I didn’t catch the match, but what a win! Given that Arsenal lost, it was a great opportunity to leapfrog them into 2nd place (with City having two games in hand). If we wanted to have any chance of winning the league, we would need to keep pace with Chelsea too.
And keep pace we did. It was going to be our hardest away game left (and yes, that includes Old Trafford), especially because Southampton is a bogey team of ours. Their game is so similar to ours, and there are many parallels between the sides. Both young teams, playing fast-paced matches, full of energy and pressing. Also with young managers filled with big ideas, and improving the team dramatically from the previous season.
But as we did with Arsenal, Spurs, Stoke and other bogey teams this season, we beat them. And kept a clean sheet too, with a superb one-handed save from Mignolet. That sort of shot can break an arm; he kept it out with a single hand, after appearing to have dived the wrong way initially.
And Suarez, oh, what a way to break your goalscoring drought. A super finish to kick off our game, and a brilliant assist that got past three Soton players. He’s been on an insane run to prove himself, and his assist rate has skyrocketed in recent games, some of them really, really sublime. Now top scorer, top assister, top CCC creator. If Arsenal had bought him, they would be top of the league, no question.
Having not watched the match, I can’t say for sure what sort of things happened. But I do know that we played a diamond midfield, and that shows Rodgers’ flexibility, which is one of his traits. He likes to experiment at times with formations. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But it gives us options, and that’s always a good thing.
He also learns from mistakes pretty well. Naive tactics often frustrate even the best of fans, but he picks up the cues and doesn’t do the same stupid things again. And his man-management, woah. Look at the progress of Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho, Sterling, Henderson, and tell me this man hasn’t been working wonders. And Gerrard; he’s proving me wrong, that he can play deep. But of course, not as a destroyer, but as a regista. Not the best regista in the world; Pirlo won’t be surpassed by anyone, any time soon. But for us? Good enough.
This string of games and our brilliant goalscoring form means that 2 of the 3 main criticisms I have for Rodgers – playing Gerrard all the time despite how ill-fitting he looks to the team, and being too naive and gung-ho with his tactics – are irrelevant. Gerrard being deep reduces the protection we have in front of the back four, but his passing gives us added range and penetration to score. The gung-ho attitude has been tweaked to allow for more solidity despite having the same players on the pitch. So we still concede goals; big deal. We’ll just score one more. According to a stats analysis, we aren’t just similar to Keegan’s Newcastle; we’re more bonkers than them!
So the last criticism I have is the use of subs. Rodgers seems reluctant to use his subs, and while at times I can see why (given the thin bench we have), sometimes I don’t understand it. Tiredness needs to be managed; players like Alberto and Aspas need minutes to prove themselves, and could give different dimensions. He usually subs too late for any impact, and doesn’t use up all his subs either.
But even now, I can’t criticise his use of subs too. Allen came on against Swansea and gave us much needed midfield solidity, plus a whole lot of pressing and ball retention that effectively won the game. Sterling came on (early!) this game, and promptly scored with his first touch.
And here at the start of the season I was thinking, we can challenge for Top 4.
Title, here we come.