For much of this season, Liverpool FC seemed to be embodying the spirit of a college student recovering the morning after his 21st birthday party. A brutal start to the season, just 22 points through the first 17 matches, had the Anfield faithful worrisome of losing their Champions League spot. However, a midseason identity change has rescued this campaign. With 11 matches remaining, Liverpool has rallied to fifth in the Premier League table. How have the Reds done it? Let’s take a look.
The first thing that must be mentioned is the change in formation for manager Brendan Rodgers’ side. Last season, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge wreaked havoc across the English countryside, brilliantly finishing the passes Steven Gerrard played forward. That dynamic attack paced Liverpool to second in the league. However, Suarez jumped to Barcelona in the summer, Sturridge was injured early on in the campaign, and Gerrard has begun showing his age this season. He’s been marginalized and has announced that he is leaving the club for MLS at the end of the year. Now, to combat those changes, Rodgers had to adjust. The key move was shifting to a back three on defense. The bold move was putting midfielder Emre Can at right center back. His comfort on the ball and tenacity have stood out.
Having three in the back allows Liverpool’s midfield, its deepest position, to expand to five. Jordan Ibe and Lazar Markovic have come on like gangbusters in 2015 with more playing time. The key, however, has been the rapid development of Philippe Coutinho. The young Brazilian has flourished since Rodgers put the offense in his control. In the last three weeks, Coutinho has scored some of the most stunning goals this season. His 35-yard strike against Southampton hit the underside of the crossbar and went in to give Liverpool a 1-0 lead early in the match. On Sunday against second place Manchester City, his 75th-minute curler from outside the box gave the Reds a 2-1 lead to seal the victory. If he can keep this form through the end of May, Liverpool will surely find their way back to the Champions League.
A new era is approaching at Anfield. Brendan Rodgers’ lads are the only team in the Premier League without a loss in 2015. Over that stretch, they’ve beaten Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, all teams ahead of them in the table at game time. With dates against Manchester United, Arsenal and leaders Chelsea coming up, the Reds have a chance to make a real charge toward the top four.