Liverpool And The Confidence Effect

Liverpool's resurgence has been based not on signings or science but confidence, says Daniel Storey. Brendan Rodgers deserves huge credit for filling his players with belief...

Last Updated: 26/03/14 at 22:05 Post Comment

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So the Liverpool bandwagon continues. Seven consecutive Premier League victories, and 32 points from a possible 36. It's also now 84 league goals for the season, further extending their record in the Premier League era. This is truly a resurgence of incredible proportions, and shows no sign of abating. Sunderland provided stubborn resistance for a period, and gave Liverpool a late scare thanks to more sloppy set piece marking, but were eventually defeated. It wasn't pretty, but this a time at which result is king.

Whatever the ending to Liverpool's incredible Premier League season, the re-emergence of the club within a period as short as twelve months is simply remarkable. The last team to win the league after finishing outside the top six the season before was Everton in 1985, and whilst this time last year Liverpool were 16/1 to finish in the top four, the best you can get after tonight's stroll over Sunderland is 1/100.

Such is the vast change of fortune at Anfield that, actually, winning the title doesn't matter. It would be a wonderful cherry atop a tasty cake, but the trust placed in Brendan Rodgers and his philosophy has already been vindicated.

Whilst it would be foolish to underestimate the amount to which FSG's financial backing has allowed Rodgers to progress (seven players signed in the last three transfer windows formed part of the squad against Sunderland), a 20-point increase from the same stage last season must be put down to something greater. Liverpool are a side playing with dangerous levels of confidence.

'Confidence' is very much the buzzword, perhaps traditionally viewed (in sporting terms, at least) as being soaked in management speak, with hints of New Age thinking. It is unquantifiable, impossible to falsely create and yet undoubtedly crucial in determining success or failure in the high performance arena of top-level sport. In football the term is inescapable, running like a cliche vein through the very fabric of the game's parlance. We talk of a 'new manager lift', strikers who 'just need one goal to get going' and goalkeepers who want to 'get a touch of the ball early', all phrases that refer to the importance of self-belief.

It is here where Rodgers has made the biggest difference at Anfield. Against Sunderland, it was again totally apparent, a swagger and verve to much that Liverpool did. Midfielders such as Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen, much-maligned in the not-too-distant past, are now eager to receive the ball at feet, even with back to goal and an opponent in close proximity. When the free kick was awarded against Santiago Vergini, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Daniel Agger all pleaded to take the set piece - Anfield is not a place where violets are often to be seen shrinking.

Talk to any Liverpool player, and the response is the same. "He [Rodgers] gives everyone confidence. When you step on to the pitch you know that he's behind you," was Simon Mignolet's assessment, whilst Kolo Toure has been equally impressed. "We have a great manager here," Toure told the Liverpool Echo. "He knows what he wants and as a player he gives you confidence." Captain Gerrard recently labelled Rodgers as his best ever man-manager, and again that word comes up: "You go out feeling full of confidence and belief. His one-on-one management is the best I've known."

It is Raheem Sterling's words that offer the biggest insight. "He's told me to do what I've been doing in the youth team and just be confident and get on the ball. I'm in that zone now where I can express myself and come out of my shell."

Sterling's use of the word 'zone' is key, coming up in almost every discussion of sporting confidence and also referred to as psychological flow. Proposed by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it concerns the mental state at which an individual is performing an activity immersed in focus or involvement. No doubts, no worries over form or failure and no concerns over a manager losing faith in you should you make a mistake.

At the highest level, every striker has the capability of putting the ball into the top corner, every midfielder can play the perfect pass and every defender can make the cleanest slide tackle. The regularity to which this occurs depends largely on the mental well-being of the individual. When in the aforementioned 'zone', such passes or shots are made even without thinking, relying on a subconscious muscle memory rather than a deliberate action.

It is easy to criticise Rodgers' faux-philosophy schtick (I know, I've criticised it myself), but there is little doubt that his very public displays of belief in his players has given them an assurance clearly missing during four years of underperformance.

'Anything is possible for those who believe' read the banner passed across the bottom of the Kop before kick-off. Given the positivity provided by Brendan Rodgers' impressive man-management, very little seems out of reach for Liverpool.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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