Managerial Focus: Why I’m Optimistic About Rodgers This Year (2/2)

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by @darrenchoong

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Increasing competition at the club

Having had to over-rely on youth last year, Brendan Rodgers’ realised there was a lack of genuine depth and competition for places in the squad. The signings of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, defender Kolo Toure and Spanish duo Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto has definitely added more quality to the overall team, not to mention the relevant experience needed in central defence with regards to Toure’s signing.

The latter duo of Aspas and Alberto are definitely seen as a way of bolstering Rodgers’ options upfront. The over-reliance on Luis Suarez for the first half of last season led to the quick promotion of several young attackers to the first-team, and this at times gave these youngsters unnecessary pressure and burden to perform week in, week out in the first eleven.

Aspas and Alberto will definitely alleviate these sorts of pressure off the likes of Raheem Sterling. This will give Sterling and fellow young winger Jordan Ibe more time and space to grow, away from the glare of the first-team limelight when required. Looking at it another way, these new offensive signings, coupled with the youngsters brought through last year having gained a season’s experience under their belts, will add extra cover to the 3 attacking positions in Rodgers’ system. With Rodgers also looking to bring through more academy graduates like Jerome Sinclair and Conor Coady, his squad will be overflowing with competition as these youngsters try to make an impression whenever they are given the chance.

The addition of Aspas, along with the return of Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge from their respective injuries sustained last season, will ensure there will be no more Suarez-esque one man show required in the first half of last season. The places for the wide positions are also better equipped, with at least 2 players providing competition on either flank. The current wingers at the club are pretty flexible too, so Rodgers definitely has a chance to mix and match his forward line this upcoming season.
Confident in his style, but not afraid to adapt

It was very obvious when Rodgers arrived at Anfield that he loved the style of football his former side, Swansea City, displayed during his tenure at the club. “Tiki taka” as some called it, Swansea-lona as others saw it. He wanted to implement this particular style on the club so badly that he was willing to spend a huge chunk of his transfer budget last year to bring his former charge, Joe Allen, from the Swans.

However, even as Liverpool seemed to be favouring more short passes last season, Rodgers still had good knowledge to utilize Steven Gerrard’s obvious long-ball ability. Though it was apparent Gerrard tweaked his style to more shorter, faster passes to suit Rodgers’ system, the latter still allowed the former to play his trademark, raking, defence-splitting passes – but this time, it would be when the opportunity was right, hence the number of long passes Gerrard made was lesser.

Rodgers also stuck to Liverpool’s historic ideals of fast, counter-attacking football, by using the pace of his wingers, like Sterling, and exploiting the flanks through the use of fast passing down the touchline when the counter-attacking opportunity comes about. If the opportunity is not right, Rodgers wants his team to start from the back and build up while waiting for the right time to move forward. It was definitely not so gung-ho like under Dalglish, neither was it as defensive as seen during the initial stages of Rafael Benitez’s reign.

When Liverpool struggled at the start of last year with 2 points from their first 5 games, highlighted by Martin Skrtel’s horror back-pass against Manchester City that eventually cost Liverpool the win, Rodgers still encouraged and praised the central defender for his willingness to stick to the new style and game plan. This just shows Rodgers’ willingness to stick to his guns as well as his confidence in his own style of play, and it paid off in the end, as it led to a stunning showing in the second half of the season, which they hope will carry through to the start of the next campaign.

Further, Rodgers also displayed common sense as he was not afraid to make early substitutions. He has proved a couple of times last season that he does not mind admitting early he got his pre-match strategy wrong – something most managers aren’t as willing to admit, instead waiting till half-time to make the relevant changes, but that could ultimately be of no use if the game was out of reach even by half-time. The best example was when he made a 35th minute substitution in the home game against Wigan back in November last year, by replacing Suso Fernandez with Jordan Henderson in order to, in his words, “flip the (midfield) triangle”.
The learning curve at a huge, historic club of Liverpool’s stature right now is a steep one for a manager of Rodgers’ relative inexperience. However, he has proven over the course of his first campaign that he is not afraid to adapt and be flexible, while maintaining confidence in his own abilities and thought process as a football manager. Time will only tell whether he can be a success at Anfield by guiding them back to the top 4 and eventually a title challenge. Only by continually improving his current charges and getting right type of players in, will he have any chance of succeeding at Liverpool.