Grinding win shows Rodgers what he has in reserve

Posted by guest on August 24, 2012, 02:37:56 PM

In front of the travelling Liverpool supporters at Tynecastle hung a banner that stood out from the rest: “Against Modern Football” it proclaimed, red letters on a white sheet, the e replaced by the pound sterling sign. The 1,200 away allocation paid either £30 or £40 for the privilege of watching a skeleton Liverpool side toil to a 1-0 victory against Hearts; a sizeable number of that 1,200 embarked on a 10-hour round trip to Edinburgh to watch a glorified pre-season friendly.  They had a point. They always do.

But this is the world they have been dragged in to. Money talks – just ask Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour. It may not seem much in footballing terms, but Liverpool’s starting 11 cost just shy of £50m – and that includes Robinson, Kelly, Spearing, Shelvey and Sterling, all of whom either grew up at the club’s Kirkby academy or were plucked from other clubs for nominal fees. After a wearisome 90 minutes, it became clear Brendan Rodgers could do with another £50m to spend on his squad, and then some, if Liverpool have serious aspirations of battling on all fronts this season.

Liverpool is both a squad and club in transition. On the field, Brendan Rodgers begins the revolution; a gradual transformation that will see his Liverpool side adhere to his four Ps: pressure, possession, patience and penetration. Off the field, Fenway Sports Group strive to make the club more self-sufficient. Gone are the days players like Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani are offered weekly wages in the six-figure region; the owners now want the club to box clever, bobbing and weaving from high outlay with little reward. Last summer dealt them a firm blow to the solar plexus; it’s left for Rodgers to drag the squad off the canvas.

But the transformation of the club, both on and off the field, must contain equilibrium.  This summer saw Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy, Maxi Rodriguez and Alberto Aquilani leave; four players who can bring Rodgers’ Ps to the field. Kuyt presses and Aquilani retains possession; Maxi is patient and Bellamy can penetrate. More pertinently, the four were able squad players; of the three who have replaced them – Allen, Borini and Assaidi – only one appears to be set for a regular place on the substitutes’ bench.

The first team has undoubtedly improved, but it’s debatable whether the squad has – especially with Rodgers’ design in mind. If Hearts was supposed to be a vision of Rodgers’ Liverpool, supporters will hope it was altered by some hallucinogenics. Players such as Jamie Carragher, Jay Spearing and Charlie Adam struggled to adapt. No one said the results would be instantaneous, but the signs are ominous.

Carragher has never been comfortable with the ball at his feet and, as the two full backs pushed up and Jay Spearing dropped deep, he entered a state of frenzy, opting to hoof up field to Fabio Borini or kick into touch. He is no Gerard Pique and never will be, but after 703 appearances and a 15-year career, the question is whether he can adapt to the new style of play. Indeed, questions must be asked whether, with just a year remaining on his contract, whether it is worth persevering with at all. Questions, too, must be asked of the central midfield pairing of Spearing and Adam. When Spearing did receive the ball, his distribution was poor; when Adam attempted to defend, the Hearts midfield bypassed him far too easily. In Rodgers’ system, the midfield is the aorta; everything flows through them, everything depends on them. Poor performances from both led to a frustrating, disjointed 90 minutes which saw them habitually relinquish possession to Hearts.

It was not necessarily a bad performance from Liverpool however, particularly from some of the aforementioned youngsters. Raheem Sterling, in his first competitive start for the club, had the Liverpool supporters awash with optimism every time he received the ball; soon he’ll have the entire country feeling similar. Sterling possesses the rare trident of pace, technique and intelligence, something both Liverpool and English football in general lacks. He repeatedly found himself in space on the left hand side and, with lightning quick feet and thought, drifted inside on his right, causing panic in the Hearts defence. You knew what he was going to do but it mattered not. Even doubling up on him failed to quieten the 17-year-old. He was supplemented nicely by the intelligence of Robinson and Kelly in the full back positions, the running of Henderson and the eventual calming influence of Joe Allen.

Rodgers will also be impressed by the mentality shown by his squad. Hearts were loud and intense on the pitch and in the stands, but Liverpool refused to falter. They controlled the second half far better than the first, taking the sting out of the game and quietening the raucous Tynecastle roar. That is a trait that has been all-too-absent from Liverpool over the past few years. But Rodgers will know mentality is something that can be improved; the skill sets of certain squad members, however, cannot.

Rodgers’ style of play is dependent on his players having intelligence, fitness and a masterful technique, something his best eleven possess in abundance. After that, the squad is lacking bar youthful input from the likes of Robinson, Henderson and Sterling. A run to the Europa League final would add an extra 19 games to Liverpool’s season; alongside potential League Cup and FA Cup fixtures, it could prove a long season for Rodgers’ men. As relentless and eye-pleasing as Rodgers’ system is, it is akin to a house of cards; remove one or two of the 11 cards, see a few cogs malfunction, and the result is nowhere near as impressive. A scrappy 1-0 victory at Hearts will have taught Rodgers more than any 3-0 procession against FC Gomel. His squad needs reinforcements; reinforcements that can play the way he wants them to. It’s up to FSG to back him over the next few windows to ensure that happens; not with silly amounts of money, of course, but simply support of his judgement.

As much as Liverpool supporters may abhor the thought, embracing modern football may be the only way to restore the club back on its previous plinth in European football. It might even be needed to see them through to the latter stages of cup competitions this season. It’s just a pity you can’t fit that message on a banner for FSG to see.


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