Liverpool News: Will Brendan Rodgers adapt LFC style to get the most out of Gerrard
By Kevin Morley.
Steven Gerrard has had a tough couple of weeks. First he has to listen to Sven Goran Eriksson telling him he will never win the Premier League with Liverpool, this was followed up by two performances for England, both unjustifiably described as subdued by the media and then rounded off by his first international sending off. Knowing Gerrard as we do, you would expect he is desperate to get back in a Liverpool shirt and throw himself into the blood and thunder of a Premier League clash.
Perhaps though, blood and thunder is no longer the way to get the most out of the greatest player to wear a Liverpool shirt for twenty years. Gerrard excelled like no other before him when it came to winning the ball, switching the play, driving at the opposition and pulling his team forward. This was never more evident than when he single handedly won the FA Cup in 2006. That was over six years ago now, football has changed in that time and today we ask whether Brendan Rodgers has a new role in mind for the Liverpool Legend.
In the era when Liverpool dominated the English, and European, game football was arguably a much simpler affair. The continental approach to tactical awareness, stifling the opposition, counter attacking and extensive use of man to man marking had yet to dominate the minds of managers in this country. Liverpool had one way of approaching the game and, whether the goals came in the 1st or 91st minutes, their approach was highly effective.
As Bill Shankly used to say, football back then was 'beautifully simple'. "You pass it to me, I pass it to him, he passes it on." Liverpool also played not only with simplicity, but with patience, playing the ball backwards and forwards and making over 50 passes before attacking and risking losing that which was considered most precious - the football.
Fast forward forty years and the game in this country has changed dramatically - and not necessarily for the better. The speed, and intensity, of football today means it is almost un-recognisable. Teams and management philosophies have shifted too. Opponents are now much more organised, more difficult to break down, and much more willing to settle for a draw, or a lucky 1-0 win, than their predecessors.
Despite this Brendan Rodgers is seeking a return to our values but with a modern twist. Players are being encouraged to keep the ball, to pass it and pass it again, and to be patient in their build up and when in front of goal. They are also being encouraged to do this with an intensity that was not seen in our teams forty years ago, with aggression a key element to achieving this style of play in the modern game.
As opposition managers concentrate more on stopping your play than on creating their own opportunities to win the game, this new style is taking time to adopt at LFC. It will also take time to prove successful, and will require patience from the players as they struggle with its introduction. When you buy a new car, it takes time to adjust your driving style in order to get the best out of it, as will be the case with Liverpool's new playing style.
There have been early flashes of a breakthrough but some of the statistics are a little worrying. Last season Liverpool hit the woodwork more times than any other side. By comparison, so far this season the Reds have had less shots on goal than any other Premier League side. While we all understand the need for patience, football remains a results business and, as with any change process, results and performances need to be maintained while still adapting to the new methods.
Rodgers will not have any additions to the squad between now and January and will need to manage this evolution with his current playing staff. While the Liverpool boss insists he does not believe in a plan B but prefers instead to improve plan A, achieving the results needed may require a plan B. The 'easy' option would have been to draft Andy Carroll into the side but, even if he was still at Anfield, this would seem to be against Rodgers' approach. In Shankly's day, he encouraged the players to figure out how to make it work during a game, Rodgers may just feel the same.
One other option that does seem to fit would be a shift to a 3-4-3 formation, pushing Glen Johnson into midfield, swapping Enrique for Coates, and providing increased options for the centre backs when moving the ball forward. This formation would also see Gerrard playing in a more advanced role slightly behind Suarez and Borini, with Sahin, Allen and Sterling filling the midfield roles alongside Johnson.
This set up provides solutions to a number of problems that have so far blighted Liverpool performances. The centre backs are closer together, meaning that playing opponents offside becomes more effective and easier to achieve. They have four players instead of three in front of them, offering more outlets for the ball from the back. Gerrard has a free role, as the 'invisible forward', and is much closer to Suarez, allowing him to load the bullets more effectively for El Pistolero. Sterling and Johnson are able to provide greater support going forward and will have more options with Gerrard, and the advancing Sahin, offering an outlet.
Variation in modern football is vital. As good as they are, even Barcelona must yearn for a plan B when they can not break teams down. If nothing else, this plan B, achieved with a squad that offers limited opportunity for a more radical approach, may just surprise opponents expecting the formation and build up play we have witnessed in the opening games. After all, surprise, as they say, is often half the battle.