On 1st June 2012, Liverpool announced Brendan Rodgers as their new manager. After guiding Swansea to the Premier League and subsequently consolidating their place in the top flight, Rodgers was chosen to replace Kenny Dalglish after an eighth place finish was deemed inadequate by Liverpool hierarchy.
Despite having a very transparent approach while in charge at Swansea, Brendan Rodgers project at Anfield has yet to gain a definitive identity.
The manner in which Rodgers’ Swansea side achieved an eleventh place finish in the club’s first ever top-flight campaign impressed both fans and pundits alike. The Northern Irishman, who studied the methods of Spain during his formative years as a coach, advocated a possession-focused style of play during his time in south Wales.
This led to comparisons with Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side – playing out from the back and maintaining possession of the ball were the keynotes of Rodgers’ success with the swans.
His midfield three was made up of Leon Britton in the pivot role with Joe Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson more advanced. Britton generally dictated the tempo from in front of the Swansea back-line with Allen and Sigurdsson providing the key passes to the attack. While patience is key in the build-up play of this system, pace becomes more important once the ball makes its way into the final third. Swansea’s front three provided this in abundance.
Scott Sinclair operated on the left, cutting inside onto his stronger right foot while, on the right, Nathan Dyer offered a more Linear threat. Centre forward Danny Graham was the club’s top scorer with 12 Premier League goals. Now at Sunderland, Graham was both comfortable acting as a reference for the midfielders to play off and getting in behind opposition defences.
Another feature of their play was the attacking threat provided by full-backs Neil Taylor and Angel Rangel. Both were given license to get forward and provide the width when Sinclair and Dyer played more narrow. Centre backs Steven Caulker and Ashley Williams were both comfortable on the ball and well suited to Rodgers’ approach of building from deep.
The exploits of Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea side prompted an invitation for him to join potential England manager Harry Redknapp in preparations for Euro 2012, had he got the job. Despite this not coming to fruition, Rodgers was fast becoming one of the most highly rated young managers around and his appointment at Anfield soon followed.
Upon his arrival at Liverpool, the former Chelsea academy coach made clear his intentions to implement a tactical approach similar to the one he operated at Swansea. Rodgers brought with him midfielder Joe Allen, hailing his new £15 million signing as the ‘Welsh Xavi’. Nuri Sahin arrived on loan from Real Madrid while Fabio Borini joined from Roma for £10 million.
The exits that summer were probably even more indicative of Rodgers’ style, for example, Andy Carroll was deemed technically inadequate and sent on loan to West Ham.
As his debut campaign in charge at Liverpool commenced, Rodgers’ players were struggling to adapt to their new playing style. A 3-0 loss to West Brom on the opening day of the season highlighting as much. After a less than stellar first six months for Rodgers, he decided to add creativity and a cutting edge to his attack in the January transfer window.
Philippe Coutinho joined from Inter Milan while Daniel Sturridge signed from Chelsea. Both signings started promisingly and while Liverpool remained inconsistent, their new arrivals provided a bright spark. The vision of Brazilian playmaker Coutinho became a prominent feature of Liverpool’s play and Sturridge’s goal threat helped support the previously isolated Luis Suarez.
espite the positive signs for the future, Liverpool could only manage a seventh place finish, just one better than Rodgers predecessor, Kenny Dalglish, had achieved.
After an unsuccessful first season at Anfield, Rodgers was under pressure to improve the club’s fortunes. Instead of persisting with the ‘Tiki-Taka’ style, he decided a change was needed. The result was a new formation and an altered tactical approach.
Rodgers introduced a 4-4-2 diamond formation to accommodate Luis Suarez playing alongside Daniel Sturridge. Raheem Sterling played at the top of Liverpool’s midfield four with Henderson and either Philippe Coutinho or Joe Allen on the outside of the Diamond. Steven Gerrard acted in the ‘quarter back’ position in front of Liverpool’s defence, in an apparent attempt at replicating Andrea Pirlo’s role for Italy and Juventus.
Possession became of less importance to Rodgers’ side as the focus turned to intense high pressing of the opposition. Liverpool would attempt to harass their opponents into losing the ball and use the pace of their forward line to take full advantage.
Lightning-quick counter attacks often left opponents shell-shocked. The most impressive example of Liverpool’s new approach came in their 5-1 victory over Arsenal. The front three of Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge became affectionately known as ‘SSS’ and their link up play was a pivotal feature in Liverpool’s success.
Generally, one of the attackers would drop off to orchestrate the attack with help from the midfield, while the other two front men played on the shoulder of opposing defenders. Rodgers’ decision to change tactics for his second year in charge proved successful, with Liverpool finishing five places better off in second position.
In fact, The Anfield club came within touching distance of a first Premier League title, only to see their charge capitulate in the remaining games of the campaign. However, Brendan Rodgers was rightly rewarded for his team’s performances over the course of the season as he picked up the LMA manager of the year award.
Their impressive form in 2013/14 only served to raise expectations amongst Liverpool fans and the target for the following season was to go one better and secure the title. However, the departure of star man Luis Suarez to Barcelona tamed their ambitions. The PFA Player of the Season’s influence at Anfield was undisputed. Not only had he become a world class player in his time on Merseyside, his presence elevated the performance levels of those around him.
The reported £75 million recouped from his sale prompted Brendan Rodgers to rebuild his squad. Nine new players would arrive at Melwood for a combined fee of around £120 million. The signings of Youngsters Emre Can, Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo, Lazar Markovic and Divock Origi indicated Rodgers’ long term ambitions at the club, while Southampton stars Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert also joined. Former Manchester City maverick Mario Balotelli completed the spending spree.
The signings implied another shift in playing style ahead of the new season. Neither of Rodgers’ new strikers Mario Ballotelli or Rickie Lambert were known for their industrious nature so a high pressing game seemed unlikely. As the season got under way, it appeared that Rodgers would stick with his midfield Diamond, playing Daniel Sturridge alongside Balotelli up front. In an impressive performance, Liverpool ran out 0-3 winners in their 3rd game of the campaign.
However, the promising signs for Liverpool’s attack were soon dispelled as Balotelli’s form began to dip dramatically and Daniel Sturridge’s injury troubles returned. Rickie Lambert was unable to fill the void at his boyhood club and Raheem Sterling’s performances failed to mirror those of the previous season.
Faltering displays in the Premier League led to Liverpool ending 2014 in tenth place while their return to Champions League football ended prematurely as they crashed out in the group stages. Their steep decline led to reported ‘crisis talks’ at the club before the new year. Rodgers recognized that his side lacked an identity and a way of playing which best suited his resources. Thus followed yet another new formation.
A 3-4-3 in its basic form, Emre Can was deployed as the ‘Libero’ or the ball-playing defender on the right side of Liverpool’s back three. The German youngster’s task was to carry the ball out of defence, allowing the right wingback to push forward. The occupant of this role varied between the likes of Jordan Ibe and Lazar Markovic. Jordan Henderson and either Joe Allen or Steven Gerrard played as the two central midfielders while Philipe Coutinho and Adam Lallana usually supported Raheem Sterling in attack.
Initially, the system worked. Liverpool won eight Premier League games out of 10 between the beginning of 2015 and March 16th. Rodgers was praised as a tactical innovator by pundits and the season was back on track. Liverpool’s form projected them to an unexpected fight for the top four. Manchester United were their premier rivals and many felt that Liverpool’s vein of form would see them secure a place in next season’s Champions League for the second successive campaign.
As they reached the semi-finals of the F.A Cup, a positive feeling had returned to Anfield and the pressure was lifted off Brendan Rodgers.
However, things soon turned sour. Losses to rivals Manchester United and Arsenal were further compounded by defeat to Aston Villa in the Cup. As Liverpool stumbled towards the end of the season, their slim hopes of a fourth place finish were killed off in failings against Hull City, Crystal Palace and most notably a 6-1 mauling against Stoke City on the final day of the campaign.
The new formation went from being heralded as a breakthrough to appearing as their weakness. Opponents began to target the defensive frailties on Liverpool’s right side. An impromptu switch to a 4-3-3 with Emre Can at right back also proved unsuccessful.
However, based on this summers recruitment, it does seem Rodgers most likely system ahead of next season. Nathaniel Clyne has joined from Southampton to provide the team with a natural right-back. Rodgers other recent signings, particularly the acquisitions of James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings, signal a return to the high pressing fast-paced approach of Liverpool’s 2013/14 campaign.
‘The Brodgect’ appears to be focused on long-term goals as apposed to a fast-track to success, but if Brendan Rodgers fails to return Liverpool to Europe’s premier competition next season, the 42-year-old may be starved of the chance to see his vision for the club realised.