“It is important to have this kind of past because you can bring it to the future and remake the past.”
These words were spoken by Fabio Borini in July, during his first interview as a Liverpool player. Granted, this was a rushed interview in the back of a car, and Borini was resuming speaking English after a year in Italy, so it could be pointless reading too deep into his words. Yet there is something in his words “remake the past” that resonate around Anfield ahead of the new season, as it seems to be exactly what Brendan Rodgers is trying to do. From the small gestures like erecting the old ‘This Is Anfield’ sign to the huge undertakings like changing the style of play to the old ‘pass and move’ philosophy, Rodgers is trying to remake Liverpool’s past.
Liverpool had their greatest success in a very different era, when we could financially compete and often gazump other clubs, when Anfield was one of the greatest footballing cauldrons on earth. Rodgers steps into the club’s managerial office in a far different era, an age where Liverpool cannot compete financially with the other top clubs, a time where Anfield has faded off the radar of European football. The words “Remake the Past” infer a movement forward, while adhering to the disciplines of the past. Rodgers has showed an impressive knowledge of Liverpool’s past, particularly the importance of playing effective possession football. Rodgers’ aim is to win and entertain. His interviews have consistently impressed, he has balanced optimism with realism; while acknowledging that while the club may not be ready to win the title now, the aim is to be able to win the crown soon. Compare that with that dire moment during the Roy Hodgson era when he guffawed during a Sky TV interview at the mere concept of Liverpool winning the league. Liverpool had just been beaten 3-0 by Manchester City in their second game of the season.
Rodgers first aim is to implement his slick style of football that led to his success at Swansea. While he has stressed that it will take a “wee bit of time” to put it fully into practice, the signs during pre-season have been encouraging, particularly during the home tie against FC Gomel. Suarez, Borini and Downing linked up well, while Steven Gerrard relished a free role and popped up everywhere. Rodgers is expected to play a 4-3-3 formation, which looks like it will offer a good balance.
Reina, despite a poor season last year by his exalted standards is a given in goals, while Johnson, Skrtel, Agger (hopefully!) and Enrique are expected to be the first choice defence, like last season. Expect Jack Robinson to push Enrique at LB, the Spaniard is yet to fully convince.
The traditional concept of a midfield 3 is that you have one player to win the ball, one to give it, and one to go. Lucas fills the ball-winning berth, Joe Allen will give it and Steven Gerrard is one of the finest players in England at the final role. Encouragingly, Rodgers is looking to strengthen the Central Midfield positions. While we have lots of quantity, (the aforementioned trio plus Spearing, Henderson, Adam and Shelvey) there is not enough quality in depth. Shelvey looks promising, while it is unfair to write Henderson off just yet. If Nuri Sahin arrives, he can fulfil the Lucas or Allen roles, while Shelvey shows promise in the Gerrard role. Henderson should also be given a chance; with a year under his belt he should be better.
The front three have the potential to be lethal. Suarez is intelligent and talented enough to thrive in any system, but a front three could suit him perfectly. The Uruguayan looked best when linking up with intelligent players like Maxi, Kuyt and Bellamy last season. Fabio Borini looks like he will offer similar intelligence and movement, but with a few more goals. Stewart Downing should also improve after having a year under the glare of an expectant Anfield crowd. It is up front that Liverpool look lightweight however; the likes of Raheem Sterling, Suso and Adam Morgan offer potential but are not yet ready to play week-in week-out, while Andy Carroll does not fit the system.
The Carroll quandary is intriguing; it is fanciful to believe that he will fit the system. Rodgers, like Benitez before him, is a man who will stick to his principles, and sadly, it appears to be a principle that Andy Carroll has no place in.(As an aside, Rodgers’ firm stance against the appointment of a Director of Football is proof of his single-mindedness). Ideally Rodgers would like to offload Carroll and strengthen by signing the likes of Tello and Dempsey. The Carroll situation has the makings of a deadline day switch to Newcastle.
Rodgers has been handed a horrible start fixture-wise. His first three games at Anfield feature Man City, Arsenal and Man United. Between the Arsenal and United games is a difficult away trip to Sunderland. It makes it vitally important that Liverpool get off to a winning start on the opening day at West Brom. The Reds haven’t won an opening day fixture since 2008.
Realistically, fourth place is the best Liverpool can hope for this season. Both Manchester clubs are well ahead of us in terms of consistency across the season, while Chelsea’s lavish spending should see them comfortably finish third. Yet Arsenal look vulnerable once again, as do Spurs and Newcastle. Fourth is attainable, but it will be fiendishly difficult. Rodgers has been given the arduous task of improving the squad whilst reducing the wage bill. On paper at least, the Irishman has achieved that.
Rodgers’ ambition is to remake Liverpool’s glorious past. It is a movement to bring Liverpool into the modern age, while maintaining the two greatest principles of the past. The first is the footballing philosophy. The second is success. Rodgers’ is clearly capable of achieving the first. Here’s hoping he is just as capable of achieving the second.