When Brendan Rodgers joined Liverpool most fans were impressed by the vision he laid out for the club in his early press conferences.
The emphasis on possession, tactical awareness, positive yet responsible football. The talk of hard work bringing rewards, the need to respect the club and its traditions while understanding the changing nature of the modern game. It all chimed with supporters looking for a reason to believe.
Underneath the presentational flair, though, was an air of caution. Rodgers was keen to stress the time rebuilding would take, the long journey the club was embarking on, the need for patience.
Reflecting on the comparative failure that was his spell at Reading, the new man at Anfield said he had tried to change too much too quickly. Imposing his preferred style on journeyman pros was beyond the young manager at the time.
At Swansea the transition was smoothed by the work of his predecessors. Both Paolo Sousa and Roberto Martinez had built a squad and a philosophy not far removed from Rodgers’s own. Progress was swift.
Back in May the Liverpool job appeared to have much more in common with the task he faced in Berkshire than in South Wales.
While the level of talent was of course higher than that at Reading, years of discontinuity and disharmony on and off the pitch had left the squad lopsided in terms of playing style.
After Roy Hodgson’s dot matrix football and the doomed if thrilling holiday romance of Kenny Dalglish’s second period in charge there was a seriously odd look to the squad.
For every Lucas Leiva, seemingly made for the rigours of ball retention, there was a Charlie Adam looking to gamble with Liverpool’s hard-won possession at every opportunity.
It seemed logical that Rodgers should look for some kind of halfway house, a pragmatic holding position designed to bring in results while the hard work of developing a new philosophy progressed slowly.
In Liverpool’s opening games of the season this appeared to be the objective. While there were bold moves in some areas of team selection, they were generally matched by conservative measures elsewhere.
Rodgers appeared to be seeking a balance, accommodating senior players where best he could while giving the most obvious young talent, Raheem Sterling, the chance to flourish.
In transfers, too, there was a slightly more cautious air about Rodgers than he might like us to believe. Nuri Sahin was what someone fond of management speak (anybody spring to mind?) would refer to as a no-brainer, while Joe Allen and Fabio Borini were seen by some observers as comfort blanket signings.
The manager’s late pursuit of Clint Dempsey would appear to be further evidence of this holding pattern strategy – there was a clear logic to bringing in an experienced and proven Premier League goalscorer.
Yet (*swallows pill marked ‘official line’*) the fates conspired against us on deadline day and Rodgers had to go with what he’d got. What’s more, injury removed Lucas from the reckoning for months, with Martin Kelly facing even longer on the sidelines.
Potentially season-damaging blows struck the club. Five league games passed without a win. An abject capitulation at Arsenal had even the new man’s most fervent believers down in the mouth.
Yet a strong performance with 10 men against Manchester United brought renewed hope, the manager leaving the dugout with the acclaim of the Kop ringing in his ears.
Was it then, or perhaps the previous Thursday in Bern, that Rodgers decided to shed the self-imposed strictures of caution? To start backing himself and his beliefs 100 per cent rather than 75 per cent?
Who can say? In any event it’s clear now that Rodgers is going to live or die by his methods and his vision. He’s on the front foot and the team have followed suit.
Wearying compromises and attempts to accommodate experience at all costs have been ditched. The pre-requisites for a place in the Liverpool 11 are now simply talent and determination – to succeed, to work and to apply the methods demanded by the manager.
In the space of a few weeks the club has gone from fielding Gerrard, Suarez and Allen against Hearts at home to throwing in kids – proper, actual kids – at West Brom.
Rodgers has found in the young players a rich seam of talent and, in fact, experience of playing possession-based, sensibly progressive football. They’ve been doing it all their lives.
We’ve also begun to see what Oussama Assaidi, the most intriguing of the summer signings, can bring. Meanwhile, some of the senior players who seemed to struggle at first have shown a dramatic improvement – perhaps after a glance over their shoulder at the queue of young players hungry for their chance.
As well as creating a genuine sense of momentum, Rodgers’ new-found radicalism could prove a cannier strategy than the pragmatic approach that coloured his early games.
Keep on fielding Stewart Downing while promising jam tomorrow and fans will tire quickly. Show us Suso, show us Yesil, show us – gasp – Sinclair, and the supporters will see where the club is heading. We’ll also have loads of fun.
So bring on Udinese, bring on the brave new world of resting Suso for Sunday, bring on the prospect of an Ngoo, an Adorjan or an Ibe getting a look-in. Anything’s possible at the moment and we’re all the better for it.
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