When Brendan Rodgers came to Liverpool, he was given a task of managing a squad with young players and had a bucket load of problems to sort out. The 2013-2014 season ushered in what seemed like a new era of Liverpudlian philosophy much similar to what the great Bill Shankly introduced to the Merseysiders.
However, Luis Suarez’s departure meant that Liverpool needed to find a source among their ranks who would get them 30 goals and double-digit assists. Another vista that Rodgers needed to tend to was that since it wasn’t possible to replace the Uruguayan, he needed a defence which, unlike earlier seasons reduce the number of goals conceded and buy them some elbow space to wiggle free of another minuscule space of transition. The resultant season showed that Liverpool failed on both the fronts miserably.
Now Rodgers is stuck in a space which will test his mantle as a coach and his answer to the critics who have been critical of his managerial skills and ideas to come up with a plan B in the odd difficult game.
This summer has been one where Liverpool have been quite active in the market for English talent. Rodgers has done well when it has come to fitting in midfielders in his ranks. Emre Can seems to have a bright future at Anfield, Philippe Coutinho has got Liverpool out of innumerable situations last season as also the goals against his statistically favorite opponents Manchester City, Adam Lallana seems to be getting the hang of playing in a top club. A closer look at the current activity shows how Liverpool may be on the path of recovery.
One of the biggest woes of last season was the disconnection between the center backs and full backs in Rodgers’ team. Nathaniel Clyne is a defensively strong full-back who plays with a lot of gusto and spirit with loads of power in his shots, like a John Arne Riise, who was also known for his bullet long rangers.
James Milner’s introduction means that Liverpool bring in a lot of versatility in their line-up with the former City man being capable of filling in at full back or across the midfield or even up front with the forwards if needed.
Danny Ings’ signing from Burnley leads to an all-English affair through the forward line, assuming Daniel Sturridge recovers quickly from his injury woes. If form is anything to go by, Roberto Firmino could be the golden signing.
He adds that little bit of flair and the X-factor that sometimes seemed to be lacking in games where teams came up and set up shop in their own half, especially at Anfield and Liverpool couldn’t find a way past them.
At the back the low key signing of the Hungarian shot stopper Adam Bogdan means that the goal posts at Anfield are up for grabs for the better performer, something that tends to get the best out of goalkeepers.
Overall the Liverpool lineup could turn out to be one of the most well-balanced lineups with a lot of potential. Ings is someone who loves to drop into those pockets of spaces between the opposition midfield and defence, and in the process confuses the center backs whether to stay or push up, something like what Michael Owen used to do a great deal in his time at Liverpool. At the same time, the return of Divock Origi seems to be on the horizon.
The presence of Ings, Sturridge, Origi, Mario Balotteli and Rickie Lambert means that the Reds could turn out to pickup a lot of goals from their forwards and the midfielders like Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, Milner and Jordan Henderson chipping in with a few.
Henderson seems to be captain material, and to be improving and picking up from where Steven Gerrard left, it is impossible to do what Mr Liverpool did here, but the former Sunderland man is well capable of putting himself down in Merseyside lore if he continues to put a shift in.
The biggest weakness for Rodgers’ is the fact that his back four was one of the weakest over the span of the last two calendar years. Dejan Lovren is nowhere near to what performances he was giving at Southampton.
The full-backs seem disconnected from the center backs. The absence of Lucas Leiva meant that there wasn’t a play breaker to stop the opposition number 10s from getting behind the defence.
As Gary Neville amazingly analysed Simon Mignolet’s performance on Monday Night Football, there are a few major faults in his game, which if corrected could result in his reaching the top. The woes aren’t just restricted to the back.
Liverpool just weren’t able to match up the number of goals the top four contenders were getting on a consistent basis, which puts up the problem, whether the new additions will be able to fit in perfectly in the system that Rodgers plays with.
Over the span of the last three years, the Premier League’s dominant forces have understood how lower oppositions have blown the living daylight out of champions and no weekend can be taken for granted. What was immensely visible was that Liverpool have far too many technical players in their team. Therefore, they have not been comfortable in breaking down teams who were more than willing to spend the 90 minutes in a dirty way.
One of the major concerns for Ian Ayre and the board would be the fact that for as long as Rodgers has been at the club, be it midway through a rough season or midway through a match, he has never been able to find a plan B. He has limited options tactically.
He is very stubborn with a rigid style of play and he can well be outfoxed by the likes of Sam Allardyce, Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis, who are known to be party spoilers let alone the top four managers.
This season could well be the time when The Kopites turn out to be the dark horse. With Manchester United filling their voids quite well and Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City having good world class depth in their lineup, Liverpool could be on their way to become a team challenging for the top four spot.
The good thing about this lineup is the fact that it is very young, quite similar to what they had when they challenged for the title. The fact that the squad could be almost a Brit dominated starting lineup helps the fact that the team ethic, climate, language and the connection should not be difficult to establish.
Tis season is also an opportunity for Rodgers and Sean O’Driscoll to prove to the world that they are a force to be reckoned with especially when it comes to making shrewd tactical decisions.
This forward line has potential to thwart a lot of defences if they can click from early on. If all goes to plan the Sturridge, Origi and Ings could form a lethal trio with pace from the wings and the young Belgian international adding the much-required physical dimension to the team. The midfield seems to be a flurry of talent attacking wise.
Liverpool will have to learn to deal with the void left by their talismanic captain Steven Gerrard
The midfield being strong attacking wise also exposes the fact that Liverpool does not have a Nemanja Matic or a Morgan Schneiderlin who can be terrible to play against and put out fluent attacks. Henderson and Lucas must take up the mantle of combining well to reduce the number of goals conceded or things could go terribly downwards for the Reds.
The biggest concern could be how to manage Emre Can. He is a fabulous talent, no doubt about that, but if Rodgers does not make intelligent positional decisions regarding him, they could be wasting a world class game changer.
Another big threat is the fact that almost all the players in this squad as also the signings have a history of being injury prone players. Rodgers has gambled on the fact that his signings provide him the depth in the squad which would suffice him to make every player to challenge every position in the squad. However, all of this would be put to waste if former Swansea boss does not improve on the horrific performance of his back line.
All this is speculation, Rodgers planning and implementation has not always gone hand in hand. Hopefully, for the Liverpool fans, the club will be able to move on from the glorious chapter in their lives called Steven Gerrard and find new ways of getting themselves etched in the history books in Britain.