By Charles Ong
Luis Suarez surged to the summit of the scoring charts this weekend, as he became the first player to hit double digits in the Premier League after Saturday’s deadly double against the Latics.
But while Suarez rightly deserves the plaudits from all quarters given the way he has embraced Rodgers’ style of football, what was lesser recognised was the Liverpool boss’s ability to affect the outcome of the game through his in-game management.
Rodgers’s astuteness and mental ability to remain thoughtful during games involving high stakes cannot be underestimated; Saturday was a perfect example of how he was able to affect the gameplay through his usage of his substitutes.
On 36 minutes, Rodgers made a change by replacing Suso with Jordan Henderson, much to the bafflement of home fans who initially suspected it was due to an injury Suso sustained earlier. However as Rodgers explained afterwards, the substitution was purely tactical.
From that point onwards, and especially in the second half, Liverpool’s play improved dramatically and with Henderson eager to impress, Liverpool dominated the centre of the park as it provided greater pressing, energy and balance.
Whilst it was Suarez’s goals which ultimately led to Liverpool’s comfortable victory, the crucial substitution made by Rodgers cannot be underestimated as it was a catalyst for a coherent team performance.
Moreover, this is not the first time that in-game changes made by Rodgers has (possibly) affected the outcome of the games; during the derby at Goodison Park, Liverpool were being completely overran until Rodgers introduced two substitutes during half-time.
That neutralised the direct threat that Everton provided with the likes of Fellaini and Jelavic, and Liverpool could have even snatched all three points had Suarez’s legitimate goal not been ruled out for offside. A tactical change at Chelsea - playing Suso in the middle behind Suarez - also brought about a paradigm shift in balance of power and swung the momentum in Liverpool’s favour.
Rodgers’ decisive and bold changes are a huge bonus to Liverpool because managers are often passive and wait for too long to bring on substitutes, usually to negligible effect. However, Rodgers’ reactivity to the various situations thrown was a breath of fresh air.
Another huge plus for Liverpool in recent weeks has been the emergence of winger Raheem Sterling. It is not often that you see a 17-year-old - no matter how talented - break into the senior side of any Premier League team with such conviction. But Sterling seems to be a complete exception in that he is fearless and most importantly, is also an effective team player.
Suarez's first goal stemmed from Sterling's sharpness in stealing possession from Wigan’s defence, and the teenager's stinging effort against the palms of Ali Al-Habsi allowed Enrique to tap-in from close range for the second.
Just like Rodgers, Sterling is a gem that Liverpool fans must place hope and trust in.