Tuesday night’s victory over Tottenham was in many ways decided by the men who have been the most maligned for Liverpool this season – which is ironic when you consider the victory over Mauricio Pochettino’s side was surely the Reds most important three points of the Premier League season.
Simon Mignolet has been criticised heavily in all quarters, with Liverpool legends the likes of Bruce Grobelaar and Jamie Carragher sticking the boot into the Belgian goalkeeper.
After a brief ‘indefinite’ spell out of the side, Mignolet has been almost faultless, helping the Reds to four clean sheets in their last five games. Whilst his stunning tip over the bar from Erik Lamela last night went a long way to deciding the game in Liverpool’s favour.
Then there has been Mario Balotelli, labelled everything from a disaster to a misfit since his £16million summer signing from AC Milan.
Prior to last night, the Italian had not scored in 13 Premier League appearances and had not started a match for the Reds since November 8.
Recently left out of the squad by Brendan Rodgers – a brave decision in itself – there were a few groans from the Kop when he came on to replace Daniel Sturridge on 75 minutes. Yet he went on to score what must be considered Liverpool’s most crucial Premier League goal of the season – whilst the fact he was joined in celebration by every Liverpool player bar Mignolet goes some way to suggesting he is not the disruptive force in the dressing from some have suggested.
Balotelli has a long way to go in proving he has a future at Liverpool beyond the end of this season, but the fact Sturridge has returned from injury is vital for the former Manchester City striker.
The pair have a friendship off the field, and Balotelli has been eager to tell anyone who will listen since his arrival at Anfield that he is better suited to playing with a partner.
The 60 minutes the pair played together at White Hart Lane back in August was possibly the most impressive performance of Liverpool’s season to date, so it will be interesting to see Balotelli free from the pressures of breaking his Premier League duck working in tandem with Sturridge once more.
Then we come to Brendan Rodgers, who’s bold team selection and brave substitutions played a major part in Liverpool’s win last night.
All the talk prior to kick off centred around Mauricio Pochettino and the manner in which he has transformed Tottenham into top four contenders, but it was Rodgers who upstaged the Argentine coach last night.
The decision to switch the system to a 3-4-2-1 was taken when Liverpool faced Manchester United on December 14, and bar that cruel 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford, the Reds are yet to lose in the Premier League playing with that formation.
Emre Can was introduced as a right sided centre back on December 28 in the 4-1 home win over Swansea, and the Reds have conceded just five goals and managed four clean sheets in the seven games since that decision. The young German delivered a man of the match performance last night, and looked equally as impressive when moved into midfield in the second half with the Reds going in search of a winner.
One thing that can never be levelled against Rodgers is his refusal to give young players a chance. His decision to recall Jordon Ibe from a loan spell at Derby is looking a very shrewd move, with the 19-year-old having started the last two and impressed in both. He was a constant thorn in the Tottenham side last night, and played a part in two goals – feeding Sturridge for the penalty and then Lallana to tee up Balotelli for the winner. Again, a bold decision from the Liverpool boss that deserves praise.
And then we come to his substitutions that won the three points last night. Adam Lallana and Mario Balotelli combined for the winner, having replaced Lazar Markovic and Daniel Sturridge respectively – both of whom at looked a threat all evening. Rodgers made the decisive call at the right time, and was rewarded.
The Liverpool boss was heavily criticised for his summer signings, but Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana have been key figures in the Reds recent revival – and all have time on their side to get even better.
The turnaround has been quite remarkable considering Rodgers looked a dead man walking when his side lost at Old Trafford barely two months ago.
It has all been coming together for the Northern Irishman since then, courtesy of some brave and clever decisions, which not only deserve credit, but act as further proof Liverpool have one of the brightest and forward thinking young managers in the game to take the club forward.
How much do you think Liverpool’s turnaround is down to Brendan Rodgers? What do you think the club can achieve this season? Let us know your thoughts below.