By David Lynch at Anfield
“New Year, new me,” is an oft-parodied maxim regularly uttered around this time of year, but if Liverpool Football Club were a person, they could be forgiven for saying it right about now.
Despite having added to their already bulging trophy cabinet with success in the League Cup, the Merseyside club have endured something of a miserable 2012, particularly at Anfield. They say that happiness begins at home, and the same is true of unhappiness.
Liverpool have posted just six league wins and 12 in total in L4 in the last 12 months – figures which perfectly sum up their sorry decline over that period. But the sixth of those Premier League victories, a 4-0 drubbing of Fulham on Saturday afternoon, hinted at the path the club might just be set to take when their Anfield commitments resume in 2013.
Steven Gerrard, a talisman for the red half of Merseyside for so long, has too often been illustrative of their insipid nature in 2012. His ageing body seemed unable to take on the strain of carrying the team any longer, whilst his trademark long passes and bursts from deep appeared to be a thing of the past.
However, any confusion over his duties in a quick-passing, high-pressing team appeared to have dissipated on Saturday, as he took on the middle role in a midfield three with admirable ease. The uncertainty which has characterised his game since Brendan Rodgers’ arrival was replaced by an authoritative air and that confidence provided a foundation from which the 32-year-old dominated the centre of the park.
Of course, it could be suggested that such improvement is a product of having a week of training uninterrupted by internationals or European fixtures for the first time this season. But there is also hope that the club captain is beginning to learn what is expected of him in a decidedly ‘less English’ system.
Gerrard’s compatriot, Stewart Downing, is another who appeared to be coming round to Rodgers’ methods in some style against Fulham. The former Middlesbrough wideman notched both his first Premier League assist and goal since joining the club in the win over the Cottagers, a truly remarkable statistic for a man who arrived on Merseyside in July 2011.
In truth, the 28-year-old is unlikely to discover untapped, world-class potential for the Reds, but his contributions demonstrated a confidence sorely lacking at any point during his time at the club thus far. Rodgers must take great credit for having instilled that.
In fact, the Northern Irishman deserves acclaim for much more; there is an argument that Liverpool’s recent upturn is the product of a new manager’s ideas finally taking hold. Though a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa last time out provided evidence that there are plenty of bumps in the road yet to come, Rodgers can take confidence from the fact that he will soon have the tools to overcome them.
Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge is set to undergo a medical at Melwood on Sunday and is likely to be joined by Tom Ince in arriving when the January transfer window opens. The pair are far from the finished article, but they fit the profile of young, hungry players with plenty to prove which have formed Liverpool’s (admittedly fragile) backbone in the last year.
Rodgers will hope that the reward for the faith he has shown in his talented but inexperienced charges is forthcoming in the next 12 months in the form of much-improved performances. And, with his veteran squad members starting to do their bit, who knows what could happen?
Maybe 2013 really is Liverpool’s year…
Follow David Lynch on