had Pepe Reina at his disposal. Strikers Iago Aspas and Victor Moses have rarely featured, although it should be noted that the latter was acquired on loan and therefore didn’t cost a fee. Midfielder Joe Allen, signed away from Rodgers’ former club Swansea, has been disappointing and although he is still a useful squad member his significant price tag of £20 million looks to be a tad on the expensive side. Yet for these questionable additions Rodgers has also done well to sign top quality talent such as Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho for below market value sums. Factor in his ability to develop existing squad members markedly and Rodgers deserves to be cut some slack over his spotty transfer record.
This season has been the first time in almost a quarter of a century that Liverpool have been genuine title contenders. Brendan Rodgers deserves almost all of the credit for that, from his exquisite handling of senior and young players alike to his tactical nous in the heat of a title race. Should the Reds capture the title he’ll be immortalized on Merseyside; if they don’t then he’ll have still laid some solid foundations for an assault on the Premier League crown in the years ahead.
Do you think Brendan Rodgers is the Premier League manager of the year? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley