When Rodgers was hired as the new boss at Liverpool everyone concerned knew it was going to be a gamble. The Northern Irishman’s Barcelona inspired philosophy of keeping the ball and probing until spaces open to employ a pass and move attack worked wonders at Swansea. The football played by the Welsh team was scintillating and most importantly effective. But in going to the Merseyside giants Rodgers chose to take on a job of intense pressure and one where managers have not often been given much time. And time is something that former Swans manager will surely need at the five time European Champions.
Taking over a squad full of deadwood collected from managerial eras passed, and following the unsuccessful big spends of the previous summer, the former Chelsea coach has had to start installing his philosophy via a mix of slow and sensible spending and attempts to try to make the best of the uninspiring squad at hand. Many previous Pool signings do not seem to fit with Rodgers’ style – Charlie Adam seems on the way out, Downing has found himself supplanted by a 17 year old and Andy Carroll certainly doesn’t seem to bed in with Rodgers’ plans. In terms of signings, Fabio Borini and Joe Allen in particular represent the Reds’ future – technically gifted players who enjoy possession of the ball rather than chasing after it.
The Rodgers revolution got off to a poor start at West Brom and after a 3-0 defeat people were wondering if he would be given the time needed for what seems to be a pretty huge process of transformation. Steven Gerrard seemed incompatible, the defence was clumsy and Suarez continued last season’s profligacy in front of goal. The inevitability of Liverpool defeat still remained from the failed Hodgson and Dalglish tenures. Joe Allen’s composure looked ineffective and Borini was unable to stop last season’s 8th place side from failing to score. The bus back to Merseyside must have stunk of mediocrity.
The Man City match last weekend was as important as they come for Liverpool. Always able to raise the game when hosting their superior rivals, Anfiled must become a fortress again. Rodgers needed a big performance just show his philosophy could work and that he wasn’t going to follow in the ineptitude of eras gone by. Although elements of Liverpool’s stirring 2-2 draw with the champions were frustrating, there was enough evidence on show to suggest that this could be a season of evolution rather than stale disappointment. The confidence to play their way out of trouble was promising, as was their movement in the final third and their ability to keep the ball – Joe Allen’s pass completion was an utterly satisfying vindication of Rodgers’ plans. In Raheem Sterling they have an exciting wildcard of fearless pace and youthful exuberance, while Suarez, although a bit disappointing in this particular fixture, showed enough of his guile and talent to suggest that he can be a more deadly weapon under Rodgers than he was under Dalgish.
Problems do remain. Skrtel and Agger will have to learn that passes in the defensive third have to be diligently executed to avoid embarrassment such as that which befell the Slovak. Suarez must improve in the final third and we’re yet to see how influential former talisman Gerrard can be within this less buccaneering side. Last season’s detrimental flaw for Liverpool was a lack of goals and a lot has to be done for this problem to be overcome. A striker who can guarantees twenty goals a season is a must. Borini and Suarez have a lot of improvement to do before they can be that player.
One player who Rodgers seems to be overlooking in this respect is Carroll. Perhaps too cumbersome for this new philosophy, Carroll doesn’t fit easily into this side. But if the Premier League’s history were to give Rodgers any lessons regarding possession based football, it would suggest that a multiplicity of options is always important. Arsenal for many years in the middle 00s suffered from having no plan B to turn to when their own brand of silky football failed to break down opponents. To be able to change the pattern of the game via different options from the bench, or to be able to anticipate that another style of play will be more pragmatic for certain matches, is a vital asset for any top end side. If you look at Man Utd, for example, if Kagawa’s combination with van Persie isn’t working, then they can resort to the pace of Welbeck, or the ‘fox-in-the-box’ Hernandez on the bench (and that’s ignoring Rooney!) This new look Liverpool side have begun a new chapter, but they’d be foolish to go on without similar game changing options.