By Mathew Twells
WHEN Brendan Rodgers first arrived at Anfield to meet his future bosses in Tom Werner and John W. Henry, he famously brought along his dossier, his footballing philosophy that he had been compiling throughout his various coaching and managerial roles. Filled with play-by-plays, tactics, formations and all the acumen to flaunt his prowess as the next big young coach, you’d have been forgiven for thinking he was planning a military manoeuvre not managing a football club.
This isn’t to belittle his forward thinking. He has made his plans, ironed out his strategy and motivational techniques – put them in envelopes – and armed himself with all the tools he felt necessary to get him his dream job, to build a legacy he can take forward into his later life and be put on a pedestal next to the cream of Liverpool FC’s management greats. Kudos to him.
On his way to Melwood for his first day’s training with his squad he must have left the documents titled ‘Defending’ and ‘Classic clichés / Things Jose told me’ on his train seat.
He kept the ‘Death by football’ front page which was all about how Liverpool would press high up the pitch and aim to win the ball back within three seconds of losing it, which his side did with gusto in the early days. However now that has slipped by the wayside it’s as if he lost the rest of the contents on how to implement it.
Rodgers’ form of defence is the old, attack is the best, form and to an extent he is right, it is. If you keep the ball and don’t let the opposition have a sniff, they can’t score and they chase the ball around and tire themselves out. If the side win the ball back quickly enough there is no pressure and emphasis on the defenders to do what it says on the tin, defend.
Of course this is where Liverpool FC circa 2013-14 come into their own of late, reminiscent of the Keegan, Newcastle era.
Rodgers is seemingly cutting his teeth tactically at Liverpool. Seemingly unaware of how to get his back line to do their job properly, tinkering with line-ups when his boss is in the country and trying to impress upon them that he is the man to take Liverpool forward. What they will have seen however is a manager with limits early in his managerial career. Liverpool’s season is slightly fading, losses to Hull, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea before the Aston Villa draw, have been damaging to the Champions League objective. The results against the top sides are hurtful but it’s the dropped five points against Hull and Villa that cut deep. They are games that the Reds will have been expected to win on current form against “lesser” opposition and in doing so keeping pace with the top three and being three points behind the leaders despite the other losses to the big sides.
The manager has issues to address if he has the credentials and guts to do so.
The full backs are disjointed and not in cohesion with each other. Glen Johnson has been taking a lot of heat for his substandard performances lately, so much so that it looked as though he had lost all interest in playing for the club at first glance. It turns out he is awaiting a knee operation and this has been hindering him.
Aly Cissokho looks dire and if he crosses the halfway line he is in nose bleed territory and offers no big threat going forward. A mixture of him taking time to settle in England and a perceived lack of defensive instruction doesn’t help him.
On paper a fully fit Johnson and a settled, confident fullback like Cissokho should work. One marauds forward while the other sits back on the opposite side like Dani Alves and Eric Abidal did at Barcelona (a loose notion), it’s balance. But each of them has issues to address and Jon Flanagan will offer a much more stable option on his return.
Rodgers’ constant tinkering with centre back pairings and inability, or lack of courage, to pick players for his favoured formation 3-5-2/3-4-3 is having detrimental effects on defensive performances and goalkeeping from Simon Mignolet.
The Belgian goalkeeper got off to a flying start – quite literally – to his Anfield career. Save after save was made game after game and his performances helped Liverpool achieve their top of the table status at Christmas.
Liverpool’s defence has been wide open all season and the midfield is as soft as the jam filled middle of a Dunkin Donut, allowing shots to come in at Mignolet on a regular basis. Rodgers and his side got away with it for a while, but like anything, the more you do something dangerous the more likely it is you’ll get hurt. And Liverpool have stuck their hand in the fire too many times and are currently getting burnt with his performances of late.
It’s not all Mignolet’s fault, he has no protection from his defence on open play or set pieces and in defence of the defence, they get no protection from midfield either. All of these issues have a knock on effect through the side. Mignolet has set such high standards for himself in the early part of the season that it is expected of him to maintain that form no matter what is thrown at him and of late it includes the kitchen sink.
Liverpool’s midfield enforcer is Lucas who is liable to commit a foul or two (or three) in a dangerous area, which is ok when breaking up play if your defence is well drilled and organised, but it is a calamitous error if your defenders treat an aerial ball like they are developmental players in the academy. Now the Brazilian is injured the midfield is weaker than before and the need of a true defensive midfielder is paramount, one that will sit and plug the gap between midfield and defence.
The Liverpool manager needs to hold himself accountable for the points dropped. He is the one that picks his team and changes line-ups on a whim. To aim criticism at the fans like he did in his press conference after the Villa game is a crass comment. Suggesting that it’s the fans fault for feeling nervous about the way his team were playing against a struggling side and that nervousness filtered to the players, as a reason for his side’s poor performance is out of order. He and his side have built this expectation with some great results and performances this season and he should be relishing trying to please the Kop, not using them to mask his failure to pick a side or organise a side worthy of three points.
If Rodgers can’t organise and instruct his side defensively then maybe he should get someone in to help him do so, or is that another area of stubbornness he needs to overcome? Maybe the ‘Appoint Steve Clarke as a defensive coach’ page of his dossier was on that train too.
Pics: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda
Spot on piece. but if he gets 4th place with no January signings and 15 fit players I’ll take my hat off to him!
Speechless…..there is, literally, so much wrong with this article that I don’t know where to start…. Utter, utter crap
what a f****** snide piece of shit that piece is.
Couldn’t agree more with this article. While we have been great going forward, we are so open at the back and poor at defending set pieces, that against competent teams with even a little conviction we are liable to concede. It baffles me how the centre halves are often 60 yards apart when we are in possession. A loose pass, a tackle or interception in midfield often results in the opposition attackers outnumbering out defence at speed. This is the trademark goal we concede. Southampton, Villa, Swansea and Hull all pressed and attacked us from the outset, getting their deserved rewards for doing so. There is no evidence on the pitch that the defensive (or set piece) tactics have been addressed during Rodgers rein. As good as we are going forward, I’ve never seen a team without a sound defense actually compete against quality opposition at the highest level. Balance in all things is required and while progress has been made,the article points out only valid criticisms of the tactics currently being used. 4th is the target this season and is still achievable however, we need to see a well drilled and disciplined defense before we can start to contemplate aiming at the games biggest prizes. YNWA.
Whilst I understand the need to do a forensic on the Rodgers philosophy and the apparent lack of ability to close the door at the back, I can’t help but feel that far too much negative criticism is levelled without balance. Yes BR is young, yes he is naive at times but I’d take a swashbuckling 4-3 over a ‘score early and shut up shop’ approach much adopted by Rafa and before him Houllier. It seems that there are a pack of fans just waiting with delight to level ‘I told you so’ at those who back the manager which is disappointing considering he has clearly made progress as he works towards implementing his team and not a part inherited squad. We march on together as the champions elect
Fieldinho…I want a bit of what your smoking…please don’t compare a genius like Rafa, with BR, and than Houillier..
If BR achieves only a 1/4 of what Rafa has than I am sure “super high” fans such as yourself will put BR’s face in the flag with our greatest managers..such is the BR hype.
It could turn out to be 2 seasons of super hype and nothing to show for it, no cup, no europe, full of dud signings and we are just left with hype, hype…and more hype…
Though there are some valid points being made, the manner in which the reasoning is extremely disappointing.
Also, quite a few insinuations being made without any basis.
The author comes across as a person who is wishing failure upon BR.
Not a constructive piece TAW. Expected much better from your stable.
An outstanding piece and sums up our current problems.
We have the 4th most expensive squad and a wage bill to go with it so naturally we are expected to finish 4th, anything less is an underachievement.
The truth is BR has a net spend close to £100 Million, and most of that has been wasted so if he cannot muster up a 4th place finish with the 4th most expensive squad with the worlds 3rd best player than he needs be reviewed in the summer and replaced.
Hey Fieldinho – our goal difference under Rafa in 08-09 was +50 mate; +39 the season before that; +30 the season before that and +32 the season before that. Even in his last season it was +26. At moment under ‘swashbuckling’ Rodgers it is +25.
Benitez was not a ‘defensive’ manager. His sides just had a much better balance between defence and attack than sides since he left. I’m not knocking Rodgers, but he has along way to go to reach Benitez’ level mate….
So Rodgers is almost level with all those season totals but one after half a season ? Seems to validate his point.
I am Rafa’s biggest fan but even I have to admit that this team is a hell of a lot better to watch than his. The lad Rodgers is doing a hell of a job….I was sceptical at first, but now who cares? I love watching this team!!!!!! Not to mention the team spirit, 100% improved if you ask me. We just tanked the bitters 4, Rodgers seems to have clicked that this is a league set up for counter attacking football, bring them all on now!!
Not a lot of love for Brendan coming through in this piece…we need to support him not tear him to shreds when things get rocky. Beat the Blue shat and do the Gunners ( both well achieveable) and we are right in the mix. Give me gung-ho over defensive strategy any day of the week, strap yourself in, enjoy the ride and review things at the end of the season. We will be two years in then and can pass well informed comment and judgement on where we stand.
Whilst I agree with elements of this piece, the overall tone of it feels a little bit negative. There are definite defensive issues at present (perhaps understandable given the personnel we are lacking) and whilst I could see what Rodgers was thinking against Villa last week, arguably he should have been quicker to change things when it became apparent that the opposition had set up differently to the way he was expecting.
However, dropping points against so called ‘inferior’ teams happens to all Premier League sides – even Chelsea and City. At this stage in our development, a draw with Villa and defeat at Hull, while disappointing, cannot be considered catastrophic. Whilst reinforcements in midfield seem to be required, the so-called ‘gung-ho’ approach served us well in the calendar year of 2013. There are certainly sterner tests ahead, but hopefully it can continue to do so this year. If so, and Rodgers can continue to learn on the job, my feeling is that we’ll be in for an exciting (although maybe not rewarding) finish.
Absolute drivel form someone obviously harboring an agenda.
Liverpool have the 8th best defensive record in the league but are within 3 goals of having the 4th best defensive record. Given this is coupled with the 2nd best offensive record, it’s hardly a catastrophic performance. Add the enforced personnel changes at centre-half and – more importantly – the injury and fitness issues suffered by Lucas and I think it shows some of the hysteria about our defence is unfounded.
Lucas is the key here as Liverpool’s vulnerability is in transition. A miss-placed pass or a lost tackle and the best teams are at our back-four in a couple of seconds. There seems to be acres of spaces in front of them and without Lucas there is next-to-no protection given to whoever happens to be playing at the back. As someone else rightly points out, we are often out-numbered when opposing teams break on us.
So we may be conceding too often, but I don’t think the problem is with the defence per se. Look at the other centre-halves playing for the top 6 teams – how many would you take over Agger/Skrtel/Sakho/Toure? One or two, maybe, but not many more.
Seems to me the author hoping for Brendan to fail and has had to wait until now for a perceived mini slump!
We have had an outstanding first half to the season being top at Xmas (only slightly dampened by away defeats to city and chelsea – if these weren’t back to back there would not have been as much negativity. Most if not all teams will leave etihad and Stamford bridge empty handed).
At the start of the season most fans and pundits stated liverpool had to improve and be in a position to fight (not necessarily achieve) for a top 4 place at the business end of the season. Well Brendan and liverpool are on the right road thus far and the sudden over excitement of being tagged title contenders shouldn’t alter that!
Far too negative and convoluted a piece with little real research or knowledge used. “Pool fail to win league, sack Rodgers he is useless!”. Anti rodgers – maybe bring back hodgson! Sigh :(
At the very least can we not enjoy the ride – exciting games, plenty of goals & in the fight for top four!
The article overlooks a lot because the author doesn’t seem to like Rodgers. This clear imbalance in his reasoning means whatever valid points made get overlooked. I too wish our defense was better and I’d agree that approaching someone like Clarke might be a good idea but let’s not forget what a fabulous time we’ve had watching this team so far this season. Some of our football has reminded me of the glorious ’87 team and that’s saying something.
Guess some folks just want to whinge.