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Friday 15 December 2017

He is so direct in his play. It is almost like Giggsy used to be in many ways

AFTER Crystal Palace turned Liverpool over 3-1 in the Premier League back in November, Brendan Rodgers and his players were in a very bad place and I, for one, could see no obvious route out of it.

A few months later and I have to take my hat off to Rodgers. He has found a way and turned Liverpool's season from an unmitigated disaster unto something much more positive.

It's still far from perfect and many of the old questions still stand about the strength of the squad and need for proven performers to help the young, inexperienced and, for quite some time, stage struck players who were signed during the summer.

I still think Champions League football next season will be a big reach via the orthodox route but Rodgers now has plenty of options. If I'm honest, I was a bit worried this time last week that Liverpool's season could be badly damaged by three pivotal fixtures.

Put it this way, if they had lost to Spurs in the League last Wednesday and had been eliminated from the FA Cup by Palace at the weekend, Thursday's Europa Cup tie against Beskitas would have been the only remaining straw for Rodgers to clutch at.

intent

I wanted to see a convincing statement of intent against Spurs and Liverpool delivered that. Even Mario Balotelli paid back some of the debt he owes the club, his team mates and the fans.

On Saturday in the second half against Palace, I saw a team transformed completely from the one which almost rolled over and died back in November.

I saw a young team with pace and imagination score two goals and then completely dominate a less capable side. That's what Liverpool should be doing all the time and it was great to see.

It is worth mentioning that some of the best work done on the day came about as a result of a very shrewd double substitution with just over ten minutes left on the clock.

Rodgers took off Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge and brought on Paul Lambert and Dejan Lovren. In the face of it, it looked like a strange call but it was exactly what Liverpool needed at the time and tied up the game very nicely indeed.

I've been very critical of Liverpool in the past when they couldn't close out a result and this was a fine example of a manager thinking his way through the game and coming up with a plan on the run which worked well and protected a winning position.

Now, Rodgers and his team are one match away from a Wembley FA Cup semi-final with a decreasing range of Premier League rivals to worry about, still playing catch-up but still in the mix for fourth place in the Premier League and will view Thursday's Europa Cup tie as a fixture they can have a right go at.

That's light years better than a few short months ago when Balotelli was the only thing anyone was talking about when they weren't debating how poorly Liverpool were playing.

So he definitely deserves some praise, Rodgers, for rising to a difficult job and finding a way to play which brings the best out of what he's got.

Compare his adaptation of a three-man defence and his use of Emre Can with Louis van Gaal's ham-fisted attempts to play a similar system at Old Trafford and Rodgers looks very good.

If I would ever presume to offer Rodgers a bit of advice, it would be eto ase back on the media stuff and the impression he creates that he always has an eye on history, saying things which will look well in the archives.

He speaks well but he speaks too often. I actually think he does far too much media work and he has talked himself into trouble more than once. Remember his categorical statement about Balotelli never joining Liverpool when he was in America during the summer? He didn't have to say that. It created a nice headline at the time but it came back to bite him in the backside just a few weeks later.

We were having a chat about Rodgers on Liverpool TV on Saturday and it was suggested that he wants to be remembered in the same way as Bill Shankly and I think there is some truth in that.

Let's be honest, who wouldn't want to be remembered as Shankly, a man who left a huge legacy behind him in terms of Liverpool football club's ethos and structure but also gifted the game his thoughts in a string of one-liners which still carry resonance all these years later?

He was a charismatic man and he could hold an audience in the palm of his hand but his deeds were the platform for all his wise words and his achievements gave what he said weight.

The way his team played came from Shankly's mind and his heart and didn't need any embellishment with words. You can say what you like when you have a bunch of medals in the drawer.

In other words, Brendan should let the football do the talking. In that context, he needs to say very little at the moment, because he has turned a corner and succeeded in digging himself out of a deep hole.

Well done.

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