Rodgers’ Liverpool: A small horse, medium horse, or stalking horse?

Smells like team spirit. Photo:

Smells like team spirit. Photo:

As is the intrigue which surrounds Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan who notoriously engineered a futile move to North London, headlines were always going to be about him prior to what was arguably a defining fixture for both sides. Liverpool, having erred in erratic fashion at the Hawthorns last week, had more than three points to play for. There was vindication at stake — a marker to be thrown to Suarez that Anfield is the place to be, not the Emirates. For Arsene Wenger, it was about maintaining that composure and consistency as Mesut Oezil and co enter a 11-day period which would see them emerge contemplating of what it could be or what could have been.

As it turned out, the newspapers were devoid of words on the league’s top goal-scorer. Liverpool did not even need Suarez to lace on his scoring boots as the collective delivered an attacking masterclass which tore up the record books and Arsenal’s title credentials into shreds.

Purring of poise on their day, even the most hardened of critics will do well to unpick such a flawless performance. Within 55 seconds it was one-nil. Then it was four-nil and yet it didn’t feel right, for the score-line still flattered the Gunners. It was only 19 minutes.

It was the renaissance of Jordan Henderson driving down Liverpool’s centre, and the cunning of Coutinho which bisected Arsenal’s hapless defence for Daniel Sturridge to slot home the fourth. For their lack of depth in numbers, Liverpool clearly make up for it in graft and craft.

This was a game of 22 men chasing a ball but it was almost scenery for posterity. All against the league leaders, the ones who threw down the gauntlet for the chasing pack. Here, Arsenal chased a forlorn cause. By the final whistle the only thing on their minds was chasing the train home to avoid any further embarrassment. Led by the diminutive Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool hunted in packs, harried like wolves and launched waves of ruthless counter-attacks which will leave even the tiki-taka purist applauding.

Yet it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly Liverpool are. A small horse, a medium horse, or a stalking horse? Brendan Rodgers is adamant that they remain a foal, but even if that is the case, they won’t be for long. Rodgers has restored Anfield as an arena for opposition nightmare but their away form remain patchy. A fourth-placed finish and the coveted Champions League berth remain the likeliest possibility, but it is almost impossible to evade the question of how genuine this side are as title contenders. Questions will remain, but Rodgers will revel in a season that has defied even the wildest of expectations.

When the Northern Irishman took over 20 months ago, the players’ enthusiasm ebbed at its lowest, the team bereft of any signs of the pass and move mantra fans were once used to. Rodgers set about restoring his side to its former glories, imbuing those philosophies that had served accomplished Liverpool sides of old so well. He harped on possession football, and passing teams to death in his early days but as the side grew, so did his ideas.

A carbon-copy of Liverpool sides of the 70s, and 80s never materialized, but a mutation of that did. Full of tactical adaptability and versatility, Rodgers tweaked his ideas to suit the resources at his disposal, deciding that his attacking quartet possessed the necessary guile, acceleration and execution to play devastating counter-attacking football.

And pay off it did. Its rapid evolution since the start of the season has been almost off the charts. Indeed, Liverpool look like the next vibrant, dynamic team since Borussia Dortmund’s burst onto the scene three years ago. Full of imagination and innovation, Rodgers’ vision for Liverpool is starting to take shape. Yesterday’s dominance could herald the beginning of pure, unadulterated joy for Liverpool fans for years to come. You only need to roll back the decades to find performances as sumptuous as this. Even the 4-0 and 4-1 thrashings of Real Madrid and Manchester United in 2009 will find it hard to eclipse Anfield’s latest five-star display.


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