How will Rodgers save Liverpool?
Brendan Rodgers has his work cut out for him at Liverpool. He has left his job at Swansea City, where he was worshipped by fans for guiding them to promotion and then Premier League safety by playing a cosmopolitan brand of football.
He is now faced with taking Britain’s most famous club out of a sustained period of under performance.
His challenge should not lie in gaining fan support or the faith of the board. Nor should it come in having the temperament to lead such a big club. It comes in getting a group of footballers to transition from an archaic game plan to a highly advanced one.
To do this, Rodgers needs the right players. Obviously he has brought and will bring in new signings, yet he must largely lean on what remains from the Benitez, Hodgson and Dalgleish days.
At Swansea, Rodgers modelled his club on Barcelona. From youth development, recruitment, game style and wider club ideals, South Wales mimicked the stylish Catalan giants.
What is Rodgers preferred style of play? It is 4-3-3. The defenders and the goal keeper must be able to play out of the back. In the Championship, Dorus De Vries and then Michel Vorm in the Premier League were exceptionally skilled ball distributors for goalkeepers.
As were defenders Ashley Williams and Steven Caukler.
This is the origin of many of their attacking moves.
In the midfield, Swansea relied on the perpetual motion of holding two holding midfielders. First choices Leon Britton and Joe Allen were dynamic movers, able to attack and defend.
They were ridiculously comfortable on the ball, technically able to weave out of any situation. They pass with deadly accuracy and are always available as a release option.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was Swansea’s most important man as the centre attacking midfielder. He, along with wingers Dyer and Sinclair, were lethal going forward yet equally effective at defending. In fact the whole team were.
Every player was expected to frantically rush and press up onto the opposing ball carrier.
Rodger’s mantra is that having the ball means you control your own destiny: possession is sought at all costs.
The movement patterns, manic defence and willingness to hold onto the ball are hall marks of Rodgers game which starkly oppose the play of Liverpool under Dalgleish and Hodgson.
The game plan was cumbersome, unimaginative and relied heavily upon individuals like Gerrard and Suarez.
Proven good players like Joe Cole, Alberto Aquilani, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson among others were left to flounder in a structureless football mess.
Rodger’s brings this, along with purpose and a type of game that seeks to utilise the gifted footballers on Liverpool’s books. Gerrard and Lucas Leiva can pass, they are both smart players.
Agger, Caragher, Skrtl, Johnson and Jose Enrique are the same. Perceived failures Downing and Henderson get another chance. Both proved to be brilliant players at previous clubs. They now get the chance to flourish in the most up to date footballing system in the world.
However, most important to Liverpool and to Rodgers successfully implementing his game plan are two virtual new recruits, one veteran and a young signing.
Joe Cole spent last year at Lille. He had a great season there and along with journeyman Alberto Acquilani, Rodgers acquires to highly technical and intelligent footballers. He needs players comfortable on the ball to be a success and both these men are.
Furthermore, Aquilani is the typically disciplined Italian midfielder, able to be patient in build up but equally instinctive going forward. Cole, as shown in the recent game against AS Roma, loves coming to meet the ball and then turning to distribute. He can give the midfield constant options to release short and smartly into channels, exactly the way Rodgers prefers.
The veteran is Craig Bellamy. The angriest man in world football but also almost the most energetic. He will be able to harass and pillage opposition midfielders when they have the ball all day.
He will scrap and fight for everything and set an example for every other player to follow in pressing the opposition.
Finally the new signing, 21-year-old Italian striker Fabio Borini. Signed from AS Roma after a breakout year, Borini has twice worked for Rodgers. First was when he was coach of the Chelsea youth team and second was at Swansea.
Borini was signed on loan to the Swans during the second half of their promotion year and was vital to their rise to the Premier League. Rodgers described him as one of the best ‘movement’ players he has coached. This means he has an elite fitness level and ability to intelligently position himself in defence and attack.
Having a player who knows his system will be vital, especially a striker. It means he can understand the process of getting the ball and put himself in the best spots to finish off the rest of the teams good work.
Borini was in Italy’s runner up Euro 2012 squad.
He is one of the best young strikers in the world. In him, Liverpool have an exceptional talent. A forward line-up of Suarez playing off Borini’s shoulder would be sumptuous.
Let it be known that this system takes time to learn. Rodgers and the managers before him at Swansea sang from the same hymnbook so to speak. They developed a squad to play a passing game and Rodgers utilised their skills best.
Liverpool also need time. Not every player will suit this game, just ask Andy Carroll. A player cannot be taught to rely on their technique overnight, they cannot change their game style overnight. If you watched the game against AS Roma at Fenway Park in Boston you would’ve seen this.
While they tried to pass at all costs, it was clear some players were not comfortable and the team has not yet gelled.
Patience will be rewarded. Once it clicks it will be worth it. Liverpool will benefit from the guidance of Rodgers, that is for certain.