Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool are hoping to begin a new era of changing fortunes. Transfers made under the new manager will therefore be extremely vital to the club’s long term future. What can we expect from the red half of the Merseyside under their fourth manager in three seasons?
A look at the Euro 2008 Championship winning Spain squad shows 4 Liverpool players – Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres. That was the most number of players contributed by any club, Real Madrid and Barcelona included. A testimony perhaps to one of the finest Liverpool teams in the modern era. Rafa Benitez’s squad had narrowly missed out on winning the Premiership title the following year and finished the season with a record haul of 86 points. The future looked bright for the Reds from Merseyside as they looked to add this quartet from Spain to a squad filled with world class talent like Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano.
What followed however, was a systematic dismantling of the squad as Liverpool looked to cash in on their top talent in order to finance the ever growing interest payments from the huge debt-burden saddled on the club by its American owners George Gillet and Tom Hicks. The leveraged buyout forced Liverpool to sell its stars players and Benitez was sacked soon after. Xabi Alonso, Javier Macherano and Rafa Benitez were replaced by unimpressive names such as Christian Poulsen, Paul Konchesky and Roy Hodgson.
The club’s performance in the League nosedived as they found themselves languishing in the relegation zone under Hodgson. Apart from the troubles on the pitch, Liverpool found itself embroiled in a legal battle over the clubs’ transfer of ownership. The situation was so dire that the club was supposedly “days away from administration” as put by then managing director Christian Purslow.
Then came a wave of optimism for the Liverpool fans – new owners in Fenway Sports Group (FSG) and the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as manager. Performances on the pitch dramatically improved despite the loss of Fernando Torres to Chelsea as The Reds climbed up the table to reach 7th Spot.
A new structure was put in place and Damien Comolli was appointed as the Director of football strategy. Liverpool spent heavily in the summer transfer window of 2011 and bought in several new players to complement Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez who were signed by the club on the deadline day of the winter transfer window. Expectations were high but the new signings failed to have an impact as the team slumped to 8th in the League table and finished below bitter local rivals Everton FC. Carling Cup victory notwithstanding, Kenny Dalglish’s tactics looked largely unsuccessful and Liverpool FC was forced to part ways with “The King” ; not to forget, Damien Comolli before him.
This brings us back to the present where Liverpool FC now stands at a crossroads. FSG, with their Moneyball approach, have now put their faith in a young manager in Brendan Rodgers.
While King Kenny was appointed as a full time manager after his stellar finish to the 2011 campaign, people will argue that he was never really a first choice for FSG but more of a stop-gap manager. FSG have drawn several parallels from their ownership of Boston Red Sox and in Brendan Rodgers we now have an “FSG type” manager (After acquiring The Boston Red Sox, FSG hired a 28 year old manager, Theo Epstein, and won the World Series two years later).
Liverpool fans have witnessed many a false dawn over the years but for many, this represents ‘Year Zero’ – The year where everything comes full circle and the club begins afresh. Many have likened the situation to 1959, when Liverpool FC appointed a relatively unknown manager named Bill Shankly. The rest, as they say, is history.
So what does the future really hold for Liverpool? Will it truly be a renaissance or yet another false dawn? Only time will tell but let’s take a look at what might be in store for The Reds from Merseyside.
The Gaffer – Brendan Rodgers
In Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool have appointed a man who despite being only 39 years of age, has had nearly two decades of coaching experience. A protégé of Jose Mourinho, Brendan Rodgers defied the odds and guided an unfancied Swansea side to a respectable 11th position in the League winning over several fans in the process with their style of play. Swansea City’s patient approach and possession oriented style of play earned them the nickname “Swanselona” as Rodgers tactically outsmarted some of the top teams in the Premiership such as Arsenal, Liverpool and English champions Manchester City.
Having extensively studied the tactics used by teams from the European continent, mainly Spain and Netherlands, Rodgers aims to build a system which would merge the directness of the English game with the Tiki Taka of Spain. A keen follower of the Barcelona model, Rodgers would try to replicate the same sort of style in Liverpool.
Rodgers prefers to use a 4-3-3 system but has also experimented with other innovative formations such as a 3-4-3. Rodgers likes to ‘educate’ his players to maintain possession using short passes. Players are encouraged to play in triangles and build the play from the back rather than indulging in Route 1 tactics so prevalent in English football.
Expect lots of neat, short passing from Liverpool in the next season. Continuous recycling of the ball and high possession percentages should be characteristic of the side in the forthcoming season. Whether this bold new approach from the manager will yield results is something we shall have to wait and see.
Although nowhere near the level of ‘The Class of 2009’, this current Liverpool squad does boast of some very talented albeit young players. The likes of Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll have underperformed this season but they might just come good in the next and justify the hefty prices that Liverpool paid for their services.
Over the last few seasons, Liverpool have had a good defensive record and conceded fewer goals than any other club in the League barring the two clubs from Manchester. Pepe Reina is one of the top goalkeepers in the world and in spite of an indifferent season, he remains the undisputed first-choice for The Reds.
Glen Johnson has established himself as one of the League’s best right-backs and his marauding runs down the right flank should provide Liverpool with an additional attacking threat. On the other wing, Jose Enrique has proved himself to be a reliable left-back although his form has come into question recently.
Liverpool currently boasts one of the most balanced centre-back pairings in Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger with both defenders having fine seasons and complementing each other well. Martin Kelly, Jamie Carragher, Sebastian Coates and Jack Robinson provide the depth to the defense and barring the left back position the team has adequate cover in case of injury.
Liverpool’s “Best Midfield in the World” have been reduced to squad players or emerging talents. Apart from Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard, nobody in midfield can truly be called world class. It is perhaps no coincidence then that Liverpool’s Premier League fortunes had taken a downturn when the duo were missing through injury for large parts of the season.
Lucas’ long term absence was a particularly big blow as The Reds’ average of 1.83 points per game dropped dramatically to 1.25 in the Brazilian’s absence. Gerrard seems to get more injury prone with each passing season and it would be prudent of Liverpool not to hinge their Premiership dreams on him. Stewart Downing has all the tools to be a successful winger and after a nightmarish first season, will be looking to prove his doubters wrong.
Jordan Henderson is still a work-in-progress and much more will be expected of him in the coming season. Henderson looks a much better player when played in midfield than when played wide on the right. Rodgers must find a way to best utilize his talent. Charlie Adam had an inconsistent first season at Anfield and the jury is still out on him - whether he will be able to make it here as a first team regular. Academy product Jay Spearing is a hard-working and combative midfielder who has done a fair job in Lucas’ absence.
Liverpool’s midfield has depth but lacks that extra bit of quality which the other top sides enjoy. Rodgers will have his sights set on bolstering the midfield in the summer transfer window to boost his team’s chances next season.
The primary reason for Liverpool’s poor showing in the League was a lack of goals. Although The Reds played some good attacking football and had several shots on goal, very few were converted into goals. A combination of sheer bad luck (Liverpool hit the post a record 33 times last season) and profligacy in front of goal meant The Reds could only score 77 goals in all competitions this season whilst enjoying the second highest percentage of possession in the final third after Barcelona.
In Luis Suarez, Liverpool have a truly world class forward who can play alone upfront or behind the main striker. In fact Suarez’s best season at Ajax was when he was deployed as a right forward in a 4-3-3.
Much has been said about Andy Carroll and his goal scoring form since the Geordie’s 35 million pound move from Newcastle. The tall forward has looked out of sorts for much of the season but had found some good form towards the end of the campaign. Fans will hope that he can continue that run into the next season and finally get the monkey off his back.
Craig Bellamy has proved to be a useful squad player and has chipped in with important goals but Liverpool will need to look elsewhere to find a solution to their goal-scoring problems. Raheem Sterling is an exciting prospect but will need more time to develop. Liverpool are severely lacking in depth in the striking department and with the departure of Kuyt, there is all the more need for a striker in the ranks.
With the new manager in charge, expect a lot of activity in this transfer window though possibly not as much as last year. Kuyt and Aurelio have already left the club with Maxi Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani and Joe Cole looking almost certain to leave as FSG look to enforce their policy on lowering the wage bill.
Among new recruits, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Gaston Ramirez are names Liverpool have been heavily linked with and it would be interesting to see which players Brendan Rodgers brings in to the club to implement his vision.
The present squad has shown that it is capable of playing good attacking football with a philosophy of ‘pass and move’. Skrtel and Agger have formed a stable defensive partnership which would serve them well over the next few years. The midfield would certainly look stronger with Lucas’ return and with some good additions in the flanks Liverpool could certainly look forward to an improvement in league position.
Concerns in the striking department remain and it will be up to Brendan Rodgers to rectify that issue. A stable ownership, a motivated young squad led by a brave, forward-thinking manager could see Liverpool springing a few surprises next season and the ones after. After all, at the end of the storm, there is a golden sky..
Written by Sreyon Chatterjee