There have been numerous predictions of a new start for Liverpool FC this season. The actual start of the season, the 6th game after they had stumbled through 5 tricky opening games, and there is another new beginning tomorrow. For two reasons though this really could be the beginning of a change in fortunes for Liverpool.
Liverpool should manage to get what would be only their 4th league win of the season against Southampton, and they should expect to win the next 6 games before going to Old Trafford on the 13th of January. None of Liverpool’s next opponents have particularly impressed this year, and Aston Villa, Southampton, QPR and Sunderland are below them in the league. At a minimum they should be expecting 16 points from these 7 games. If they achieve that, and buy well and early in the January transfer market, then the trip away to Manchester United will begin to look less daunting.
The second reason for the possibility of new beginnings tomorrow is the return of Lucas Leiva. Liverpool are simply a better team with a fit and on form Lucas in the midfield. Lucas playing in the more withdrawn role of the midfield 3 will hopefully signal a new lease of life for Joe Allen, and allow Steven Gerrard to play in a more advanced role than he has so far this season. Lucas’s intelligent positioning, robust tackling and efficient use of the ball will also provide further support for a defence that has already conceded 18 goals. I don’t expect Lucas to start the game tomorrow but he should make an appearance as he begins his journey back to full fitness.
Probably the person most happy to see the return of Brazilian is Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers has enjoyed a mixed start to his Liverpool career, and the criticism of his methods is already starting to emanate from certain sections of the media. Some the complaints are, somewhat surprisingly, coming from the same people who also complain about young British managers not getting a chance a big club. Rodgers is young, British and is employed by a big club. He has a plan for how he wants to play football, and has shown himself to possess a pragmatic streak that permits him to change formations, personnel and tactics if necessary. Of course Rodgers is not exempt from criticism, and he has made mistakes this season, the Clint Dempsey/Andy Carroll unrequited love triangle, questionable motivational techniques and allowing Lucas to begin the game against Tottenham when he had felt muscle pain in the warm-up are the most worrying. As a young manager he will no doubt continue to make mistakes, but as long as he learns from them he should be supported. Accusations of being a ‘snake-oil salesman’ (c.f. Barry Glendenning on Thursday’s ‘Football Weekly‘ podcast) are premature and unfair.
Lucas’s return should help Rodgers in his continuing efforts to develop his game plan based on high-pressing, fast turnovers and ball retention. And some convincing wins throughout December will help to silence his critics, and most importantly improve Liverpool’s league position.