2014/15 Season Review: Liverpool
Liverpool were runners-up to Manchester City last season and there was growing belief in some quarters that they could go all the way this term. Still, the club had a pragmatic view on the issue, realising that a top-four finish would represent success for the Reds.
Brendan Rodgers started the season with a lot of talented youngsters who still needed to work on aspects of their games while gelling as a unit. The Reds boss wanted a domestic trophy to instil a winning culture in those players.
Ideally, Rodgers would have wanted to continue with the 4-4-2 diamond formation that was responsible for that thrilling surge in the previous season when a run of one defeat from January to April was marked by fast starts and sublime, fluent attacking interchange between three forwards.
Since Liverpool missed the pace of Daniel Sturridge due to injury, while Luis Suarez had left, Rodgers switched to a more patient offensive system with Liverpool adopting 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formations.
Neither of those systems worked and the Reds lost half of their first 18 games and could not progress past the group stages of the Champions League. The 3-0 defeat at Manchester United in December was a watershed moment for the Reds because Rodgers found a 3-4-3 formation that suited his players.
That system allowed Liverpool to eliminate their main defensive weakness when dealing with crosses since the wing-backs dropped to the defensive line, with Martin Skrtel acting as an extra central defender in a 5-4-1 formation.
Offensively, that shape produced the best from Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson. Liverpool consequently won eight of the 10 league games after the switch in formation. They also conceded considerably fewer goals.
Sturridge only started seven league encounters, so Rodgers had to find a way to win games without the remarkable movement he had from the England international and Suarez.
Without pace up top, finding the best position for Steven Gerrard became a problem for Rodgers. Previously, Liverpool benefited from Gerrard’s passing range and positional intelligence as their skipper operated as a deep-lying playmaker releasing the forwards.
Towards the end of the season, Liverpool had to find a new system after losing Skrtel to suspension while Mamadou Sakho missed most of the remaining games of the season because of a hamstring problem.
They eventually turned to a 4-3-3 formation but without much success as they lost more than half of their last 11 games.
In that last period, Sterling’s future became an issue after the player gave an unauthorised interview in which he reviewed details of his contract negotiations with the club. That became a distraction to the Reds as the issue dominated the headlines.
Philippe Coutinho has been one of the best players in the entire Premier League and teams had to make special arrangements when playing the Reds in order to limit the Brazilian’s influence.
His ability to open up defences with cute passes became an essential part of Liverpool’s attacks when the playmaker operated as a wide left forward in a 3-4-3 formation.
Sterling remained one of the most influential player for the Reds despite his off-field problems. The England international still provided a threat in behind when playing as a centre forward plus he was Liverpool’s second top goal-scorer and the lead assister.
Emre Can has been an important player at the back. The German youngster was reliable whenever asked to start in midfield. When Liverpool switched to a wing-back system, Can adapted his game as a left-sided central defender.
Most disappointing players
Liverpool’s most disappointing player is obviously Mario Balotelli. He has every attribute to be a genuine world class striker: power, good feet and is also good in the air. One goal in 16 league appearances is nowhere near the Italian’s potential.
Through no fault of his, Sturridge has had a frustrating season as well. Liverpool could get 25 goals-a-season from the former Chelsea striker if they can keep him fit. Hopefully the club’s decision to send him to America for extensive treatment will provide a lasting solution.
Assessment of the manager
It took almost five months and a lot of tinkering but Rodgers eventually found a system that produced the best from his best players. Rodgers has also overseen the development of young players like Jordon Ibe and Coutinho.
He has done a decent job in the tricky man-management issues. The former Swansea boss needed to manage Gerrard carefully in order to get the best out of the Reds icon. At the end of the season, the Reds boss had the thankless task of tackling the Sterling issue which became increasingly complicated as the forward’s agent seemed to take pleasure in stirring trouble.
Still, Rodgers cannot be happy with the way Liverpool performed in all the five competitions they were involved in this season. The Champions League campaign brought just one win, at home to Ludogorets in the opening game.
Rodgers also struggled to get wins against fellow top class managers with only one win in ten games when he faced Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Louis Van Gaal and Manuel Pellegrini.