Brendan Rodgers can do no wrong at the moment. He has transformed Liverpool from a side that trailed champions Manchester United by 28 points in May to genuine title contenders. In less than two seasons, Rodgers has all but secured a return to Champions League football, but how exactly has he done it? Donal Lucey gives us his answers.
Style of Play
If you ask a hundred people what Brendan Rodgers has changed at Liverpool, the vast majority of them will instinctively mention style of play first. Rodgers’ footballing philosophy is built around the idea that if you start quickly, dominate possession and use the ball intelligently you will be successful. Most of the problems Liverpool endured last season was a direct result of the players attempting to transition to this style. Rodgers expects the ball to be played out from the back and on more than one occasion the defenders were caught out.
There have been instances this season; the Southampton defeat springs to mind, where this philosophy has gotten Liverpool into trouble. But, as a whole, the players have become braver in possession and are now more willing to both receive the ball while under pressure and crucially, pick the right passes when they do get it.
In an interview last week Steven Gerrard was quoted as saying:
“[Brendan Rodgers] manages every single player differently, he knows we have different characters in the dressing room and his man to man, one on one management is the best I have known.”
That is high praise coming from the seasoned Liverpool and England captain. How could you disagree with him? Look at how players like Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling have developed under his tutelage. Rodgers has given youth a chance time and time again. In doing so, he has instilled the mindset in his players that if they work hard and play well then they will be rewarded with a place in the first team. This has created a young, hungry team with a great work ethic. The Northern Irish man also deserves a lot of credit for the way he managed difficult situations such as the Luis Suarez saga in the summer.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Brendan Rodgers was not every Liverpool fan’s first choice for the job when King Kenny was sacked. Not everyone was behind him when he dove into the transfer market and spent a considerable amount on Joe Allen and Fabio Borini. But Rodgers has stuck to his guns and come up trumps. Other managers would have shied away from selling £35 million man Andy Carroll but Rodgers was determined to rid the club of deadwood. So that meant a goodbye to the likes of Stewart Downing, Joe Cole and Charlie Adam that weren’t going to fit into the new model.
He went back into the market in January and spent big on two young and unproven talents in Phileppe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, and what signings they have proved to be! Pundits and fans alike were bemused at how Sturridge and Suarez would be able to play together. Could Daniel Sturridge play a central striker role? Could Luis Suarez adapt to accommodate this? Well, they have netted more goals between them than 14 of the top-flight teams so the answer to both those questions is yes. He also noted that Gerrard, although still brilliantly talented, no longer had the legs to be a box-to-box midfielder. The Liverpool legend adopting that anchor role has been a huge contribution to their success, allowing him to showcase his wonderful range of passing.
Brendan Rodgers is a tactical genius. I don’t feel like that’s an exaggeration. Take last Sunday as an example. Recognizing the vulnerability of United’s back four, he deployed Sterling as the spear point of a diamond that tore United to shreds. This showcased his tactical adaptability while exposing his opposing manager’s weakness in that area. Liverpool have been as unpredictable as they have been dangerous this season. How do you prepare for a team that could turn up and play 3-4-1-2, 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 and still prove as effective? Liverpool can play counter-attack, press high up the pitch or dominate possession; it all depends on the opposition and how Rodgers’ reads the game.
Liverpool are now playing some of the most exciting, attacking football Anfield regulars have seen in 20 years. Anfield is looking like the fortress it once was once more. This season the Reds have won 12, drawn one and lost just once at home. There is a real feeling of togetherness around the club. Brendan Rodgers clearly believes in his players and they are working hard for them. Senior players like Gerrard are already calling out for FSG to award Rogers with a bumper new contract and he deserves one. It is not by chance that Liverpool find themselves on destiny’s doorstep and very close to that long awaited 19th League trophy.
Pundit Arena, Donal Lucey.
Featured Image By Kev Ruscoe from Sandbach, UK (2013-08-05 11-35-15 Uploaded by Dudek1337) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.