Managerial Focus: Why I’m Optimistic About Rodgers This Year

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By @darrenchoong

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Learns from his mistakes.

This may sound like a negative point, but it is true, admittedly, that Brendan Rodgers made quite a lot of mistakes last season. What is comforting, however, is how he reacts and learns from them.

It’s transfer deadline day, Liverpool fans expect a new forward to join the ranks to support Luis Suarez up top, especially with Andy Carroll already three-quarters way out the door joining West Ham on loan. Will it be Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge? Or 20odd goal man Clint Dempsey from Fulham?

As it turned out, Rodgers got neither, let Carroll leave, blamed the hierarchy, and had to use the likes of Raheem Sterling and Suso Fernandez from the U21 development squad to supplement Suarez and Fabio Borini – who eventually ended the season with a solitary league goal – in attack.

Further problems would erupt during the season. First off, Pepe Reina came out with comments saying that he wanted to replace the outgoing Victor Valdes at the Nou Camp. Also, defensive frailties came to the fore in the embarrassment at Oldham Athletic, when Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates got severely pushed around and bullied by former non-league striker Matt Smith, which forced Rodgers to bring Jamie Carragher back to the first eleven. Then in February, Carragher decided to bow out on a high by announcing his retirement at the end of this season.

Rodgers, seeing that he could be left with a sole senior goalkeeper in Brad Jones that would not be of sufficient quality to nail down the number one spot, immediately went out and captured rising Belgium star Simon Mignolet from fellow English side Sunderland. He also acted quickly to fill the leadership and experience void left by Carragher to sign outgoing Manchester City defender Kolo Toure on a free. All this were done before the transfer window even opened, just going to show how fast Rodgers acted and how much he had learned from the previous summer window.

The Oldham defeat taught Rodgers a valuable lesson in having too little experience in the first eleven. He subsequently dropped the likes of Jack Robinson and Andre Wisdom, and preferred more experience for the second half of the season. One key example is how much less game time Sterling got after a storming first half of the season for him. The effect of this, however, could be a rejuvenated and fresh Sterling for the start of the upcoming campaign, with the young Englishman also being able to consolidate his first year’s experience in time for his assault on opposition defences this season.

Rodgers can fully emphasize my point of his continuous learning if he can get more height in the team. After being mauled by Romelu Lukaku during their double defeat to West Bromwich Albion and Christian Benteke in their home defeat to Aston Villa, the Liverpool squad could use a tall central defender, or even a defensive midfielder of larger stature to act as cover for Lucas Leiva.

In this very light, Rodgers is definitely not as stubborn as Arsene Wenger, who refuses to learn from his mistakes and spend on big names or pay higher wages to his top players, which might have allowed the Arsenal boss to keep the likes of Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas and challenge for the title. Wenger’s further refusal to sign Marouane Fellaini (reasonable release clause really, with the amounts being thrown around these days) or other key signings could see Arsenal even further away from a title. Having missed out on key target Gonzalo Higuain, Wenger’s inflexibility and overbearing faith in youth could even see the likes of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere leave soon.

Ability to improve existing players.

With most managers and teams out there at the moment replacing their playing roster at such a high rate, most would also think Liverpool, underachieving for the last 4 years and only finishing seventh in the previous campaign, would do the same. However, what is really impressive about Rodgers is his knack at improving players once deemed as flops at the club. Maybe it’s the lack of funds for Rodgers, that forces him to use his existing resources, but the facts does show that he does a good job improving most of his previously underachieving playing staff.

The likes of Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing looks very much more useful now than they were under Kenny Dalglish, the man who actually signed them in 2011. Downing was initially transfer listed and told he had no future at the club, but Rodgers’ still gave him a chance, albeit at left-back, to regain some of his confidence and get some valuable minutes on the field. Proving his determination to the manager, Downing was allowed to resume normal service as an attacking threat, but this time down the right flank as an inverted winger, just as how Rodgers likes it. After a couple of goals and a few assists last campaign, Downing looks more confident and a better member of the squad already.

Similarly, Henderson looked lost under Dalglish at right midfield. Rodgers never lost faith though, and started deploying him in his more usual central positions, with the odd occasion starting on the left side and drifting infield. Henderson’s dynamism, energy and athleticism, along with the fact he started grabbing more goals and assists, even saw him displace Rodgers’ own favourite, Joe Allen, from the starting eleven, getting a run of games after the new year. His goals and assists this year were even higher than Man Utd’s Tom Cleverley and Arsenal’s Wilshere, two fellow Englishmen who seem to be rated as better than Henderson by the so-called experts. Further, Rodgers did not trust Jose Enrique in defence initially, but after a few run outs at left wing, Enrique’s confidence and performances saw him reverted back to left-back looking better improved.

This is exactly why I would not be surprised if the likes of Allen and Borini got much better this season. With both anonymous since the start of the year, their returns from their respective injuries make it seem like they are a couple of fresh signings for the club. Rodgers would definitely do his best to improve both players, especially since he knows both of them very well from his previous managerial stints. Allen already looks more determined on the pitch, as well as displaying his attacking intent when deployed in a more offensive role in midfield – vs Olympiakos is one example so far. Borini simply needs to get that elusive goal, sooner rather than later, to get that monkey off his back and allow him to have confidence in his abilities.