10 Ways Brendan Rodgers Improved Liverpool In His First Season
by Mike Kennedy
The end of the season is upon us and months of football starvation looms large.
I miss the football action -the actual games themselves- and frequently find myself feeling at a loose end, but despite this I still ‘enjoy football’ during the close season because it’s a wondrous time; literally anything could happen next year.
A football-less summer is a time for renewal of hope and faith and suspending your disbelief to indulge in foaming-at-the-mouth-bonkers transfer speculation. It’s brilliant.
Another part of this fallow period that I thoroughly enjoy is looking back and reflecting on the season that’s passed.
As football fans we’re constantly evaluating dozens of elements of our team’s performance, but the end of season dissection is one to truly relish. After all, what better time to pass judgment than at the end of a full season?
So how has Brendan Rodgers performed in his first season as Liverpool manager? I think he’s done well. In fact, I’d go as far as to say he’s done an excellent job (much better than he’s widely been given credit for).
At times it feels there are a zillion things Liverpool need to improve to regain a seat at the top table of European football. But Rome wasn’t built in a day – it will take time. As long as we can see clear improvements we can at least be confident the club is moving in the right direction. (And can a fan reasonably wish for anything more than that?)
Thankfully, Liverpool most definitely are moving in the right direction. (No Premier League team improved more than Liverpool in 2012-2013, as we’ll discuss later.)
Here are 10 ways Liverpool have improved with Brendan Rodgers at the helm.
1) Rodgers has improved Liverpool’s ability to score goals
Last summer Rodgers took over a Liverpool team that desperately lacked goals. The Reds managed a pathetic 47 league goals last season, a tally that even relegated Blackburn Rovers beat. (Also-relegated Bolton scored only one fewer than Liverpool, finishing with 46 goals.)
Not only did Rodgers take over a side lacking goals, but the challenge to score more became significantly harder for him following the departures of Kuyt, Bellamy & Maxi (all of whom carried a goal threat). And then, in a farcical twist, Andy Carroll left with no replacement coming in.
So Rodgers took over a team desperately lacking goals and to compound matters, then lost 4 of the squad’s best goalscorers.
Faced with this grim task, how did Rodgers perform?
This season Liverpool scored 71 goals. That’s a 51% increase – a stunning improvement in goals scored, especially considering that for the first half of the season Rodgers was mostly using the same (albeit depleted) group of players as last year.
Rodgers achieved this increase by introducing a different playing style, new formations, some canny transfer deals in January and something else that we’ll look at shortly.
Bravo Brendan. You’ve made some mistakes this season (and worn some truly shit cardigans), but for this whopping improvement in goals we wholeheartedly salute you.
2) Rodgers has improved Liverpool’s home form
In 2011-12 Liverpool won 6 league home games. In 2012-13 they won 9.
Liverpool had become a soft touch at Anfield, so this is a welcome improvement indeed. It was enjoyable to see Liverpool swatting away lesser sides in impressive style. (It wasn’t too long ago that Liverpool were regularly struggling against the smaller sides…)
Bill Shankly wanted opponents to be terrified of playing at Anfield and for many years they were. This hasn’t been the case in recent seasons so it’s satisfying to see the pendulum swinging back in a favourable direction. Let’s hope the improvement continues next year.
3) Rodgers has improved the link between the first team and the youth team
If I received one message loud and clear during my visit to the academy earlier this season, it was that Rodgers’ arrival has heralded a much deeper integration between the first team base at Melwood and the academy youth facility in Kirkby.
The academy staff love him to bits. And viewed from their perspective it’s easy to see why. Rodgers’ faith in (and development of) young players provided a fascinating subplot to the season and reinvigorated a component of the club that had grown stale.
A huge amount of credit has to go to Rafa Benitez here, as the club has started to reap the rewards of seeds sown by the Spaniard. So we shouldn’t give Rodgers the credit for finding & developing this crop of youth players, or establishing an effective youth development framework, but we can applaud him for giving several young players a chance and developing them/demonstrating confidence in them.
4) Rodgers has improved Liverpool’s away form
Liverpool scored 15 more goals on the road this season and managed to stop the away-day rot that took hold so strongly last season.
Liverpool have become 65% better at scoring away league goals since Brendan Rodgers became manager. Which is a startling improvement and one that, again, I don’t think he’s been given enough credit for.
Though Liverpool won 1 less away game this season, they secured 3 more points overall as they turned several defeats from 2011-2012 into draws.
5) Rodgers has got more out of key players than Dalglish did
Suarez – The Uruguayan has played well in the past, but he’s never played as well as he has this season. Rodgers deserves some credit for Suarez’s elevation from “excellent player” to “one of the best footballers in the world”.
Agger and Gerrard’s longevity – Although both players could have been rotated to better effect, Rodgers (and his medical team) have worked wonders this year in keeping these two fit and available.
Solid full backs – Johnson’s form in the first half of the season was his career-best. Rodgers managed to quickly stabilise Mad Enrique (remember how woeful his form became after January 2012?) and shape him into a more dependable and effective first-teamer.
Reina & Carra - Pepe Reina rediscovered some of his old form and restoring Carra to central defence took guts. Again, Rodgers deserves credit here.
Kenny’s buys came good - This season Downing and Henderson have both transformed into players I’d like to see Liverpool keep. Now that’s progress. (And testament to Rodgers’ man-management ability.)
Sturridge & Coutinho - Obviously not Kenny’s players, but let’s look at them regardless. To say both players have hit the ground running would be a huge understatement. Their form since arriving in January has been sensational. Again, Rodgers can’t take all of the credit for that, but we must surely give him plenty.
Not all players have flourished this season (see Skrtel, Borini, Allen) but overall Rodgers has done a good job of motivating and developing his key players.
6) Rodgers has improved Liverpool’s style of play
This is entirely subjective of course, but for me it’s clear that Liverpool play a more entertaining and enjoyable brand of football under Brendan Rodgers than they have done in years.
There have been some wonderful moments of team football this season and -a few notable games aside- I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Liverpool this year.
Compare some of this season’s swashbuckling attacking football with the faeces that Liverpool fans were served when Roy Hodgson was manger. Liverpool may have finished 7th -a Hodgsonesque position- but in terms of footballing entertainment the difference was night and day.
7) In 2012-2013 Liverpool improved more than any other Premier League team
In 2011-2012 Liverpool secured 52 points. In 2012-2013 Liverpool secured 61 points. This 9 point boost forward -in 1 season- represents the biggest year-on-year improvement by any Premier League team.
The key stat here is the percentage improvement (not points), as that shows the variance as a proportion of last year’s total. Liverpool improved more than any other team in the league.
8) Rodgers eliminated the end-of-season slump
Last year’s run-in was dire as players preened in League Cup glory and saved themselves for the FA Cup final. The blame didn’t lie solely with Dalglish, this affliction had been present since Benitez’s last season, so I was delighted to see it banished as we approached the end of the 2012-13 season.
The 2011-2012 Premier League table for the months of March, April and May 2012 (Dalglish’s last 3 months in charge):
14th. We didn’t exactly end the season with a spring in our step did we? (Incidentally, I think this was a key contributing factor in Dalglish getting the sack…)
Below is the 2012-2013 Premier League table for March, April & May (a clear improvement with Liverpool competing better, for longer):
This underlines my earlier point that Rodgers is motivating his players well. Although motivational prowess is only one element in a manager’s skillset, it’s a vital one, and Rodgers appears to have this quality in spades.
9) Rodgers has continued to restore a sense of dignity to the club
Again, this is subjective, but I think Rodgers has continued along Dalglish’s restorative trajectory and Liverpool have begun to regain some of the dignity they lost following the Hicks/Gillett affair.
The Internet teases him for his dress sense and David Brent-isms and looking like a shark. While I can see where some of these criticisms stem from (the 3 envelopes thing was hideous) it’s unfair to continue citing them while the man is clearly succeeding.
It’s not enough for a manager to be good at his job and get results nowadays – he has to also have impeccable dress sense and say the right thing at all times. And not look like a shark.
To those people I would say this: Are you perfect? Do you look and dress fantastically at all times? Do you say and do the perfect thing, every time? Are you a talented football manager? Let’s give the guy a break and ease up on the personal criticism.
Along with a handful of other LFC bloggers I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time in Rodgers’ company this season and he’s a thoughtful and intelligent football man. I think that, overall, Rodgers carries himself well.
A modern manager needs to be an engaging public speaker. (Look at the uncommunicative Paul Lambert for proof of how things can turn sour.)
They must project a successful/capable/enigmatic persona and there’s a few different ways managers tend to approach the task:
- They can be everyone’s best friend: eg Martinez, Rednapp, Holloway
- They can be spiky & aggressive: eg Benitez, Mourinho, Ferguson (Amid the fawning stampede that was Ferguson’s retirement, too many people forgot what a tosser/bully Ferguson could be.)
- They can try and conduct themselves with dignity and intelligence: eg Rodgers, AVB, Moyes
I think Rodgers’ personal character is a good fit for Liverpool and as he relaxes into the role we’ll see that more.
10) Under Rodgers, Liverpool are moving forward
It’s rare that a football club treads water, they tend to be either moving forwards or backwards. Liverpool are moving forwards at the moment.
For the record, here are Liverpool’s year-on-year league table stats.
Green numbers mean something has improved. Red numbers mean something has gotten worse. Black numbers are “the same or neither positive or negative”.
- Liverpool won 2 more games this year.
- Liverpool lost 5 fewer games this year.
- Liverpool scored 24 more goals (and though they conceded 3 more goals, I’ll happily accept a ‘net’ boost of 21 extra goals each season).
- Liverpool secured 9 more points this year.
People sometimes forget how young Brendan Rodgers is. He was 39 when he joined Liverpool. That’s bloody young to be managing Liverpool Football Club.
The man is a managerial foetus. He shows huge promise for someone so young.
There are negatives, for sure, and Rodgers has a huge football season ahead of him next year, but at this stage he can be happy with how he performed during his first season at Liverpool.
Micro Season Summary: We have a very promising young manager at the helm. He is learning all the time. The signs of improvement are clear.