RAWK Q&A - Rodgers, Leadership & Tactics

Posted by Titi Camara on October 1, 2015, 03:01:34 PM

A decent discussion broke out on the writers boards, with some very good analysis and considered replies. Thought RAWK might appreciate some of the insights.

Prof managed to kick things off with a question which prompted two replies from Jerseykopite and Gnurglan....

So there are loads of doubts about Rodgers as manager.  Is it a case of when rather than if he is replaced?  Or is there still chance he can find himself as a Liverpool manager?

What does he need to do to win you over for an extended stay?
Difficult to know whether results or performance are key right now. I thought our performance against Norwich was a big improvement but without 3 points people were still frustrated at the end and this was compounded by the Carlisle game.

Not sure anyone's mind has been made up at FSG but feel he will be under real scrutiny at the moment. He needs to pick up points and get the team clicking. Klopp's availability is putting him under extra pressure, our potential new manager options might not be as good at the end of the year. He's been backed, I doubt he'll be out before Christmas frankly. Gives him enough time to prove that he can turn things around but not too much time that there'll be nothing to salvage for a new man coming in if it doesn't get better.

I like Brendan, but things just seem a bit stale right now. We have the players to kick on and win games, undoubtedly, but if they're not utilised properly from a tactical perspective, or motivated from a personal/coaching perspective, we're on a hiding to nothing.
The only thing that can save him is results. That's how it feels now, but it's true. Long term, that's how it works. And this is his fourth season. We're already on the long term in this business. It's time to show results. If we can do that, then last season will be forgotten. The chance that he'll make it work is small, but I think the possibility is there. The next few weeks will determine everything for him.

How can he get results? He needs to choose. Go with 3-4-3 and take it from there. I have issues with the formation, but right now, it's the best we have. Clyne is the only player that I don't think would be at his best. That's a sacrifice we need to make.

Another choice I think he has to make, is who to trust. I've been impressed with Rodgers ability to get many games out of players in the past. He found a way to play Gerrard a lot. So let's go with that. Less rotation. 

Mignolet, Sakho, Skrtel, Moreno, Clyne, Lucas, Henderson, Milner, Coutinho, Sturridge.

Ten players that we should play as often as possible. Throw in Can, Benteke and Ings. Those are the ones to do it for us. Firmino and Lallana need to be in there too, for the price tags. 15 players. They're the core and they're the ones we'll depend on. It's nice to think that we can play Gomez, Lovren, Toure, Allen, Ibe and Origi as well, but really, we need to limit that. Our season will depend on those 15, so let them decide. The message that would send, is important.
Hinesy then took the debate on to the pitch...

For me we are still missing intelligent experience in the middle of the pitch, for some reason Milner isn't yet providing it and there's no one else who does. Lucas would be an obvious choice, but I really do think the Gerrard factor is playing a part. Players weren't expected or encouraged to provide leadership whilst he was here, he was the boss end of. Now he's gone, there's a vacuum yet to be filled, and suddenly everyone is on a level and all or none are trying to be the boss at the same time. It'll settle and it'll get better but that's a major flaw right now.
Which prompted the following exchange between Lankyguy007 and Redmark

I think Rodgers' apparent distaste for 'specialists' has impacted our ability in midfield. I actually started writing a piece in the summer about this but never finished it. When he came in, he was really focused on having players throughout the team but especially in midfield who were technically good, comfortable with the ball at their feet and who worked hard, were mobile and intelligent. These were really important factors for him - he didn't want players who were technically good but didn't cover ground (hence his dislike for Balotelli) and he didn't want players who weren't technically good. I think that stopped him trying to compartmentalise our midfield, in the way someone like Rafa did.

That in itself is not a problem - stringently 'specialising' your midfield (e.g. compartmentalising it into one player who 'destroys' play, one player who dictates play, one player who goes box-to-box etc), can be harmful, especially once one of the pieces is removed (see what happened when Rafa lost Alonso). Unfortunately when you don't have the right quality of player in midfield, this lack of compartmentalising can lead to your team lacking focus or identity, especially in midfield. I don't think it's a coincidence that our best run last season came when we moved to a compartmentalised approach; it was interesting that when we switched to 3-4-2-1, we suddenly had very clearly defined roles - Mignolet wasn't as responsible for helping to build play and so could concentrate on his strengths, Skrtel had a clear job to sweep up everything behind, Can and Sakho were our two ball-playing centre backs, Lucas was the DM, Henderson went box-to-box, Coutinho and Lallana were our two no.10s getting in the spaces between the lines. There were clearer responsibilities and clearer individual roles.

Right now we don't have clear enough roles in midfield imo. Lucas is the DM but he really struggles when he has to cover too much space, Milner has been operating sort of as a shuttler with responsibility to help control the game from midfield (which he can't do at all), Can has been moved around a lot and hasn't settled into a clear role, Coutinho has started the season playing too high up the pitch and seemed to be tasked with just taking shots from the edge of the area. Without Henderson, who, despite his weaknesses, really helps connect the team together with his running, pressing and quick combinations, the midfield looks very uninspiring.

Against Villa, I thought the balance was better - Lucas was more protected and doesn't have to cover as much space in with three CBs behind him, Coutinho dropped deeper where he looks more comfortable and doesn't have to be as direct, Can pushed into midfield when we had the ball and Milner, instead of having to help control the game and also act as a second DM, was able to concentrate more on his, in my opinion, correct role of being a support player in attack.

I think the key for Rodgers in terms of our midfield is making it a lot more clearly defined. Villa was a small step against a really poor side who gave us a lot of space - he has to do some work on this, especially for the Everton game otherwise he'll be very quickly out of a job.
Lucas was outstanding on Saturday; I'll admit, close to a level I didn't think he was going to get back to. There was a lovely moment where he saw the CBs getting stuck in one of those retreating-square-passes-under-pressure moments, glanced out to the right flank, asked for the ball (with a man on his own back) and calmly flicked out to Clyne - pressure removed in an instant, with three or four Villa players sucked forward and space for Clyne to move into.

I still have some issues with this back four diamond shape, though. As being discussed in the post match thread about Skrtel's positioning on the first Villa goal, is it really adding to our defensive solidity? Is it doing so enough to warrant the loss of a Lallana/Firmino higher up the pitch? Mostly though, there's just something strange about one position - Skrtel's - being almost entirely redundant while we're in possession. Not that a CB has to be marauding forward a la Agger, but he's not even essential for knocking the ball across the back, if Lucas is sat there. On the positive side, it does seem (again, is it an issue that it appears almost to happen by accident?) to have found a better role for Milner. And I take your point on reducing the area Lucas has to cover, aiding his effectiveness in the reduced area he has to operate.

Could we protect Lucas from the opposite direction?

So, instead of:

Coutinho                  Milner

Lucas
Sakho                               Can
Skrtel

Perhaps...

Coutinho     Milner     Lallana*

Lucas

Sakho                NotSkrtel

*Or Firmino.

On a real counter - which sides rarely actually concede goals from - he'd have a bit more ground to cover, dropping into the CB area proper, if either of the CBs are pulled out to the flank to challenge. But he shouldn't need to defend 'in front' of himself so much, with Milner's energy ahead of him.

We've seen the shape contribute to some slow improvement over the last few games, but the naysayers have something of a point still in arguing that it was after all, only Villa. It still feels like we need to get another creative outlet onto the pitch, to develop the quick passing and movement between the lines.

One question immediately would be the RCB in a two; certainly it couldn't be Can (but that calls into question using him there in a three; as for the first goal, if his defensive instincts aren't right, they aren't right regardless of whether he's in a two or a three). I'd still like to see a Lovren-Sakho partnership at some point, brainfarts aside. Gomez?
I take your point in some sense - I mean I personally would like to see (if we did continue with a back three) Can move into the middle and operate sort of as a libero (maybe not moving into midfield quite as much) and then Gomez slot in at RCB.

The problem if you take the middle CB away from that position is that you end up with Mignolet at the base of the diamond. Part of why the back three worked last season (I think PoP alluded to this at some point actually) is that the setup meant that Mignolet didn't have to help as much in initiating play.

So with two CBs, the setup was like this:

                      CM
CB                                        CB
                 Mignolet       

What that meant was that as soon as one of the CBs has to go back with the ball, it immediately ends up at the feet of Mignolet (something you don't particularly want to happen).

With a back three, you have someone, usually Skrtel, who plays at the pivot point of that particular diamond:

                      CM
CB                                         CB
                       CB
                Mignolet

That means Mignolet no longer has to play as big a part in the build up and so his distribution becomes less of an issue.

Of course, against sides who don't really press, you're always going to have players who are effectively redundant in possession. The temptation naturally is to remove them and push another one further forward. That sometimes is a good idea. But it doesn't follow necessarily that it is a good idea. If we take the middle CB away then you open up more space for the two CBs to cover, you make it more likely that Mignolet will have to take part in your build up play, you open up the space for Lucas to have to cover, your FBs aren't willing to go as high up the pitch, certainly at the same time, players in midfield end up dropping deeper to get the ball etc. It's not that it's a bad idea but you have to go through the team systematically and find the right balance to it. I don't think three at the back is at all a necessity but I do think it's something that works for us.
On your last point, I'm fully in favour of dropping Skrtel at the moment and playing Gomez - people might point to the experience factor but I don't really think experience is particularly helping Skrtel at the moment and while Gomez would make mistakes, I can't see he'd be any worse than Skrtel is, plus he'd obviously improve our build up play as well, whilst getting game time in his preferred position.

Could we protect Lucas from the opposite direction?

Depends who we're facing. Are you thinking of an out and out diamond shape there with Coutinho and Lallana/Firmino as shuttlers and Milner at the tip or are you suggesting Lucas and clear line of three in front?

The problem with the latter is (apart from the attacking issues, like probably reducing Coutinho's freedom, playing Firmino/Lallana out of position, Milner playing centrally, which I don't think works) is that you're making the team very reliant on immediately winning the ball high up the pitch. That midfield could not defend in a mid or low block and in a high block, as soon as any team finds space wide or plays through that, Lucas ends up very exposed (and I don't think having Milner ahead would help at all) - you'd still end up with Lucas having to drop in between the two CBs, whilst having to control a potentially huge amount of space between the lines and even on the flanks, given Coutinho and Lallana/Firmino positioning. The other thing is as soon as an opponent isolates Lucas on the ball in that setup, the whole thing falls to pieces (unless Coutinho and Lallana/Firmino are playing as shuttlers in a diamond shape).

Hopefully they and others can pick up the conversation from there....

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