May 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Rodgers’ Liverpool: The British Barcelona?

Now we know Brendan Rodgers is our new manager, we can start to think about how the playing philosophy he developed at Swansea might be implemented at Liverpool. He might want to bring a player or two with him from Swansea – with Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair being obvious candidates – and could lose a few he’d rather keep – Martin Skrtel, Luis Suarez and Pepe Reina being the ones who may need to be persuaded to stay – but with a pool of players far superior to what he had to work with at Swansea, it will be interesting to see who Rodgers rates and who he deems unsuited to his style.

It would be a mistake to think Rodgers will play the exact same system or look for the same type of players for Liverpool as he used at Swansea. At a small club a manager’s options are restricted, and the players he used would have been the best he could get rather than his ideal.

Appearing on MOTD3 recently, Rodgers was asked to select his all-time Premier League XI. He made a point of saying he had selected players he thought could work well together in a system, rather than just the 11 best individuals, and there were one or two clues as to what he might do differently given more funds and a bigger club to attract a different ilk of players.

Opting for a 4-2-3-1, Rodgers picked: Schmeichel; G. Neville, Adams, Terry, Cole; Keane, Scholes; Ronaldo, Zola, Henry; Shearer.

With a solid back four who are all decent on the ball, a box-to-box ball-winner and playmaker in midfield, two quick, skilful wide players who score goals, and a creative genius in-between the lines behind a physically strong frontman, Rodgers’ selection pointed to one significant difference to his side at Swansea.

Players like Gianfranco Zola are hard to come by even for the biggest clubs, so it’s no surprise he used a different kind of player in the equivalent position at Swansea, but it suggests that in his ideal system, Rodgers would want such a player in his team. Talking about his selection, Rodgers made a point of stressing Zola’s role between the lines in what he called the ‘Zola zone’.

What seems clear, is that given better players and greater resources, Rodgers will look to build a team playing even more like Barcelona. Such a philosophy takes time to implement, but if Rodgers is given time, we could be watching Liverpool playing ‘Tiki-Taka’ in the relatively near future. For now though, he must get us moving in the right direction with the players at his disposal, so let’s take a look at how the current squad might fair under our new manager.

 

Pepe Reina

Reina would appear to be the perfect goalkeeper for Rodgers. Excellent with his feet, intelligent, and one of the best in the world operating as a sweeper-keeper, as as long as he is prepared to stay, Rodgers will be delighted to have Pepe in goal. At 29, Reina still has a long career ahead of him, so Rodgers’ focus may be to find a young prospect to take over when the Spaniard hangs up his gloves.

 

Glen Johnson

For Rodgers system to work, the full-backs need to be good on the ball and have the pace and energy to get up and down the pitch. Full-backs are expected to contribute to attacking play, and Rodgers likes all his players to be technically sound and confident on the ball. Johnson is considered by some to be a more effective winger than a defender, and has a good engine, so Rodgers is likely to have his name on the teamsheet already.

 

Jose Enrique

The Enrique of the first half of last season probably impressed Rodgers, while the player he turned into in the second half gave Liverpool fans nightmares. Judging by how solid he was defensively up until the New Year, and how error prone he became, the team’s poor form affected his confidence and in turn his performances. What Rodgers might have a problem with is his attacking play. Even when he was in form, Enrique was often short of ideas in the opponents half, often turning back on himself or running into dead-ends with a lack of crossing ability or vision to rely on. Despite that, the need to strengthen other areas might mean Enrique is given a chance.

 

Daniel Agger

While Rodgers’ appointment might be bad news for ‘stoppers’ like Jamie Carragher, and to a lesser extent Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger is one of the best footballing centre-backs in Europe and should fit his system perfectly. Agger’s ability to see a pass or bring the ball forward into midfield himself makes him an obvious fit with Rodgers’ philosophy of attacking possession football, so we might see Agger given more freedom to express himself, and become an even more important player for us than he already is.

 

Martin Skrtel

Having enjoyed a fine last season, it’s rumoured the Slovakian could be looking to move on. While that would be a shame, Rodgers might not see it as quite the blow Kenny would have. Skrtel isn’t bad with the ball for a centre-back, but he isn’t particularly good with it either, and the £20m which has been suggested Liverpool could receive for his services could go towards bringing in new attacking players, with Kelly and Coates ready to take his place. Rodgers would most likely prefer to keep and play him if possible, though.

 

Jamie Carragher

Kenny had already started Carra’s transition from stalwart to bit-part player, and under Rodgers, that process will likely be accelerated. For all his determination, timing and ability to organise the defence, Carragher is the antithesis of what Rodgers looks for in a player, and at 34 and slower than ever, he’d be badly exposed playing in a high defensive line asked to pass the ball about.

 

Martin Kelly

Young, capable of playing in the centre or at full-back and good on the ball for a big defender, Martin Kelly is one who might fair well from Rodgers’ appointment. In the event that Martin Skrtel decides to leave, Rodgers could decide to go with Kelly or Coates instead of finding a replacement. It’s likely though that Rodgers will see him more as a centre-back than a full-back.

 

Sebastian Coates

Like Kelly, Sebastian Coates is a player Rodgers will be glad to have in his squad. For such a tall player, Coates has good technique, never more obvious than when he scored one of the goals of the season with his only shot of the season. Rodgers had no problem making Steven Caulker one half of his centre-back pairing at just 20, so someone like Coates can expect to be challenging for a starting place next season, especially if Martin Skrtel moves on.

 

Lucas Leiva

It will be interesting to see what Rodgers makes of Lucas. Undoubtably good enough in terms of the Ulsterman’s pressing game when the opposition has the ball, it could be that he would prefer a more competent passer for the role of deep-lying playmaker. Like Britton, Lucas isn’t the most creative or swashbuckling of midfielders, but what he is good at is reading the game and not giving the ball away, which ought to endear him to the new boss.

While a player who is slightly more cultured on the ball like Yann M’Vila would be perfect for the Britton role, of the current Liverpool squad Lucas would appear the obvious candidate, and has the all-round qualities to flourish under Rodgers.

 

Steven Gerrard

Perhaps the most obvious sign that Gerrard can slot into his blueprint was Rodgers’ his acquisition of Gylfi Sigurðsson on loan last January. While Swansea were able to control games, they often lacked goals and  thrust from midfield. Sigurðsson came in to play the more advanced role in a midfield triangle, and was a revelation for the remainder of the season.

For Liverpool, Gerrard is best when playing in a similar role between midfield and defence, bursting beyond the attackers into the box, and dropping in to boost midfield numbers when defending. Another aspect to Gerrard’s game which Rodgers would value is his physical strength and tackling, which could help win back the ball in advanced areas. He may not be the Gerrard of three years ago, but Rodgers will think our captain still has a lot left to contribute, even if he doesn’t always last the full 90 minutes.

 

Jordan Henderson

Hendo is one who could do really well under the new boss. At his best, Henderson’s one touch passing game makes him look suited to the way Barcelona’s midfielders play. His role last season was to ‘recycle’ the ball, playing it sideways or backwards instead of through to the forwards. He lacked penetration, but rarely gave the ball away in keeping with the patient build-up play Rodgers favours.

Henderson may not have had the best of debut seasons, but he is still only 21, and is a technically strong player with an excellent engine.  While he lacks some of Allen’s ability to move forward with the ball, his attributes might compliment the Welshman’s should Allen follow Rodgers to Merseyside.

 

Charlie Adam

Perhaps the most obvious candidate for a transfer away from Anfield, Charlie Adam’s fate may have been sealed already even if Kenny had stayed. Rodgers was limited in terms of personnel at Swansea, but the ideal midfield players for his philosophy are mobile, creative, technically gifted and, most importantly, intelligent. Unfortunately, Adam falls down on at least two of those counts, and his hollywood balls which risk losing possession have no place in Rodgers short passing approach.

 

Stewart Downing

Judging by his selection of Henry and Ronaldo in wide positions in his Premier League XI, Stewart Downing is far from the player Rodgers would choose to play out wide. Henry and Ronaldo’s greatest strengths are their pace and power, ability to beat players, and goalscoring prowess. For a winger, Downing is lacking in all of those departments. If Downing isn’t one of the candidates to be replaced this season, it’s likely he’ll be top of the list next time around.

 

Alberto Aquilani

It’s hard to understand why such a talented player has been shifted out on loan two seasons in a row. With Milan seemingly reluctant to meet our valuation, could Rodgers think about bringing him back into the fold? He’s certainly a player capable of playing a passing game, but he might not be so suited to the pressing when we don’t have the ball, and he might not want to return to the club.

 

Joe Cole

At 30 and with huge wages, Cole is an obvious choice to be moved on. But if Rodgers does want to play with a creative type in the ‘Zola zone’ Cole is perhaps our best fit. Having enjoyed a good season at Lille, Rodgers might be willing to give him a look at least in preseason, but if the emphasis is on building for the future as ought to be the case, Cole will surely be moved on.

 

Luis Suarez

Can a young manager like Rodgers handle a personality like Suarez? Will he want to? And will Luis want to stay? What we do know, is that Rodgers is an excellent man-manager whose players are fiercely loyal to him.

Assuming Suarez is willing to stay and work under Rodgers, and the two forge a good relationship, it might mean a change of role for the Uruguayan. At Swansea, attacking players were charged with pressing in the opposition’s half; hunting in packs to regain possession near to the opponent’s goal. Anyone who saw Suarez score his first hat-trick for Liverpool against Norwich will know harassing defenders is a big part of his game, and despite his sometimes questionable temperament, his work-rate and teamwork ethos is excellent.

That makes him a strong candidate for one of the two supporting attackers Rodgers employs to either side of the central striker. Indeed, it is a role Suarez played successfully at Ajax, and during his time at Liverpool much of his best work has come moving into the box from wide areas, twisting and turning defenders before shooting or setting up a teammate.

 

Andy Carroll

This is perhaps the hardest one to call. In terms of Rodgers’ favoured formation of  4-3-3 (or 4-2-1-2-1), Carroll would appear well-suited, but at Swansea, passing on the deck was preferred to crossing in the air. That may not be a problem. Carroll isn’t just a big lump, and can lay the ball off, turn, and run at defenders as well as dominating in the air, but it could be that Rodgers would prefer a player who could offer more to the build-up play.

Even if that is the case, Carroll would offer something different, and Danny Graham – who Rodgers brought to Swansea – is more of a poor man’s Alan Shearer than a poor man’s Leo Messi. Rodgers’ selection of Shearer as his central striker in his Premier League XI on MOTD3 suggested an appreciation for a number 9 who has a physical side to his game.

 

Kuyt, Bellamy & Maxi

All in the twilights of their careers, not getting any better and on considerable wages, Kuyt, Maxi and Bellamy are all obvious candidates for the transfer list. Both in his Premier League XI and at Swansea, Rodgers went for wide players with pace who could dribble, so out of the three, Craig Bellamy would be the most likely to be kept, although Dirk Kuyt’s excellent work-rate fits with Rodgers’ high pressing philosophy. The chances are at least two of the three will be shown the door.

 

The Kids are Alright – Shelvey, Flanagan, Sterling, Robinson and Suso

Having coached at Chelsea’s academy and given opportunities to several young players at Swansea, Rodgers is known to be a manager who likes to focus on youth and develop players with potential. And with our academy in as good shape as any time since Fowler, Redkanapp and McManaman came through together, Rodgers is likely to give our most promising young players a chance.

Top of the list is Raheem Sterling, who should have no trouble playing in the same role Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer did at Swansea, as long as he is prepared to work hard closing down defenders.

Though not talked about as often, Jack Robinson is a fantastic prospect at left-back, and can also play left midfield. With his pace and assurance on the ball, Robinson is a player Rodgers will be keen to promote, but whether he will think him ready to take over from Aurelio as Enrique’s understudy remains to be seen.

On the other side is John Flanagan, who after a good start in the first team, went backwards slightly last term. Like Robinson, he is capable of playing further up the field, so could potentially feature in time.

Jonjo Shelvey is similar to Steven Gerrard in many ways. He prowls the pitch with a similar stature, and can pick a pass, burst from deep, and has a good eye for goal, but he isn’t the small, mobile one-touch player ideally suited to Rodgers’ style in midfield.

Suso on the other hand is exactly the kind of midfielder who can play a possesion, passing game, and could be seen by Rodgers as a player to groom for the ‘Zola zone’.

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