WITH the news that we had reached as low an ebb under Brendan Rodgers as we did under Roy Hodgson, with just 25 points at the half-way point of the season, it got me wondering whether there were any other similarities between the two managers.
Frighteningly for the fans, there are at least two that I can think of. The first is the signings he’s made: Allen, Assaidi, Borini and Sahin. Not one has really impressed yet and we’re starting to really become impatient with them.
Sure, those four are a vast improvement on Cole, Jones, Konchesky and Poulsen but still; the managers can share the disappointment of the fans in their much-touted signings.
The current man’s four summer signings are far more likely to turn it around and become great signings but that is still just speculation – the proof is in the pudding.
The other similarity, and perhaps the most important one for me, is that neither manager appears to have (or had) either a plan B, or the tactical nous to change our fortunes from the sidelines. You may recall that ‘oh… what now?’ look that Hodgson had when things weren’t going his way, coupled with the nose rubbing and face-touching.
At the moment, Brendan Rodgers is beginning to resemble him in that sense. I want him to succeed, I really do. It’s hard though when things are going against you. I would never wish bad on a Liverpool manager but he really isn’t making it very easy while these comparisons with Hodgson are rearing their heads.
Therefore, my suggestion to him would be this: change the game plan, show that you can mix it up when you need to and do it with immediate effect. Liverpool may one day be able to adopt your ‘Swanselona’ philosophy but, at present, it clearly isn’t working out. Persevering with it in the face of poor displays and limp defeats isn’t being bold and brave, it’s being pig-headed and arrogant, and it’ll only make the fans turn against you.
Look at the way in which Benitez has turned Chelsea’s fortunes around in such a short time. He’s gone into a club that had a manager that seemed bereft of original ideas with what to do with a great set of attacking players. Benitez is a shrewd coach and knows that simply having excellent players with only get you so far, you’ve got to coach those players into a great team.
The result is that Chelsea have dropped one or two players and brought a couple of others in out of the cold and, in spite of what everybody else thought, they are playing great football, looking solid at the back and even Torres is getting back to his best form.
As the old – and often over-used – saying goes: you can’t put squares pegs into round holes, but that is precisely what Brendan seems to be doing. The worry is that he inherited a great team, with a ‘philosophy’ (I’m sorry to have to use that word) and has only had to tinker with it; the jury is still very much out as to whether he could come up with his own and make it work at a new, bigger club.
So rather than squeezing our current squad into his ’4-3-3′, there needs to be some form of change in how we approach certain games. By all means stick with the idea of dominating possession but, for God’s sake, make it have a purpose too. Passing for passing’s sake is tedious and gets you nowhere. We are probably the most limited club in the Premier League at the moment, when it comes to attacking options, so we rely on a handful of players to pull off something magical.
To refer back to Benitez again – when he came to Liverpool he didn’t just throw that 2004-05 squad into his old Valencia system. He started off slowly, deciding whether any of them had what it took to adapt. He then brought in the players to bring on into his preferred style, but the fans could see some signs of progress.
The team was meaner, more solid and had a superb spine. Things may have turned out differently but he was also left in the lurch by Owen leaving, so he brought in Luis Garcia to give us somebody who could pull something out of nothing, which the little Spaniard did, more often than not, but he had to be given the right role and freedom.
Liverpool currently have two such players in Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard but I don’t see either player being allowed to play to their strengths, or being given the support they need to flourish. I see two world-class players being shoe-horned into a system that they’re neither familiar with, nor seem to have managed to adapt to yet.
So with all of this in mind, Rodgers needs to switch things around to get the best out of these two, before gradually bringing on his tiki-taka philosophy. My choice would be to implement a system most of the players would be familiar with, whilst getting the best out of Suarez and Gerrard and, for me, that’s 3-5-2.
We’ve struggled at the back a lot recently and we’re wasting two of our best attacking threats – Johnson and Enrique – by keeping them tied in defence. So I would suggest bringing in Coates to add a bit of height and presence to a back three. It would also allow him to get more experience and, in playing more often, we’d reduce the risk of him getting sick of sitting around and requesting a transfer.
I’d push Enrique and Johnson into midfield, both operating as wide-players, but also able to double-up at the back if needed. As I said, both are excellent attacking players, with great technique and, on their day, can cause havoc to any opposition defence.
Lucas could then be the fulcrum of a middle three, along with Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin. These three are young, energetic and dynamic and I believe that they would bring the best out of one another. They are also all quite adept at battling in midfield, which would stop us getting outfought and outnumbered as we have done all too often by poor teams this year.
But the icing on this particular cake would be to push Gerrard right up behind Suarez, much like he was when he was working in tandem with Torres to such devastating effect. There is no doubting that Suarez and Torres are totally different players, but then so were Owen and Torres, and Gerrard worked brilliantly with both.
Gerrard will always insist (as will many of his supporters) that his best position is in central midfield but that has always been a fallacy. Gerrard is at his best either out wide or just behind the striker. He doesn’t have the attributes to play in central midfield, so pushing him high up the pitch will only benefit all parties, particularly now that his energy reserves aren’t quite what they used to be.
For me, though, the result will be that we’re using the assets we do have to our fullest advantage and making us harder to beat. I’m sure others will have their own opinions on what is the best system to use at present, or how (and when) the manager should implement his own system, but in the mean-time I believe this would get the best out of what players we’ve got.
What do you think?