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Analyzing the Brendan Rodgers effect

Naveen Ravi Joseph
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Brendan Rodgers giving instructions to his players in an animated manner

Kenny Dalglish left Liverpool with a silver lining in 2012, the club legend’s second spell as manager came to an end with the Reds established as Wembley winners once again. The new man in charge was Brendan Rodgers who guided Swansea City through a stylish and impressive first season in the Premier League, but had a whole new challenge at Anfield.

Two years later Liverpool FC announced this week that their manager Brendan Rodgers has signed new contract with the club which keeps him at Merseyside till 2018. The Northern Irishman has impressed the club’s fans and American owners that he is the right man to take the club forward after just two years into the job. So how did Rodgers take a club that finished 7th, 7th and 8th prior to his arrival to 2nd in the league in just his second season in charge at Anfield?

The Initial phase of transformation

Brendan Rodgers believed in a possession based playing style, which needed quick short passing and brilliant off the ball movements. He relishes attacking football and wants his team to play the same way. So when the Irishman took the job as manager it was obvious that the team would need time to adapt to the new style of play, after all he inherited a club that could only manage 47 league goals in the previous season.

Rodgers further established his authority by clearing out many players who he considered were excess to his needs. Veteran players like Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Fabio Aurelio and Craig Bellamy were all sold early in the transfer window. Alberto Aquilani who spent two seasons on loan back in Italy was also sold to Fiorentina despite enjoying a good pre-season with Liverpool. Charlie Adam who arrived the previous season was deemed surplus to requirements and was on his way to Stoke City. Academy product Jay Spearing was sent on loan to Bolton and club’s record signing Andy Carroll was sent out on loan at West Ham. Also on the first team fringes was Joe Cole, but Rodgers who had worked with Cole at Chelsea decided to give the former England International a chance to revive his Liverpool career, but sold Cole to West Ham in January 2013.

Initial Struggles

Rodgers didn’t set the world alive when he started his tenure as Liverpool manager. Liverpool went five matches without a win, losing to West Brom, Arsenal and arch rivals Manchester United at home. To make matters worse, for a team that focused on attacking football, Liverpool couldn’t score a goal from open play in their first three matches. The only goals that were scored were both from set pieces against Manchester City. Brendan Rodgers started his spell at Anfield by giving Liverpool their worst start to a league season in decades.

Liverpool form was erratic in the first few months, there were positive signs that things at the club were improving. Rodgers was well aided by the fans who were giving him good support. At least they were getting to see good positive football, which was what Liverpool lacked when Roy Hodgson took over in 2010.

Turn around in fortunes

Liverpool’s fortunes saw a turnaround in January 2013. The club signed Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea early in January who used the England International to warm their benches. Also joining the reds towards the end of the window was 20 year old Brazilian international Philippe Coutinho from Internazionale. Liverpool’s form became more consistent and they went on to become the club with the second most number of points in the year 2013 by the end of the season. Rodgers could only manage to lift the club’s position by one place in his first year, but the fans and players saw that something was different at Anfield. A wind of change was blowing.

Focus on youngsters and academy

One of the key highlights of Liverpool under Rodgers has been how he managed to close the gap between academy players and first team players. Rodgers constantly drafted academy players to train with the first team and gave many players debuts and chances to impress him when Liverpool played in cup matches. In his first year at Liverpool players like Suso, Coady, Jordan Ibe, SamedYesil, Andre Wisdom, Jerome Sinclair and Adam Morgan made their Liverpool debuts. Rodgers also turned Andre Wisdom who was a natural center back into a right back. During his second season he gave further debuts to Texeira and Brad Smith, Rodgers even had 16 year old Jordan Rossiter on the bench for some matches this season.

Even after all this the feathers in Rodgers cap are two players who didn’t make their debuts under him, but became stars the Irishman – Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan

Raheem Sterling who made some brief cameo appearances towards the end of the 2011-12 season under Kenny Dalglish was given more first team chances. The then 17 year old winger impressed the gaffer so much that Rodgers decided to give him his first premier league start against defending champions Manchester City during which Sterling established his credentials. Raheem Sterling has improved so much that he is now expected to be a starter in the England team competing in Brazil for the FIFA World Cup and today he is just 19 years old. Sterling was also nominated for the PFA young player of the year award for his brilliant performance this season.

Flanagan on the other hand was a youngster who showed so much promise earlier but quietly faded away from the first team picture, but when Liverpool were struck with injury blows to first choice right back Glen Johnson and first choice left back Jose Enrique along with the unavailability of both Martin Kelly and Andre Wisdom, Rodgers decided to start Jon Flanagan for the first time in nearly 18 months against an Arsenal team who were table toppers at that point. What is to be remembered is that Flanagan was a player that no team even wanted to take on loan from Liverpool, not even a lower league club. Flanagan had a decent game on his return to the first team. He was then again drafted into the team due to AlyCissokho’s poor form. Flanagan then made his derby debut against Everton at left back where he had a brilliant game putting in crunching tackles and dashing forward. Flanagan is now on the stand by list for England’s World Cup squad ahead of England international Kyle Walker. A lot of credit for how this youngster’s career took a complete U-turn goes to Brendan Rodgers.

Improving established first team players

It’s easier to help a teenager improve his game, they are thirsty for success and fame and will also be eager to learn, but to get more out of established first team players like Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and last but not least Jordan Henderson who are all capped at the full level for their country and two of them, the captains of their national teams is a big ask. Brendan Rodgers managed to raise the performance level of many players but these players stand out under him.

Luis Suarez – Suarez was already a world class player when he joined Liverpool. The Uruguayan amidst all his controversies became a quick fan favourite at Liverpool. But Brendan Rodgers made Suarez into an even bigger threat with his attacking and aggressive approach on the field. A simple analysis of the Uruguayan’s statistics from his three full seasons at Liverpool alone will give a clear idea.

Season

Matches Played

Goals Scored

Assists

2011-12

39

17

11

2012-13

44

30

10

2013-14

37

31

10

Suarez went from being a controversial striker in his first season to a nominee for the PFA player of the year award in his second season and part of the PFA team of the season to the PFA player of the year in his third year, along with the European Golden Boot.

Steven Gerrard–The Liverpool and England captain had a couple of seasons filled with injuries and were pretty mediocre for his standards. The skipper had played just 18 league matches in 2011-12 and 21 matches in 2010-11. What Brendan Rodgers managed to do first was keep his best midfielder fit. In 2012-13 Gerrard went on to play the full 90 minutes of his first 35 league games at the age of 32. He decided to end his season prematurely to be fit for the next season on time. Gerrard played 32 league games this season, missing just 6 games through injury. Rodgers also shifted one of the best attacking mid fielders to a deeper role in his first season in the hope of prolonging the midfielder’s career and then later deployed Gerrard as the deepest midfielder often playing in between the center backs. This move ceased Gerrard trademark thunderbolts from midfield but gave him more time on the ball to execute his long balls across the field, which has often led to goals from counter attacks. Gerrard finished the 2013-14 season with 15 assists – his highest in a single premier league season. Gerrard’s excellent season in his new position which Rodgers found for him was also rewarded with a place in the PFA team of the year award.

Daniel Agger–The Dane was one of the players who started the UEFA Champions League final against AC Milan in 2007. Although Agger has been known to be a fine defender with good ball playing abilities, his career was plagued with injuries. Martin Skrtel who joined the reds after Agger went on to overtake the Dane in the number of appearances. Agger who has been labeled as highly injury prone went on to play 35 league games for the club in 2012-13, missing one game through suspension and the other two for an early surgery just like Gerrard. Rodgers further rewarded the Dane for his contributions with a new contract and the vice-captain position following the retirement of Jamie Carragher.

Daniel Sturridge– Sturridge was a player with whom Rodgers had worked with during his time at Chelsea. When Sturridge arrived at Liverpool he was considered a Chelsea reject. Sturridge went on to make history after his move. He broke the record of the fastest Liverpool player to score 30 goals for the club, this is quite an achievement, considering the fact that he managed to do something better than players like Ian Rush, Michael Owen, Kenny Dalglish, Fernando Torres, Robbie Fowler and even his team mate Luis Suarez. Sturridge scored 21 league goals in his first full season. He was nominated for the PFA player of the year and the young player of the year and made the PFA team of the year. Sturridge’s goals have also led to more points this season than teammate Luis Suarez who scored 31 league goals.

Philippe Coutinho– Coutinho like Sturridge was surplus at his previous club. The Brazilian like his fellow winter recruit Sturridge made an instant impact ending his first season with 7 assists and 3 goals in just 13 matches while also bagging Liverpool’s young player of the year award after playing just 13 games.

Jordan Henderson – Probably the crown jewel in Rodgers achievements. Jordan Henderson was a highly rated youngster when he arrived at Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish. The former Sunderland man endured a rough debut season. He was rumored to be free to leave the club if he wished to when Rodgers took over, but instead of giving up his dream to play for a top club and leave for a club like Fulham, Henderson decided to fight for his place. Henderson slowly went from being a squad player in his first season to a crucial player for the club this season. The midfielder went on to play every match for the club before his unfortunate suspension against Manchester City. His importance was further emphasized when Liverpool lost to Chelsea, drew against Crystal Palace and could only manage a narrow 3-2 win over Norwich City when he was suspended. Rodgers also made good use of Henderson’s versatility thereby making him a key player when the Irishman wanted to tweak his system and play a different formation. Henderson has played as a central attacking midfielder, a box to box mid fielder, a left winger, a right winger and as a right wing back this season. Adding to his strength is his amazing work rate and energy, which Rodgers made good use of throughout the season. Henderson is also on the plane to Brazil and is expected to start alongside Steven Gerrard in midfield for the three lions.

Transfers

All of Brendan Rodgers signings for Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers signed twelve players for Liverpool and a further three loan signings so far for Liverpool. Of these players some have become crucial players for the club, while some signings have raised a few eyebrows.

Rodgers’ best signings are without any doubt Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho and both of them were made in the same winter window. Their contributions are out there for everyone to see unlike the other signings.

Signings like Fabio Borini, Joe Allen, Simon Mignolet, MamadouSakho and KoloToure have drawn mixed opinions, but spending so much money on players like IagoAspas, Tiago Ilori and Luis Alberto makes very little sense when the team needed strengthening. These players have rarely played for the club (not played in the case of Ilori).

The loan deals Liverpool made also been very poor. Sahin was played out of position and despite some good performances his loan deal was terminated as early as January. Aly Cissokho and Victor Moses on the other hand have been subjected to heavy criticism due to their poor performances.

The transfer committee has also been questioned by the fans for the clubs failure to capture their top targets and often losing them to rival teams. If Rodgers is to prepare his team for the busy schedule when his team plays in the Champions League next season, he will need to re-enforce his team with some quality signings. Transfers is one area where Rodgers will need to be more careful about and need better assistance from the board.

Tactical Versatility

When Brendan Rodgers started his rein at Liverpool he preferred a 4-3-3 system and with his limited options for a striker earlier on, he stuck to the formation. Even after the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January 2013, Rodgers continued to use his preferred formation by either playing Sturridge on the right with Suarez as the man up front or with Suarez playing the number 10 role behind Sturridge.

While coming into the new season, Rodgers stuck to the same formation due to Suarez’s suspension. For the opening match against Stoke City Rodgers started with the following formation and lineup.

The 4-3-3 formation and line up Rodgers used for the opening league match against Stoke City

Rodgers persisted with the same system for the next three games against Aston Villa, Manchester United, Swansea City and Southampton. He either just changed a player or interchanged the position of some players. Rodgers made the mistake of playing all four of his regular center backs together by playing Sakho as the left back and Toure as the right back against Southampton. This was strange considering the fact that first choice left back Jose Enrique was available for selection. Liverpool went on to lose the match to Southampton making it two defeats in two games against Mauricio Pochettino for Rodgers. Rodgers was outdone by his poor team selection and Southampton’s brilliant pressing game.

Rodgers had plenty of defenders at his disposal and decided to change his formation for his next game against Manchester United in the League Cup by using his resources wisely with Philippe Coutinho and Joe Allen out injured and the return of Luis Suarez from Injury. Rodgers started the game with the following line up and formation against United.

The 3-5-2 formation Rodgers used in the Capital One Cup tie against Manchester United

Rodgers used the three men at the back system like teams like Juventus use with two wing backs. This formation enabled both Suarez and Sturridge to play as strikers and helped in coping with the injury crisis the manager faced at that time.

Rodgers persisted with this system which is rarely used by teams playing in the premier league as such formations generally leaves the team vulnerable to attacks from opposition teams with good attacking wingers and full backs. Liverpool played against Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Newcastle United, West Brom and Arsenal with the same formation with the occasional change in the starting lineup.

Following the 2-0 defeat against Arsenal where Liverpool didn’t show their usual attacking fluidity, Rodgers reverted back to the usual two center backs system against Fulham. His challenge now was accommodating both his star strikers in the same lineup and giving them their favoured role at the same time.

Rodgers prefers players who can play in different positions up front and interchange their positions during the game thereby making it difficult for the opposition players to mark them.

He started the game against Fulham with the following formation and lineup.

The 4-3-3 formation and line up Rodgers started against Fulham

Although the players started in these positions, Suarez moved up front at times with Sturridge moving to the right and Coutinho to the left with Henderson playing behind the striker or with Henderson on the left and Coutinho behind the striker. The versatility of the players Rodgers had at his disposal enabled him to tweak his formation and move his players around creating havoc on the pitch.

For the next match against Everton Rodgers used the same system but Sturridge was dropped to the bench, with Coutinho moving to the left and Joe Allen playing behind Suarez.

With Sturridge out injured at this point, Rodgers had just Suarez to play up front and he continued with his preferred 4-3-3 formation in the games against Hull City (Home and Away), Norwich City, West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur, Cardiff City, Manchester City, Chelsea and Stoke City.

When Sturridge returned from injury, Rodgers was once against stuck with the dilemma of what formation to choose for both his star strikers to play together. Rodgers changed his formation to a 4-4-2 system for the game against Aston Villa with the following starting lineup.

The 4-4-2 formation and starting line up against Aston Villa

The match against Aston Villa was also the first time Rodgers deployed Gerrard as the holding midfielder. The 4-4-2 formation backfired on the reds as the Villa players took advantage of the extra space in midfield and Gerrard’s inexperience in the role. Liverpool went down by two goals. Rodgers quickly made up for his wrong team selection at half time by replacing Coutinho with Lucas (later Allen for Lucas due to injury) to give more defensive stability and giving Gerrard more freedom to dictate the play from midfield. The substitution worked and Liverpool drew the match at 2-2 in the end.

Liverpool’s next game was against Everton who transformed into a good passing side under Roberto Martinez. If Liverpool played the 4-4-2 formation against the toffees it would leave too much space in the mid field for them to exploit. Rodgers reverted back to his 4-3-3 formation with players interchanging position. In addition to this he focused on a quick counter attacking game play as the Everton side also liked to keep the play. Liverpool had pace in the team to play counter attacking football with the likes of Sterling, Suarez, Coutinho and Sturridge. The team had demonstrated this earlier in the season. Everton enjoyed majority of the possession on the day but Liverpool won the game by a comfortable 4-0 margin even after Daniel Sturridge missed a penalty.

Liverpool continued with the 4-3-3 formation and their quick counter attacking football coupled with quick slick passing in games against West Brom, Arsenal, Fulham and Swansea. Rodgers had found success with this formation but was facing s Southampton team against whom he was tactically beaten twice in as many occasions.

Rodgers decided to use a formation where he could use both his strikers by not compromising his midfield so that he could cope with the high pressing game played by Southampton. It was the diamond formation which he used against Southampton successfully and gain his first win against Pochettino.

The Diamond formation that was used against Southampton

Rodgers started the game with Coutinho playing at the tip of the diamond and when the Saints were trailing and chasing the game, he introduced Sterling who had the extra pace, at the tip of the diamond into a new position and was rewarded with an instant goal.

Rodgers ability to make his team adapt to different formations and garner success with all the formations was one of the key reasons for Liverpool’s huge success this season and all this with a very thin squad that had many key players injured throughout the season.

Rodgers used the diamond formation when both Suarez and Sturridge were fit and played either Sterling or Coutinho at the tip of the diamond. When Sturridge was once again unavailable he reverted back to a 4-3-3 formation.

Is there a golden sky at the end of the storm?

The lyrics of the famous Liverpool anthem say that at the end of a storm there is a golden sky. Liverpool have had their storm, the question remains if Rodgers is the one to lead them to the golden sky? Liverpool under Rodgers had their best start to a league season for 19 years when the defeated Manchester United in the third match of this season.

Rodgers would have loved to have ended the season as Premier League winners. Nevertheless the manager ended the season with two manager of the month awards and the coveted LMA Manager of the year award.

Brendan Rodgers will already be looking at his transfer targets and Liverpool fans will hoping for a really good window. With the right signings, Brendan Rodgers might be the man to finally end the 25 years long wait for a league title.

Edited by Staff Editor
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