Steven Maclean

This is Rodgers’ Liverpool

Steven Maclean looks at the evolution of Brendan Rodgers squad, his philosophy, and how this will develop in his second season in charge of Liverpool FC.

Football - Liverpool FC Preseason Tour 2013 - Press Conference

It’s now been over a year since Brendan Rodgers’ appointment as coach of Liverpool Football Club, but long before the Northern Irishman took charge of a competitive match, his notorious football ‘philosophy’ was well-known to Liverpool fans eager to get a feel for their new manager. Or so we thought.

The first clue to what Rodgers was about came prior to his taking the reins. Some young managers would have tripped over themselves to say yes to the advances of a footballing institution like Liverpool. Not Rodgers. Instead he told FSG to come back when they knew he was the man they wanted – a brave move which could have backfired, but one which showed a steeliness of character and nerve beyond his years. We’ve learned plenty about Rodgers since then, but what do we know of his fabled philosophy and is there a typical Rodgers player?

Silent Strong Types and Fearless, Fiery Fighters

Ever since arriving at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers has emphasised his concern at a lack of character in the dressing room and his desire to bring more vocal players into the side. The losses of Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina has only intensified that need, but it’s clear from the the players he is chasing that big personalities and an insatiable will to win are qualities on which Rodgers has placed a premium.

Rodgers seems to favour two distinct character types: first there are the intelligent, grounded and reliable personalities; players like Simon Mignolet (who has a degree in political science), Glen Johnson (who studies maths in his spare time) and the humble and thoughtful Joe Allen. These model pros could be described as the strong and silent types (although I expect Mignolet to grow into a real leader) with their feet firmly on the ground.

Then there are the more fiery, competitive personalities determined to win at all costs. Luis Suarez personifies that temperament, but there’s also a hint of the same in Iago Aspas. This isn’t to lazily stereotype Southern Europeans and Latin Americans, though.

Beneath the shy exterior, there’s a similar competitive rage brewing within Jordan Henderson. It’s a fire only stoked by the manager’s refusal to see him as a first team starter, and it’s no bad thing to have a player perhaps not quite suited to the manager’s plans who refuses to accept it, determined to prove him wrong. At best, Henderson could yet show himself to be a fine midfielder capable of dancing to the tune Rodgers has on repeat, but even at worst, Henderson could make an excellent impact sub and utility player. Should he start the season as our fourth choice central midfielder, you can be sure Henderson will throw himself into every opportunity he does get with the kind of drive and passion we’ve become accustomed to in the form of Steven Gerrard.

30.09.2010, Vicente Calderon Stadion, Madrid, UEFA EL, Atletico de Madrid vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen, im Bild Atletico de Madrid's Diego Costa dejected during Europa League match. EXPA Pictures © 2010, PhotoCredit: EXPA/ Alterphotos/ Alvaro Hernandez +++++ ATTENTION - OUT OF SPAIN / ESP +++++

And then there are the targets: Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Diego Costa. Writing in The Guardian, Sachin Nakrani portrays Papadopoulos as having an almost unhealthy determination and self-belief, and it seems Costa is a beast cut from the same sweat and blood sodden cloth.

He says as much himself:

“The street was my school. On the pitch I fought with everyone, I couldn’t control myself. I insulted everyone, I had no respect for the opposition, and I thought I had to kill them. Boys who grew up playing in academies are taught to control themselves and respect others, but no-one ever told me otherwise, I didn’t have a school to teach me this. I was used to seeing players elbowing each other in the face and thought it was the norm.”

If we thought Luis Suarez was a handful, Costa may need caging between games! Within that raw intensity, however, are qualities every manager desires. His former coach Jose Ramon Sandoval told him, “You are the most consistent player I’ve ever had – you go into every game wanting to score and get a yellow card” and if anyone can get him doing more of the former and less of the latter, it may be Brendan Rodgers.

One of Rodgers greatest strengths is his man management, as seen in his revival of Enrique and Downing last season, as well as the way he has brought through the younger players. If Rodgers can help Papadopoulos, Costa and Suarez – if he stays – to channel their primal aggression into their football, instead of towards their opponents, Liverpool will have a team possessing incredible drive and passion this season.

Technique and Tenacity

As well as securing players with a particular temperament, Rodgers and his team have gone about building a squad with some very specific on-field attributes. Like Benitez before him, Rodgers is obsessed with players with a great work-ethic and tactical intelligence, but there is one key difference between the two managers’ philosophies, and if one player encapsulates that difference, it is Dirk Kuyt.

Kuyt’s work-rate was extraordinary, but his first-touch often left a lot to be desired for a player occupying such an attacking role. Whereas Benitez was willing to sacrifice some style in favour of exceptional teamwork, Rodgers’ won’t accommodate players who work hard at the expense of technical ability. As good as Dirk Kuyt was (and he was one of the best defensive wingers around), he wasn’t the most flamboyant of attacking players, so it’s hard to imagine a player like Kuyt fitting into Rodgers’ team.

To play anywhere for Rodgers, whether it be in attack or at centre back, you must be technically strong. A good first touch and accurate passing are pre-requisites on which he will not budge, but Rodgers also believes his players must “earn the right to play”. That means centre-backs as good on the ball as most wingers and forwards who fight like defenders.

Should the deal for Costa go through, Liverpool will possess an attack as tenacious as it is technical; brutal and beautiful in equal measure. A squad including Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Costa, Coutinho and Aspas would give Rodgers a selection of pitbul ballerinas adept at inducing fouls from defenders and trained to nip at their heels to win back possession.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 3, 2013: Liverpool's Iago Aspas in action against Olympiakos CFP during a preseason friendly match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Between them there is pace (Sturridge, Sterling, Aspas), street-fighter guile (Suarez, Costa, Aspas), power (Costa) and creativity (Coutinho, Suarez, Sterling) galore. Every attacking player must have the tactical intelligence to find space between the lines and commitment to defend from the front. This will be an attacking side defined by sublime skill and cutting edge when in possession, and determination and synchronicity when trying to get it back.

A Season of Two Halves; A Team of Two Tempos

Yet there remains a question to be answered. We saw two Liverpool’s last season. There was the side that struggled to get results despite playing good football until Christmas, and the one that tore teams to shreds after adding Lucas, Coutinho and Sturridge to its ranks. Many fans are crossing their fingers in hope that Rodgers will discard his fetish for patient possession football in favour of the counter-attacking style that saw a steady rise up the table, while others are eager to see Tiki-Taka with Coutinho, Sturridge and Lucas in the side. Neither group have anything to fear.

For this season will again see Liverpool use both approaches, but not either side of Christmas, or even from one game to the next. We will be ready to switch between the two within games depending on what situations arise. If a team gifts us possession and sits deep, we will probe and recycle, stretching their defence to forge opportunities. But should they dare come at us, we will punish them on the break with lightening speed and surgical precision.

Like a boxer working the jab before landing the knockout blow, don’t be surprised to see this season’s Liverpool vary the tempo; moving the ball slowly… slowly…. slow…… before quickly changing pace. We will hunt in packs and prey on any weakness. We will grind them down, or tear them apart. This is the philosophy.

This, is Rodgers’ Liverpool.

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Steven Maclean

The Kopology blog is written by Liverpool fan, Rodgers advocate, and Tiki-Taka ideologue Steven Maclean.
  • Like_the_River

    Great Great article. I like that BR is trying to bring in “Men” I think BR is trying to bring back some of that Fear that other teams used to have when they saw these Red Shirts step out onto the pitch. Should be a fun season this year, with the potential of other teams slipping off a bit because of new managers and us playing up to & above our potential.

  • http://www.wudwerk.com/ mayanrelic

    Great article! love the pitbull ballerina line.

  • index1000

    Excellent piece that

  • Shamik Mukherjee

    unfortunately parker will demand high wages that imo we can not afford to pay a player who will be used as backup…

  • Linx Cool

    “For a player to be good enough to play for Liverpool, he must be prepared
    to run through a brick wall for me then come out fighting on the other side.”
    Applies to true Liverpool supporters too..
    “If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain
    an advantage, then he should be.”
    Applies to all BR current signings…
    “It’s there to remind our lads who they’re playing for, and to remind
    the opposition who they’re playing against.”
    Good times are comeback!!!! CHAMPIONS, or top 3.. plus cup dbl pls!

  • Linx Cool

    We have a manager.. now he has to get the players.. CHAMPIONS, or top 3.. plus cup dbl pls!

  • Linx Cool

    A month to go mate.. CHAMPIONS, or top 3.. plus cup dbl pls! :)

  • http://pitchrplnt.com syafiza

    and that’s why Suarez want to play for other team! why? because Suarez is there for King Kenny!

  • Jason Whattam

    must be a troll,, or maybe just a nother glory supporter who knows less than nothing ’bout the game!

  • jamiek88

    They didn’t even own us 4 years ago. And Rodgers is in his second year. Back under your bridge, Kanwar.

  • James

    I must be honest. This is the best analytical write-up I’ve read in recent times. While at it, I was completely removed from that distraction called Suarez which was greatly relieving. Brendan Rogers has revolutionized the Liverpool style. I am inclined to imagine an LFC that adds Costa and Papadopulous to its ranks while retaining that brat LS. There’s only one way for Liverpool FC now – up!

  • Manny

    Thank you Rob! People are missing my point – which is something you have just highlighted yourself Jakob. There is a time and place for a mixture of styles. I am all for free-flowing pass and move approach – I love watching it and was brought up watching Liverpool play in that style. Also, there have been many times that Reina played a long ball from goal to the likes of Torres who took a touch and fired past the keeper. Suarez last season v Newcastle – brilliant goal, but a result of a longer direct pass from Enrique.

    I get the feeling that some people on this site would have burst into tears at that goal, because it did not involve a 300 tika-taka style passing move.

    I didn’t – I loved that goal, as I would have enjoyed a tap-in.

    My point is to win the game, whatever style it takes – not to lose it but look ‘great’. Earn the right.

    And having some people pick out ‘bits’ of my earlier message to suit their own argument on this site and twitter is a bit sad and cheap really.