The loss to Chelsea is certainly a blot on the copybook of Rodgers, but it shouldn’t spoil his work.
On Tuesday, Mourinho revealed how the Liverpool manager has since text him congratulations on his team’s performance, and explained that Rodgers probably understands it now he’s had time to watch the video. While this is highly patronizing to Rodgers, Mourinho’s need to belittle his former pupil is complementary. For anyone who has followed the two teams closely this season will know there has only been one real master.
Mourinho isn’t even Brendan Rodgers’ biggest rival for the Manager of the Year crown. Tony Pulis is. Although the Chelsea manager has had the pleasure of seeing the term ‘Mourinho masterclass’ plastered across the back pages after his sides best performances this season, Mourinho’s inability to coach a team of such talent into breaking down a packed defence is too big a stain to ignore.
Tony Pulis has done a similar job to Mourinho, but with a relative lack of riches. Pulis took over Crystal Palace in chaos and has managed to restore order. With seven points from 12 games upon taking charge, even a fight against relegation would have been a success, but Pulis has led Crystal Palace to mid-table safety. The former Stoke manager’s management has been very good, but it’s also been very negative.
In contrast, the changes made by Brendan Rodgers have been largely positive. Rodgers moved Steven Gerrard, the player who’s enjoyed his best seasons just behind the striker, back into defensive midfield. Rodgers made Raheem Sterling, last year’s precocious winger, into an intelligent No. 10. And Rodgers has turned Philippe Coutinho, Milan’s discarded 10, into a combative midfielder.
Rodgers’ positive management has been similarly beneficial for Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson and Jon Flanagan. He’s convinced average players that they are great, and by doing so, created something out of nothing. He’s smashed the top four glass ceiling, and with it, the idea that only serious cash injection can bring about success in football.
Where Pulis’ approach has been reductive, Rodgers’ has been adaptive. Tony Pulis chose a system, defined the limitations, and drilled his players intensively. Pulis has worked hard, Palace have worked hard, and both are seeing the fruits of their labor.
What has made Rodgers performance most impressive this season, is the unpredictability of his team. Liverpool started the season in a ‘4-3-3’ with one traditional striker, then moved to three at the back in order to accommodate two strikers. Rodgers then reverted to a ‘4-3-3’ with alternating strikers, and Liverpool excelled.
It wasn’t supposed to work. But it did.
Most would have stuck with this system at this point, but the Liverpool manager saw room for innovation. Rodgers began experimenting with a ‘4-4-2’ to limited success against Aston Villa and Southamption. Unperturbed, the Liverpool persisted and would go on to employ this system to great success in victory at Old Trafford.
Where Rodgers has sought change when it wasn’t necessarily required, the Liverpool manager strangely failed to change when change was most needed. Liverpool needed only draw against Chelsea, it was Jose Mourinho’s team that needed to win. And yet Liverpool attacked a Chelsea side in numbers, a Chelsea side that is most dangerous on the counter.
But then perhaps this is just symptomatic of the positivity that makes Rodgers so good. And the positive revolution of Rodgers, all things equal, will always be preferable to the negative of that of Pulis and Mourinho.