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Liverpool FC – treading water or rising from the ashes?

By Phil Gregory

After their ill-advised dalliance with Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s owners saw the light and realised that they needed 21st century coaching and transfer strategies if they are to break back into the big time that is the Premier League mythical “Top Four”. Alas they learnt this lesson after they gave said Scotsman a fair wedge of dosh and whilst numbers such as £100m are thankfully – for the Yanks – total spends and not net spends, to come eighth after spending £100m reshaping your squad in your own image is frankly awful. Though to be fair, if “your own image” is firey British steel that works bloody hard to run to where they should’ve been five seconds ago and utilising the aerial prowess of your £35m striker to score a mighty FOUR league goals, well, maybe Kenneth achieved what he set out to do. That may have won titles back in the day, but today the game has evolved and requires technique, guile and intelligence.

That aside they have got a new manager in who knows how to play the game in the right way. Brendan Rogers did a great job in getting Swansea promoted, and an even better job in getting them comfortably mid-table in such style. I’ve never applauded an Arsenal defeat like I did when we went to their place and got passed off the park, fantastic stuff it was (the upstart sods).

However a word to the wise: many a manager has taken a team up and done well, and Rogers does not have much else on his CV that I can tell apart from being by all accounts a nice coach at Chelsea and getting the boot from Reading. Perhaps he’s the next Pep Guardiola – all I’m saying is there is a fairly limited amount of evidence to judge his abilities from. How will he handle the pressure, will he need time in the job, will he run away screaming when he sees Charlie Adam and Gerrard playing incessant Hollywood passes… these are the intangibles that we cannot know after such a short coaching career and these represent a gamble on the part of Liverpool’s owners.

What we do know though is that 8th was an underachievement last season, relative to what they have in their squad. At the beginning they didn’t do too badly despite some disappointing results here and there, it was only late on that they went into full on, hilarious meltdown mode. I think most managers could get last season’s squad sixth or fifth on average, but of course that will not be enough going forward. Surely a stab at the top four is a minimum expectation this year, but that will be hard with them seventeen points of fourth-placed Tottenham.

The defence isn’t too shabby. Glen Johnson looked good enough at the Euros, much improved though question marks will always be there, while the likes of Agger and Skrtel are solid players. Carragher is over the hill so perhaps a little depth is required at centre back, much will depend on a wise purchase or whether Martin Kelly can stake a claim. I’ve heard Scousers say the lad is the real deal but alas they said similar about Jay Spearing, who is amongst the worst footballers I have ever seen and I include in that the boys the side I coach put ten past over ninety minutes.

Their midfield is a mixed bag. On the evidence of the Euros, Steven Gerrard should never play in a central midfield two again unless wheeled out for corners and other set piece deliveries. The boy can still play the game, but his strengths don’t really lie in the steady passing side of the game, he needs to be bursting into the box and shooting to be at his best. You’d pop him behind an advanced striker, but then again that is where Suarez is most effective. It’d be a brave incoming manager to phase out a club legend but if they get a decent midfield playmaker in then it’s surely the best move going forwards.

The bread and butter for Rodgers then is the midfield. If you fix the midfield, everything becomes easier. You have more of the ball so you concede less chances and your players are less tired, your strikers score more as they have more chances and so on. Liverpool tried to get an effective, incisive playmaker in with Charlie Adam (snigger) but this surely must be a top priority for Rodgers.

Elsewhere Kuyt has left and despite being a mixed bag, he has a record of scoring goals and running a lot, which is always useful when you play in front of Glen Johnson (see: James Milner). Realistically, a pair of wingers for either flank is a must if they are to entertain notions of the top four. Apart from that they seem to have the numbers. The likes of Downing, Adam and Henderson may not quite have the requisite quality but they are all respectable players (Ok, maybe not Downing…) so with investment in the first eleven they’d have the right mix of depth and quality in the midfield for much improvement if not clear challengers for the top four. Perhaps some cover for Lucas if he comes a cropper with an injury again could be wise, Jay Spearing does not at all count in this respect.

With the midfield problems possibly resolved, the other main bugbear for Scousers has to be the attack. Suarez has quality on the ball, but a return of eleven league goals is poor, even if he did hit the woodwork a bazillion times and have some time out for using racist language. To me, it seems the plan was to have Suarez buzzing around off a big front man, the likes of who would score goals and win headers from the wingers’ crosses. Certainly Andy Carroll can score headers, but his all-round game is just poor, and a team cannot afford to carry a player when they have the ball, not when possession is so important and regardless he can’t score unless the ball is six feet off the ground. Perhaps he’d be useful off the bench if Liverpool are pinning a side back and want to take advantage of a deep defence with his aerial threat, but can you genuinely imagine £35m Carroll sitting on the bench next to £16m Henderson and £20m Downing? I hope Rodgers is brave!

Much for Liverpool then will depend on whether they have money to spend. Money needs to be spent to get the first eleven up to scratch, but clearly Liverpool do not have the financial clout of Chelsea or the like, despite a hefty wage bill from their Champions League days. Four things are vital: a midfield playmaker, a striker who can lead the line and score goals, a great winger and a manager with the nerve to bench expensive players and declining club icons.

If they do achieve those three things, they could use this season creating a system that Rodgers wants the team to use, and any promising youngsters could be integrated into the squad. Realistically, a vague challenge for the top four is all they can hope for this year and it should be viewed as a transition before a real go at the Champions League berths next year.

 

p.s. if you’re interested in economics I write a blog on that too

 

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10 comments to Liverpool FC – treading water or rising from the ashes?

  • ATAF

    I think brendan rodgers will spend most of the season clearing up the mess of damian comoli and dalglish, why would he take the job? Because liverpool are a club that trade on their reputation from 20 years ago. He should have stayed at swansea at least they were on the up!

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    We underestimate Liverpool at our peril but there is something left unsaid about spending outrageous sums on British players not already at a Champions League team. Benitez spent years assembling a modern Liverpool side, Madrid started dismantling it, Dalglish finished the job.

  • Expat Scouse

    It is hard to find much to disagree with here but I will say that the manager is critical and I think Rodgers could be our best since Fagan. It is possible the turn things round quite quickly IF you know what you are doing. There is a lot of dead wood for sure but there is also a lot of potential. By the by I just looked at the England U17 setup and we have 3 in there (but then Everton have 4). We have some decent players like Leiva to come back. Kelly really is god and better imo than Johnson. I’d put Johnson at right wing and suddenly the right looks strong. The defence is decent and Coates is good enough already to replace Carragher who should retire.
    Enrique is poor and cost us dear last season. There are problems on the left but imo young Robinson is good enough to be thrown in now. Agger can play there at a push. In midfield Shelvey is way better than Henderson and if he stays Maxi would fit into a “Barcelona” type system favoured by Rodgers. Shelvey just needs a little bit of polishing. Starting to look through ever more rose-tinted glasses but I think that even failures like Aquilani and Cole just might be salvageable and there are some decent kids like Raheem Sterling who should be getting more games already and would have done at other more progressive clubs like Arsenal perhaps.
    Carrol was awful yet even he near the end suddenly looked much better so I will reserve judgement. Yes we face a big hill but I do think it is possible that a minor miracle could be performed and we finish 4th. I haven’t been positive about a new season for years. I even had misgivings with Benitez (too slow to react with substitutions and he has control-freak issues that cause others to steer clear) but for the first time in years I do think we will improve. We surely can;t get worse. Shouldn’t say that!

  • Goona Gal

    @ Phil, isn’t this an Arsenal blog? What you going on about ‘pool for???? Only kidding, nice article.

    I think Rodgers is a good manager, who has the ability to do well at Liverpool. I agree with your note of caution though, he does not have the experience of working in a pressure cooker enviroment and dealing with the weight of expectation. I do not know enough about him to judge whether he can deal with ego’s larger than talent, which I am sure there are bound to be in the squad, but if he can,then he might just be a success.

    I think wearing an underdog tag, for the first time in a long time, Liverpool could suprise a few teams and thus build momentum. It will be interesting to see how well Rodgers is recieved and supported by the fans if Liverpool get off to a slow start though.

  • Goona Gal

    @ Expat Scouse, very interesting comments. Especially about Raheem Sterling, who is touted as being a big rising star. I reckon he will get a break under Rodgers and do well under his development. If we didn’t have Joel Campbell, I think I would be envious.

    What do you make of Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing? I agree with you about Carroll, as Hodgson has shown that he is useful when tactically deployed. I can see him doing much better under Rodgers who will probably set his team up better so that he can get more out of the player.

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    If the Kop can get behind Rodger’s methods and hound any players they think aren’t putting in a decent shift (Swansea’s style was mainly based around work-rate and short passing) it might just work. If they continue to support local lads, who aren’t fit to wear the shirt (emphasis on fitness there) then it will fall apart.

    The work-rate and motivation is what separates Barca/Spain from other top sides – most of them are good enough to coast through games without putting in stupendous effort but they know that it will be easier to win by pressing hard when they have to and ‘relaxing’ with the ball.

  • Tasos

    Brendan Rodgers deserves praise for his work whilst in charge at Swansea although it should not be forgotten that it was Swansea City the club that first adopted the present style of football many seasons ago under different management.

    I believe it was Roberto Martinez, back in 2007, who changed Swansea City’s footballing philosophy and Brendan Rodgers, after Paulo Sousa, who then picked it up and ran with it, gaining EPL promotion and then mid-table security in his two seasons at the club.

    Brendan Rodgers is clearly a decent manager but he must now enter a different domain and try to implement his style upon a football club that has declined into mid table mediocrity. Rodgers has a huge job on his hands attempting to turn things around at Liverpool.

    Personally I think Swansea City have done very well for themselves, Brendan Rodgers up and left for what he must consider a better job only to be replaced by a true master of the football in Michael Laudrup.

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    He’s taken on a poisoned chalice in Liverpool, at least for the short term. Gerrard, Carragher, Reina and company have a lot of influence in the dressing room and if they don’t like Mr.Rodgers way of doing things, he’ll be ignored like Roy was. Liverpool have a great deal of marginal players and need a few crucial midfielder like they had in Xavi Alonso, when they won the CL.
    The American owners will not be willing to shell out another 100M to buy players so BR will need to bring in some of their more promising youth players along with a few diamonds in the rough,like Wenger can do….but is he a Wenger or a Redknapp?

  • Sammy The Snake

    Brandon Rogers + 500million + 5 years might get Liverpool somewhere. He will need money, time and patience to turn Liverpool around.

  • Richard

    The return of Lucas will have a positive impact but a short passing game will not suit Gerrard or Carroll and maybe others. It will certainly take time to bed in and they will have to sell before they can buy.
    If they are to rise to where they want/need to be then several other clubs will have to move in the opposite direction. One or two might but that might not be enough to get them to their target.
    In the meantime others, currently below them, could get theit acts together and be more of a challenge than they were last season. Tricky times.