‘THE problem with Brendan Rodgers is that he has no plan-B. He should have kept Andy Carroll but he got rid of him because he didn’t fit into his rigid style of play and 4-3-3 formation that he never deviates from’. Plenty of people in plenty of places have peddled the above notion all season long – until Brendan Rodgers proved their words to be unfounded over the past month.
Liverpool’s season is up and running and as they now stand unbeaten in their last 7 league games, Brendan Rodgers is also showing the flexibility and fortitude that many people doubted he was capable of. Rodgers’ teams always play ‘nice’ football but when they’re up against it a question lingered as to whether they had the capabilities to shift up a gear or move in a different direction to obtain a result.
Glenn Hoddle criticised Liverpool at half time in their match against Chelsea recently for exactly this reason, and he was right to do so. Liverpool had kept the ball well enough in the opening 45 minutes at Stamford Bridge but they weren’t threatening Chelsea and changes needed to be made. Fortunately, Liverpool’s manager, while being a strong believer in his philosophy, is now also displaying genuine signs of pragmatism and variation.
At Chelsea, Liverpool were being outplayed after an hour but Rodgers made the bold move of switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation after starting the game 3-5-2. He introduced Suso, a teenager of little experience, and pushed the much maligned Jose Enrique to a left wing role that he had seldom previously occupied. It showed guts to gamble on players such as Enrique and Suso to salvage the match for the hitherto disappointing away side, but it paid off. Liverpool ended the game in the ascendency and could have had more than the point that they rescued from their eventual 1-1 draw.
Last weekend against Wigan, Rodgers again made substitution that helped change the course of the game in the Reds’ favour. After just 35 minutes he withdrew Suso and brought on Jordan Henderson to ‘flip the triangle’ in Liverpool’s midfield. On the face of it, it wasn’t a popular decision, nor an easy one to make. Suso is well liked by the crowd at Anfield and was Liverpool’s most threatening player until he was withdrawn. He is also of tender age and being substituted in the first half without an injury could have been embarrassing and dispiriting for him.
His replacement isn’t so well appreciated by Liverpool fans and has started few meaningful games this season. Henderson is seen by many as an expensive flop (indeed, Rodgers’ reluctance to use the midfielder this season suggests he may well share this view) but Rodgers had made his decision and stuck with it. Popular or not, he altered Liverpool’s midfield and after an uninspiring first half that saw Wigan leave the field with a clean sheet intact, Liverpool then romped to a comfortable 3-0 win with Jose Enrique again adding the dynamism that has been lacking on the wings this season.
The ability to alter a game or even his team’s system was a genuine concern that surrounded Rodgers when he took on the role as manager but already this season we’ve seen that while he has a very clear way he wants his team to play and a preferred system to use (4-3-3), Rodgers is not averse to chopping and changing to obtain results. Already this season Liverpool have played 4-3-3, 5-2-1-2, 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1 as well as subtle variations of each the formations mentioned.
Aside from just changing formations, Rodgers has also tried to augment the style of his team during games as evidenced by Henderson’s replacing of Suso and Enrique’s new deployment in an advanced role. Henderson doesn’t offer the deft touches of a Suso but he has energy to burn and while Enrique lacks finesse, he offers Liverpool power and stamina. Both are clear examples of Rodgers using the strengths of individuals to benefit the side rather than merely trying to force ill equipped players into his system and its requirements. A plan ‘B’, if you will.
When questioned about his change in the Wigan game, Rodgers wasn’t shy about explaining his tactical switch. Some may think he lauded his game changing decision a little but perhaps the substitutions, the changes of system and the public explanations are an indication of a growing confidence within.
From the moment the Northern Irishman made significant changes to his side at Goodison Park when his young team were being overrun by a rampant Everton side, Rodgers has shown his flexibility and courage consistently and it is benefiting Liverpool on the pitch. It appears that he is growing into his role more every day and he seems at ease with his surroundings.
Tactical flexibility was a potential negative against Brendan Rodgers when he took charge of Liverpool Football Club but, to borrow a phrase from the man himself, recent events seems to suggest that he has ‘flipped the triangle’ in that particular department.
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