WITH a demonstrably cerebral manager at the helm and (I personally believe) a squad that’s both strong and well balanced at his disposal, I firmly believe that with a couple of tweaks, and some coaching nous, we’ll soon be having a whole different brand of conversation about Liverpool Football Club again.
The club has hired a manager whose preferred approach to the game is broadly as follows.
- Keeper as an 11th outfield player
- All players with playmaking responsibilities
- Centre halves who can advance with and recycle ball
- Wing backs with energy and discipline
- Spine in ‘echelon’ – movement to guarantee passing triangles
- Arguably a shift from a ‘3 bands’ formation to an ‘8 Zone’ approach
- Defensive midfielder – playmaker, circulator, destroyer
- 2 advanced midfielders – energy, linking, support for front three, pressing
- Inside forwards – pace, crossing, goalscoring, energy, directness, pressing
- Striker – reference point, goalscorer, bringing support runners into play
- A belief in ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’
- A preference for multifunctional players, as a means to add flexibility, cut squad numbers, and get more from resources.
Collectively, the manager favours possession as means of control. He talks about ‘resting with the ball’, the value of possession for possession’s sake to build confidence and tempo, and to tire the opposing side, and to grow into games as a prerequisite for dominant football.
It’s here that his Swansea side has been talked down in some quarters. Unlike Barca, Swansea didn’t use possession to relentlessly dominate – to pin sides into their defensive third. They lacked the quality to do that, but boasted enough commitment to exert it as far as was practical with the players at their disposal. As a result, their possession stats for the season were just shy of Manchester City’s, while their goals scored tally was far less impressive.
To bring it back to good old Rinus Michels, the reason is simple – this type of football is “sensitive to quality”.
The first question is whether the current playing staff fits his way of playing the game.
- Keeper? A resounding yes.
- Centre halves? Yup – but one who doesn’t, and who is something of a ‘sacred cow’.
- Wing backs? Yup, albeit one who needs clear tactical parameters for his game.
- Defensive midfielder? One perfect candidate, but We could use another like him.
- 2 advanced midfielders? For me, yes – we have several players who are capable of that kind of game, but the more quality we can boast here the better.
- Inside forwards – there’s great debate here, but with the right coaching, for me we have very good players here, and others on the cusp of breaking through.
- Striker? Again, there’s plenty of debate on this one. Can the wee fella muster enough discipline? Can the big fella play enough football? Can others deputise effectively?
Long-Term Progress and the ‘Methodological Beating’
Mourinho, arguably the biggest direct influence on Rodgers in his career to date, talks of the value of a ‘methodological beating’ in engendering lasting long-term improvement in a club’s fortunes, as opposed to the short-term benefits an unthinking change of manager can bring – the ‘psychological beating’.
“[T]he methodological beating… produces long-lasting effects because it brings about structural changes… changes in the work philosophy and the model of play”.
Rodgers has of course seen and digested the Mourinho ‘bible’ during his time at Chelsea, and was responsible for implementing its ways with their youth players. He was one of the people putting the rubber to the road in that context. So there’s a starting point. It means little in itself, but what you can maybe infer is that his ‘methodology’ will have seeped in a little, and it’s arguably the case that his Swansea side bore this out.
Some snippets I personally feel are borne out in Swansea’s football. Relevant to the ‘advanced midfielders’, Mourinho says a player in that area “must display a high tactical level in order to be a link between the defence and attack, but not the defence and attack of the opponent”. They mustn’t lose the ball, or collectively empty their area of the pitch. I think that role’s going to be crucial, and the big challenge in getting the most out of Gerrard in particular. This mode of football insists on players who can coordinate the link between midfield and attack.
Swansea was Different, Rodgers stays the same
Football at a newly promoted Swansea City is different to football at Liverpool. Whether it’s reasonable or not, Liverpool fans expect their team to impose their game, and to win games more often than not. At Swansea, while the collective solidarity was impressive in their group, there wasn’t the pressure to dominate week in and week out.
Again, the key points.
- No hiding place for Liverpool players – they need mental strength
- But… in the Rodgers mode of football, the system is the star
- In that context, Rodgers takes responsibility for errors, insisting that it’s his coaching and expression of the system that’s at fault when things go wrong – that provides a ‘comfort blanket’ that arguably many of Liverpool’s players could benefit from
- Rodgers is couthie by nature – over time that will set exactly the right tone at the club
- Whether reasonable or not, Liverpool will be expected to be competitive in multiple competitions
- With the intensity of the mode of football, Rodgers will need to rotate players
- The ‘decision point’ – when the ball is won – this needs a paragraph or three on its own.
When the mode of football insists on winning the ball back as quickly as possible whenever it’s lost, and when it’s won, having the player with the ball make a pivotal decision: “is it ‘on’?”, it’s here that the whole thing becomes sensitive to quality.
At that stage, does it look likely we’ll open the other side up? If it does, then ‘GO!’ and do it calmly and quickly. If it doesn’t, keep the ball, rest, and work to tire them and draw them out of their shape.
With the greatest of respect to Swansea, it’s here that things will differ most over time at Liverpool (albeit the same transition would have been likely had he stayed at Swansea). If you’re making that pivotal decision each time you win the ball at Swansea, and the players ahead of you are a little more limited, your game will lack penetration, because time and again you’ll make the other choice – to rest with the ball. But if you’re doing it at Liverpool, and Luis Suarez or someone of that quality is ahead of you, there’s maybe more chance of it being ‘on’. There’s scope for your game to be a little more direct and penetrative. It’s here that the whole thing is most sensitive to quality.
Potential Benefits of Devotion to this System
The system espoused by Brendan Rodgers and others of his ilk introduces a little more ‘fungibility’ into the mix. Things are far less reliant on key men – the Xabi Alonsos, or the Lucas Leivas – because the actual structure of the play – the way it ensures passing options and triangles, the encouragement of possession for possession’s sake… it makes it easier to do all of the following.
- recruit new players
- establish a clear coaching syllabus and scouting criteria
- establish a clear and measurable internal notion of ‘value’
- replace individuals game-to-game and season-to-season
- align the Academy to Reserve to First Team pipeline
- improve decision making
- engender confidence and belief…
…and so forth.
The club, if it’s going to be competitive long-term, must find a way to get the best use of its resources (while hoping those ahead of it fail to do the same). That means savvy in the transfer market, as much parsimony as it can muster in contract negotiations, and investment of resources and prominence to youth development – somewhere we’ve made massive strides in recent years.
Rodgers gives us a great deal of that for free, I’d argue. You can only hope the shift to a bigger club sees him continue in that vein. But he does seem to have a clear eye for players who can make his system more effective, and often for peanuts.
Why FSG must help Rodgers assert genuine authority
Growth takes time, and usually involves growing pains of some description. If the club is to have the chance of becoming what it really could be, then reasonableness and patience are going to be needed in abundance. With that in mind, I’d personally hope the structure put in place engenders the kind of support, patience, and commitment to the long-term plan that an aspiring dynastic architect such as a Brendan Rodgers will need to work effectively. Undermine that in any way, be it via PR gaffes, legalistic oversights, giving players too much power, or just plain remoteness, and you put the whole thing in jeopardy.
If we’re being asked to forget what’s gone on before and move on from a new ‘year zero’, then here’s what I think we demand in return. The manager must be allowed to assert his authority, and if there are going to be limits to its expression, be they structural, personnel, or budgetary – whatever their source, you must communicate with him clearly and let him know where he stands at all times.
Do that, and we might just re-establish some stability. Don’t, and we’ll be another controversial incident away from resetting the year clock.
Great Item. Says it all in a nutshell. Brendan Rodgers needs the time and full support of all – FSG and fans.
A very insightful,thought thru article that should give hope and calm to all lfc fans.
Exciting times for LFC!
A great post,enjoyable to say the least
That’s a very well written and intelligent article mate makes a lot of valid points agree entirely on the owners I think that twy are a bigger key in all this than many think if they really believe Rodgers is the right man then they have to back him all the way and MORE communication is needed all round. Great article overall
Read this on RAWK last night, brilliant post Roy!
Fantastic article Roy, lots of well reasoned optimism in there, although I did have to look up ‘couthie’ and ‘fungibility’ to be sure what you were talking about there! YNWA
Great article Roy. Very insightful in the ways and wheres of Mr Rogers, all in a somewhat positive manner – agrred that Swansea is a million kmiles from pulling on that famous red shirt. With expectation amongst our fans – incredibly overwhelming in the last few seasons.
Where I believe we may fail initially, is the mental strength within our squad that was clearly lacking last year – alleged flair players that clearly lack tactical nouse, where we are yet to see the alleged flair!!!
But as stated a good positive article.
Great article and gives an insight into the tactics and processes the new manager will employ. I do think most LFC fans are realistic and will afford Rodgers the time he needs to implement his plan but you will always get impatient supporters who watch SKY too much that will need convincing.
Brendan Rodgers his tactics can take the club forward but also the club can take his ideas forward. We only need a few first team players and new youth, primarily a couple of wingers, a cover/ young holding midfielder, a young playmaker/attacking mid, maybe a quality centre back if Agger or Srktel leave abd to promote the likes of Suso, Sterling and Coady. I think Coady is ready to become sufficient cover for Lucas and that Sterling and Suso will provide depth to the squad but it will also inproe their abilties through experience. Personally I think the club needs to shift Adam, Spearing (gives everything can’t fault him for that but not talented enough), Kuyt (a fantastic servant to the club but he needs to continue his career elsewhere or face becoming a bit part player), Cole, Maxi (already set to leave) and should also send Shelvey, Pacheco out on loan. We should Aquilani as he would be perfect for this sytem, he is mobile can tackle and has wonderful vision and passing ability something Rodgers explicitly craves. We already have Agger the ball playing defender and Srktel/Coates the massive physical presence as well as the two quality full backs in Enrique and Johnson. To be honest the defensive is sorted as we also have sufficient cover in this department as well in Carra, Robinson, Kelly, Flanagan etc. In midield we have Lucas and Gerrard need I say more, but also Aquilani would be amazing and Henderson can provide cover but we would need another couple of players, Jordy Clasie someone who is extremley talented and can provide cover for Lucas but can also play alongside him. On the right wing we must have Suarez this is his best position where he terrorised the scum and where he got 49 goals in a season with Ajax. Suarez is a good finisher not the best but good he would surely have got more goals if there wasnt so much pressure on him being the only goalscorer in the team at the time. We will also need to buy a young winger for this postion as back up to Suarez, Suso do this but we need someone with more experience. On the left wing there are a lot of options for Brendan Rodgers a lot of players we don’t know about but will, basically we need someone like Sinclair fast with the ability to beat defenders as well as gd finishing and the know how to link up with the team, Bellamy and Sterling can provide more than enough cover for the winger we get. As for a striker we need someone strong, a great finisher, ideally fast (unlikely but there a lot of forwards out there who are of decent pace but world class), the player also needs to link up amazing with Suarez mainly but also the rest of the team, basically I’ve described Huntelaar who everyone knows has a great connection wth Suarez like Gerrard-Torres, however at 18m maybe too much and too old at 28 but would a great poacher who will get goals. I also like Luuk de Jong but I don’t think he will be that world class forward that we need but no doubt he is a good player. Caroll can be back up as I feel he is a wonderful plan B but he needs to learn to improve his movement and link up play, I still believe he can be a good player for Liverpool but he isn’t quite there yet. Brendan Rodgers is the right man for the job!
This is the type of comments people have been making for years now the question is are we still asking for to much, to see that transformation happen?.
Boss that, Roy. Really enjoyed your take on the future under BR. It really does rely on FSG putting the right framework around the man.
Great article, but the way our fanbase reacted to every defeat last year probably contributed to the Kings dismissal. If we get the same fickle fans kicking off after each result that goes against us then I am afraid BR will be put under pressure. Patience is running thin with some LFC fans and that is sad. (we used to be known for supporting our managers)
Excellent article Roy, thanks for your effort in putting that together. Really feel confident in Brendan to bring back the good times long term, just hope we give him every chance of doing that by displaying the neccessary patience and support in his long term project.
@royhendo – excellent work, very good article.
In light of Roy’s system analysis, & astute obvservation that BR’s hugh-pressure football will require rotation, here’s an overview of our current squad – who may & may not fit:
GK – Reina is ideal as a sweeper keeper, Doni also seems suited
CB – Agger again ideal, Skrtel to be the Puyol to Danny’s Piqué. Coates seems comfortable on the ball, as does Danny Wilson. As Roy points out, Carra does not seem to fit.
RB – GJ also seems a perfect fit, although needs clear tactical instructions. Ditto for Kelly, one of the best crosseres at the club. If Flannagan can make the step up over time – he struggled last term – I could see Kelly moving to centre back, where he would perhaps fit even better.
LB – LFC’s problem position since…. actually, maybe Staunton! Enrique has the pace & quality defensively, although seemed mentally weak in the second half of the season. Whether he can develop his attacking game remains to be seen. Jack Robinson does not seem ready yet, so reinforcement in this area would be welcome (although unlikely, given financial restraints). Wilson or Downing might be potential cover, although neither ideal.
DM – until injury last year, Lucas was one of the best anywhere in this position. Assuming he can recover his form post-op, back up is needed. As mentioned by another commenter, Spearing is not good enough & should be sold. I think Steven N’zonzi could fit the bill: powerful, technical, 23, Likely to want away from Blackburn. Arsenal alleged to be interested (another “new Viera”!), £6m mentioned.
CM – Gerrard, Henderson and Shelvey look like they could adapt well to this system. Charlie Adam does not. He likes too much time on the ball, and has a habit of losing it too often. He also under performed badly last season (especially after Lucas’ injury) – he should be sold. If Aquilani is up for it – & calcio doesn’t seem like a great place to be right now – he would be perfect for this system. He has the skills and physical attributes, but more than any of the others he has tactical discipline. If only he could teach that to Gerrard. I think BR will want Alberto, & if he gets him I don’t think we need any further additions in this area.
RF – I think this will be Suarez’ best spot. The question is who else will cover here? Kuyt seems to want more games, and may well move on. Given his still-phenomenal work rate and, even more important, his fantastic attitude on & off the field, I’d be sorry to see him leave. However, I’m not sure he would fit technically in BR’s new scheme. One seemingly departing player who would is Maxi. Arguably Joe Cole could fit this position too, although whether he could maintain the work rate require is questionable. If it were one from Kuyt, Maxi & Cole, I’d take Maxi.
LF – another long-time problem position for the club, Downing came and failed badly. No goals, no assists, no confidence and, worst of all, the wrong attitude. On paper, he has the pace & technique to fit the new system well, but I don’t think he has the bottle. Depending on available resources & replacements, I would like to see him sold. Bellamy did a good job for the first half of the season, and has a great attitude, but his body doesn’t hold up well. I think he could be a back up, along with the emerging Sterling. The lad looks like the most exciting reserve graduate in years (since Gerrard?), and BR will need to find a balance between playing him too much & not enough. However, I think we need to recruit some 1st choice quality for this position.
CF – I think Andy Carroll could prove a major headache for BR, because he doesn’t seem well suited to the new system. However, given his greatly improved attitude and performances at the end of the season, I would keep him. He may also have a great summer with England. Recruiting a top quality front man is paramount, as was obvious last year. Aside from skill, pace & quality finishing, a player who is committed to the team ethic is critical here. From the realistic targets, Luuk de Jong looks good to me.
IN: CF, LF, DM, LB
OUT: Jones, Adam, Cole, Pacheco, Downing, Kuyt, Spearing,
I’d like to add that we should only sign players with a a high shots to goals ratio – the bane of lfc last year. If you can’t hit the target you won’t score. If you’ve just put the ball into row Z you’ve just wasted the entire teams time. If you hit the target there is the chance of a goal.
Also have a problem with BOA – bloody obvious attacking. Too many players shoot low past the keeper. He fully expects that. Be brave enough to fool the keeper with something unexpected. Watch messi & other creatives.
Finally Lfc need to stop trying to score the perfect goal. Sometimes you just need to belt it on target. If you don’t know exactly which part of the goal the ball is going toward the keeper/ defender won’t either. A Shanks said to the striker who asked whether he should put the ball to the left or the right – “just put it in the back of the net and we’ll talk about it later!”
This was such an insightful and interesting post. The depth was fantastic but it highlights one of the major problems Brendan Rodgers will have. What Rodgers can bring a clear and identifiable philosophy not seen for quite a while. He has been given a three year contract which I assume would be seriously assessed for renewal or termination sometime towards the end of year 2 of his contract.
I wonder what realistic expectations can we supporters and those running the club have of Brendan Rodgers. I believe he will be a success if given time and support by players, fans and the board. However, whilst I hope we can, I do not expect us to finish in the top 4 in the coming season. Manchester City will get stronger and spend quite a bit of money to do so, Chelsea have bought players I rate highly in Marin and Hazard (Hulk too?) and United have bought a guy who will sell shirts in Asia but will bring a lot on the pitch. I’d expect those 3 teams to finish in the top 4 with the remaining spot contested between Arsenal, Tottenham, Newcastle and ourselves.
I believe that consistency, a philosophy and patience will prove to be valuable in building a side. Man City will buy more players, move more players on but sometimes you need a player to be at a club for 2 or 3 seasons before you see the best of him. The same goes with systems. It is no coincidence that Barcelona have been very successful recently with highly technical, composed and tactically intelligent players allied to a system that didn’t come into place a year or two ago. This side was coached by a man who played in a similar system in his playing days and worked with the same system in the ‘B’ team for a year before managing the senior side. These same lauded players were familiar with the footballing philosophy and new players had to fit into the philosophy or move on. Good players such as Ibra were moved on and others such as Monster Masch, surprisingly adapted.
My hope is that while Chelsea and Man City sign player after player, while Man United wonder how long their legendary manager can continue to prolong his reign and while Arsenal attempt to recover from losing a leading player each summer, we can build a footballing system with a manager who is hungry, young and progressive. Hope is wonderful but dangerous thing.
Well written Roy, as ever. I think most interesting is your point about authority and link that with certain players who may or may not fit into the system say for example in defence and we have an intrigue worthy of Game of Thrones ;)