Liverpool analysis: Brendan Rodgers reveals the resilience to rebuild Liverpool formation and with it, possibly, their season

ANALYSIS: New 3-4-3 formation has Liverpool almost back to their best

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The Independent Football

Before every match here they unveil a vast banner that runs half the height of The Kop and depicts Liverpool’s great managers, the men who have filled Anfield’s Trophy Room with silverware.

If Brendan Rodgers is to join them – and he has sufficient self-belief to imagine himself alongside the Benitezes and the Dalglishes – then these have been the weeks that will count for more than the electrifying football that almost brought Liverpool the title.

Adversity reveals a manager’s true worth. You think of Sir Alex Ferguson as 2005 turned into 2006; eliminated from the Champions League, floundering in the wake of Arsenal and Chelsea, looking like a man out of time at a club with new and apparently ruthless owners. Eighteen months later, he had re-established Manchester United as the Premier League’s dominant force.

After Liverpool’s 3-0 humbling at Old Trafford at the start of the month, Rodgers thought long, hard and often into the small hours about how Liverpool’s remorseless slide might be halted before it became an avalanche that would sweep him from office.

He devised a 3-4-3 formation, with Raheem Sterling as a false No 9 and some unlikely-looking wing-backs. It worked enough to get Liverpool a place in the League Cup semi-finals and a point against Arsenal.

And even when it did not work in a lamentable first half at Burnley on Boxing Day, he stuck with it, replacing Kolo Touré with Emre Can, whom he had once seen fill in as a centre-half in the Bundesliga. Virtually everyone at Turf Moor would have put on a specialist full-back and called a halt to the fancy tactics. The hunch worked – Liverpool, however fortuitously, won.

Against Swansea City, it worked brilliantly. The way Liverpool passed and pressed, the way they flowed towards goal could have come from virtually any fixture in the first five months of 2014 rather than from a season that has become awash with disappointments. It was their biggest win since Tottenham were thrashed 4-0 here in March, a month when anything seemed possible.

Given that two of those goals came from Lukasz Fabianski’s clearance striking Adam Lallana and Jonjo Shelvey putting through his own net, not all the four goals were the result of tactical masterstrokes. And if Fabianski continued to be mocked, Liverpool’s problems with their goalkeepers are rather longer term. Anfield gave Simon Mignolet an ovation merely for catching a football.

This was Liverpool’s great lost year, just as 1996 should have been the year that Newcastle should have taken the championship under Kevin Keegan, who never really recovered from the toxic shock of being overhauled at the death by Ferguson.

Rodgers is rather more resilient but Liverpool are not the side that began 2014 with a 2-0 win over Hull, with goals scored by Daniel Agger and Luis Suarez, men whom he has not adequately replaced.

This was the first time they had scored three or more in the Premier League since another match against Tottenham, at White Hart Lane in August. Alberto Moreno had scored a goal much like he did against Swansea last night, Daniel Sturridge was fit and the prospect of the Champions League appeared an enticing adventure rather than a grand stage that would show up all Liverpool’s inadequacies.

Returning to the Champions League remains Rodgers’ principal target for 2015, although doing it by winning the Europa League – which, as Rafa Benitez discovered at Chelsea, can rebuild reputations – would be easier than clambering into the top four. If Liverpool are to make the 79 points that were enough for a fourth-placed finish last season, they would have to average 2.7 points a game.

Naturally, given Liverpool’s history, it has been done before. On Boxing Day 1981, with Liverpool 12th in the table after a defeat to Manchester City, Bob Paisley dropped his captain, Phil Thompson, for an FA Cup tie at Swansea and instigated a run of results that would take the club to another championship at the expense of Bobby Robson’s Ipswich. “Oh yes,” Paisley would mutter. “I’ve known the bad times here. One year we finished second.”