Upon Christian Benteke’s £32.5m arrival from Aston Villa this summer, many Liverpool supporters and football fans in general were left scratching their heads, claiming the powerful Belgian didn’t suit Brendan Rodgers’ style of play.
While the Northern Irishman is renowned for his passing football, trying to pick teams apart centrally – Benteke was noted for his aerial threat and central strength.
This led analysts to suggest we’d switch to a more direct style of play, but Rodgers claims – despite supporting evidence – that stylistically, we’re the same.
Although he does admit that he’s recognising ‘other ways’ to win football matches.
“I’m always clear and I don’t change in relation to how we want to work and play,” Rodgers said, cited in the Guardian.
“But I think when you bring in a certain profile of player it gives you other options. One of the key things in bringing Christian here first foremost is he can play football.
“His touch is good, his ability to bring players into the game is good – whether that’s with his feet or a little cushioned header. There’s a great skill. What he gives us is that threat in the box. When the ball comes in he’s a striker in the area.
“There’s other ways of doing it, keeping the game alive. I think when you have a 6ft 4ins player like Christian he affects the game when the ball comes into the box because of his physicality and mobility. It keeps the game alive that bit longer.
“Ultimately it’s about results but, for me, it’s also how we play. I worry that we play good football. I’ve always done that in my life working with young players, working at senior level as a manager in 300-odd games. I’ve always worried about the football. I’m not one that will go into every game and not worry about how we play and take a 1-0.
“Of course you can do that at times but the nature of how we work on a daily basis and as a coaching staff is based around a tactical idea on intelligent footballers, creative footballers with high energy and the ability to press the game and to make it really difficult for opponents with and without the ball. That notion hasn’t changed. Of course as you evolve as a manager and a coach you understand and recognise that at times there are different ways to win a game of football. That was the idea with bringing in different types of players. That hopefully gives us a better way to win.”
We’ve so far picked up two wins, but some key differences have been noted between our style this season and that from previous ones. Simon Mignolet has been kicking the ball long often, as have the central defenders, instead of stubbornly playing short – as has been insisted on before.
It’s meant Benteke’s been able to hold up the ball from direct passes and bring others into the game. We’ve not aimlessly peppered the box with crosses though, or hoofed possession aimlessly into the opposing half – like our new striker’s previous club Aston Villa often did.
Most importantly, Rodgers’ quotes indicate that he’s learning and evolving as a manager. His attacking ‘aesthetic’ football is an admirable principle, but it’ll get anybody sacked if it doesn’t bear results every season. The key is to know which types of matches and in which situations we can express ourselves creatively, and to understand when it’s best to grind a result.
It’ll be mighty interesting, having heard the quotes, to see how Rodgers sets up against Arsenal Monday evening.