Football is dancing, more or less, just with more chanting men and pies than most ballet performances. A team should move as though choreographed, anticipating space, direction and intention as dancers coordinate themselves with movements of each other.
This is the quality Liverpool have lacked for nearly a decade, leaving them languishing mid-table where they once dominated. That is, until about halfway through last season when Liverpool began to emerge, under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, as a team reinvigorated with a fluid and energized attack that had reclaimed the elegant aggression of ‘the Liverpool way’, the Liverpool dance.
Liverpool, in the golden days of Shankley, Paisley and Dalgleish (the first time) moved like dancers, with partnerships between players like Toshack and Keegan. They had an almost telepathic understanding of one and other’s moves, pathways and passes. It was a style recalled by Alonso and Gerard in the early 2000s leading to the Community Shield, FA Cup, Super Cup, an unforgettable 2005 Champions League, and a style finally being recalled now by Rodgers’ style of play.
Last summer, Rodgers was asked what needed to be brought to the team who had finished 7th and trophy-less for yet another season, to which he answered ’20 more goals’. The focus was clear: strengthen the Reds’ attack and focus on the forwards, a simple goal but one that was achieved with staggering success due to the patterns Rodgers instructed.
Given that Liverpool had been playing with an almost one-man attack of Suarez, it was assumed that this increased offensive would have to come from new signings, to bring in the flashiest strikers possible. Instead, as transfer targets Sánchez and Rémy were missed, Rodgers transformed the previously fragmentary forwards of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling into a partnership that could still work flexibly when players were lost to injury.
Pace increased, the forwards moving like blitzkrieg, rapid and unstoppable attacks that demolished Everton, Arsenal and Manchester United in only 45 minutes of football. Rodger’s simple focus on ‘playing as a team’, and, with the confidence and aggression he developed in the Swansea team previously, pushed Liverpool back to the forefront of the league.
Rodgers has also brought back some much needed confidence and energy to the team’s leadership in his own matter of fact assurance of Liverpool’s pedigree and honesty even when the situation was bad. In a city where football dominates so much of the local culture, social life and community, managers exist as semi-deified kings and their authority and success is hugely important to the attitude of the fans and the atmosphere around games.
When Rodgers began in 2012 he emphasized repeatedly his gratitude and the work ahead of him, he approached fans directly through forums and events and has maintained a generally positive relationship with the fans even when the team has performed more weakly.
Of course the dramatic progress of last season has in these first matches seemed like false hope. Liverpool have only won three of their premier league fixtures and look unlikely to progress from the group stages of the Champions League after the loss to Basel. Without Suárez who completed a £75m transfer to Barcelona in July, and Sturridge injured, the team has lost the pressure of their attacks.
Whilst the lack of goals from Rodger’s new, last minute £16m signing Balotelli has only raised unfortunate comparisons to Arsenal’s summer transfer of Danny Welbeck for the same cost, having only scored once in seven appearances since his arrival. Without the distraction of Liverpool’s forwards, the weak defense exposed last season has become far more costly with only one clean sheet this season and without the goals to make up for it.
Confidence has fallen as Gerrard’s age and performance is repeatedly questioned, especially after the West Ham match, but his presence provides stability and experience, and his command of the Merseyside derby showed he is still capable of the leadership and presence when necessary.
The team’s seeming tiredness can also be attributed to having to cope with the increase in matches due to the Champion’s League, although its miserably frustrating that what should be a fantastic opportunity for a team who were within two points of the title last season are seeing the group stages as a burden and trial to be endured.
But, Liverpool began their 2005 Champion’s League campaign in fraught circumstances with two defeats and a draw in the group stages, and yet once through to the knock-outs their game transformed. Even in 1983 the team began what was to become the most successful season in the club’s history by losing the Charity Shield to Man United under the new manager Joe Fagan and critics were quick to claim the Liverpool empire was crumbling without Paisley. Liverpool are clearly struggling now, but this doesn’t mean the season is already doomed. New players take time to settle into different styles of play, and the team is in transition without Suarez, but most importantly they still have Rodgers and it would be foolish to underestimate his ability to produce a formidable team.