Shelvey progress mirrors steep Liverpool learning curve

By David Lynch

It was fitting that Liverpool’s false nine scored something of a false goal to beat West Ham on Sunday afternoon.

The dubious goals panel may not have to ruminate for long over Jonjo Shelvey’s winner – an effort which only found the net as a sizeable, looping deflection from James Collins bamboozled Jussi Jaaskelainen – but the nature of it said much about the Reds’ performance and, in fact, their season so far.

The win at Upton Park was built on grit and determination, evinced by the visitors’ commitment to possession-based football and featured numerous lapses in concentration. It was everything Liverpool have been this term.

The result was arguably the only unusual part in that victories have not been easy to grasp for Brendan Rodgers since his summer arrival at Anfield. But they are certainly becoming a more common occurrence in recent weeks, with Liverpool now on a three-match winning streak in all competitions and having lost just one of their last 11 Premier League fixtures.

With each week we are beginning to see the characteristics which will define Rodgers’ Liverpool, and it is Shelvey who has become the poster boy for that revolution. He is a young player in a young team and both are showing signs of what they can be with the necessary time and patience.

It was a patience sorely tested in the early part of the season, particularly when Liverpool suffered a morale-crushing defeat to bitter rivals Manchester United at home. Typically, Shelvey was at the heart of things then, providing a manifestation of his side’s naivety in getting himself sent off challenging for a needless 50-50 with Jonny Evans near the halfway line.

His commitment to that tackle could not be faulted – it arguably never can – but it was a rash decision, the type which young players are prone to making.

Yet he has atoned for that since, and never more so than in an unfamiliar role up top at Upton Park. He showed a maturity which did not tally with a 20-year-old, all his frustration focused on winning a battle with a back four who, prior to Sunday, were the Premier League’s fourth-meanest defence.

Such a transformation is testament to Rodgers’ ability as a coach. The Northern Irishman’s tendency to coax the best out of his players has borne Luis Suarez’s finest scoring run in a red shirt and launched Jose Enrique’s recent renaissance. Even Jordan Henderson, a goalscorer in midweek and an assist-providing substitute on Sunday, appears to have saved his career at Anfield thanks to such guidance.

It is for this reason that Shelvey would be best served staying with the Merseyside club for some time yet. Chances to develop will be provided under the tutelage of a hands-on boss who started life as a youth coach; these are golden opportunities which 18-year-old Raheem Sterling might also do well to acknowledge during his ongoing contract wrangle.

Of course, that is not to say that everything at Liverpool is rosy following an away win over a recently promoted team. The victory helped the Reds into the top half of the English top flight for the first time this term, a fact which betrays their largely indifferent form overall.

But a metaphorical corner has certainly been turned, the significance of a first come-from-behind league win away from home since 2009 cannot be underestimated. Four points from fourth place with a cruel opening run of fixtures out of the way should also not be dismissed lightly, especially with confidence up following this momentum-generating victory.

Either way, it is certain to be a bumpy ride given Liverpool’s recent tumultuous history. Fans will simply hope that Shelvey’s form and the fortunes of their team can continue on this steep upward trend.

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