If Liverpool win their final five matches they will be League Champions for the first time since they won the title under Kenny Dalglish in 1990. They are playing some of the most exciting football seen in English football with many players bang in form. This could well be something England manager, Roy Hodgson would do well to tap into for the World Cup in Brazil.
Unbeaten in 2014, one of the cornerstones to their rise to the top has been driven by many English players, who are now benefitting from this wave of confidence and belief in their own ability. These players can now rightly be positive of their chance to don the England kit in Brazil. Liverpool could provide as many as six players in Roy Hodgson’s squad.
Two English players who have had great seasons are the most instantly recognisable. Captain Steven Gerrard has made no secret of his desire to win the Premier League title, the only domestic honour he has yet to win.
His performances over the last few months have been an integral factor in Liverpool’s drive for the title. Earlier in the season there were some who questioned the value of his place in the team, but those people have had to re-adjust their thinking as Gerrard has really stepped up a gear. Playing a deeper role, he has been able to orchestrate attacks with his range of passing and his vision of the game gives him the ability to read when it is right to join an attack himself. He is also scoring plenty of penalties, too, which is never a bad thing when a World Cup for England is on the horizon.
Daniel Sturridge is the other player who has had a great season.
In any other season, Sturridge would probably be looking at Player of the Year, but his strike partner, Luis Suarez, is likely to take that away from him. The pair are the top scorers in the Premier League and Sturridge’s goalscoring record is up there with Fernando Torres in his first couple of seasons at Anfield. Yet Sturridge is probably a less explosive finisher than Torres was and his record has largely gone unnoticed but his goal-per-game ratio is very impressive.
Two of the most improved players this season have been Jordan Henderson and Jon Flanagan.
Henderson had been used as a comparison for too high a fee paid for a player when Liverpool paid between £16m-£20m to Sunderland for him in June 2011. At the time, Henderson was rated as a really promising young prospect and a player to watch. He struggled in his first season at Anfield, often playing wide on the right in a position unfamiliar to him. Under Brendan Rodgers he has adapted and developed his game to become a dangerous and hard-working player in the centre of midfield. His ability to join attacks at pace and his close-control, make him a useful asset in and around the box.
Flanagan is a player who has really blossomed under Rodgers. Initially given his chance by Kenny Dalglish he emerged along with other defensive young talents such as Martin Kelly and Jack Robinson. But Flanagan seemed the least promising of the three, often caught out of position defensively, as well as lacking intelligence going forward. Right from joining Liverpool, Rodgers identified Flanagan as a player he could work with. When Liverpool went to top-of-the-table, Arsenal in November they were without the injured Glen Johnson. To everyone’s surprise Flanagan was chosen as his replacement. Suddenly social media was full of fans questioning the manager’s decision. ‘Flanno’, or ‘the Scouse Cafu’ as he has become effectionately known by fans, did alright in the game although I thought he lacked confidence in his own ability when surging forward and the momentum of attacks down the right often stalled with him as the outlet. But since then, Flanno has been very impressive. Hard-working, desperate to do well, he is the epitome of a local boy living the dream playing for his boyhood club and being worshipped by the very supporters he was part of not long ago. He may lack pace, but his positioning and awareness of the game is beginning to compensate for that.
Raheem Sterling is another player right on top of his game at the moment. He has always possessed terrific pace, although should probably score more goals than he does, he is the perfect outlet for Suarez and Sturridge. His season began poorly when he found himself on the front pages of newspapers rather than the back, as one or two unpleasant incidents off the pitch threatened to undo all the good work of his first full season last year. Yet Sterling has returned a determined young man. Two aspects of his game which have really improved are his strength to hold off defenders, and his passing. There have been many instances of him playing a long pass right into the path for a striker to run onto, taking out most of the opposition. This makes him a dangerous prospect when his side are defending. Do you mark him tightly to cut out the space he may use to pick out a pass, or do you stand off and run the risk of him murdering you with pace?
The sixth Liverpool player in contention is Glen Johnson.
England’s number one right-back for a few years now he seems to have shrugged off some of the injuries he suffered earlier in the season. His form this season has been patchy, although he provides an important attacking option down the right which Hodgson may want to utilise in the summer.
Of the six, Flanagan is the one who is less likely to make the cut. He doesn’t offer as much in attack as Leighton Baines, and he has far less experience than Ashley Cole. He may also be behind Luke Shaw in the pecking order but his ability to play on either flank could well provide a useful squad option.
One final advantage Liverpool players offer Hodgson is their fitness levels. I noticed this at the end of last season that many players finished stronger than in previous seasons. Rodgers coaching staff has worked hard with Gerrard in that he has played almost as many minutes as he possibly can for his side in these two seasons. Consequently, he is not displaying signs of fatigue which can often afflict a player at this stage of a long season where every game is vitally important. Sterling and Johnson have also had spells out of the team so they should be fresher than if they had played a full season.
Whether Roy Hodgson will see things the same way, remains to be seen but a front six of Sturridge, Rooney, Lallana, Gerrard, Henderson and Sterling is quite exciting for me. Hodgson is a much more defensive coach than Rodgers and one of Rodgers strengths has been his ability to coach these players to believe in themselves. At international level it is not always possible to do that and it will be interesting to see how these players react to a different style of management. In England we are starting to emerge with some young talent, fit, strong and full of pace. Whether this World Cup is a little too soon for them is up for debate but the expectations for England are not great and it looks like there will be less hype for this team than any other I can remember. So perhaps the manager should have the courage of his convictions and just unleash this potential, then who knows what could happen?