From "The Liverpool Way" - Brendan Rodgers - It's All About The Style

Posted by Sarah Deane on September 10, 2012, 01:33:10 PM

From Dave Usher, editor at The Liverpool Way, from his own questions asked of the manager during forums meeting last week.


Brendan Rodgers has spoken of his intention to impose a philosophy and style of play throughout all levels of the club that he hopes will remain in place for years to come, but warned that at youth and under 21 level it will be a gradual process that will take time to implement.  Whilst at senior level Rodgers has wasted no time installing the 4-3-3 system that worked so well for him at Swansea, the u21 and u18 sides have not yet begun to mirror the changes that have been brought in at first team level and still line up in the 4-2-3-1 system they've used in recent years.

In a Liverpool Way exclusive, Rodgers says that will change over time, but for now the system is less important than the style and is dictated by the players at his disposal.  "I've brought in a philosophy that will run through the club at all levels but the principles of your game is based on your players" he explained. "In the short term with the first team we've seen elements of it in a couple of the games; West Brom in the first half we saw the fluidity and command of the game I'm looking for, and against Manchester City I thought tactically we were good but needed to have more a threat.  The fluency and that way of working will not come fully until later because it's about the profile of the players."

Rodgers is well known to favour the 4-3-3 system, but Reds fans should expect to see other formations deployed over the months ahead, as the Northern Irishman insists the demands of playing that formation week in week out with the small group of players he has been left with following a disappointing last week of the transfer window are too great. He spoke of the need to"find solutions to help his players", especially 17 year old Raheem Sterling who Rodgers spoke of in glowing terms but warned "won't be able to play Thursday, Sunday, Thursday" in a 4-3-3 due to the physical toll it would take on the youngster.  He also warned that with a minimum of 25 games between now and the January transfer window, "if we play 4-3-3 in every game, we'll be dead".  Put simply, he doesn't have the squad depth to rotate players in and out to keep his key men fresh so expect to see some variation from his favoured formation in the months ahead, be it 3-4-3, 3-5-2 or the 4-2-3-1 that has been used at Academy and Reserve level since Rodolfo Borrell and the now departed Pep Segura arrived at the Reds' Academy in 2009. 

The younger players are all comfortable with that system and it has made the transition through the various age groups much smoother for them than if they were having to adapt to a new way of playing each time they moved up an age group.  They move from the u16s to the u18s and they're playing the same system.  They graduate from the u18s to the reserves/u21 set up and again, it's the same system.  The problem is that the senior side have generally not played that way since the departure of Rafa Benitez and they aren't playing that system under the new boss.

However, it's not drastically different to Rodgers' favoured 4-3-3 formation and the manager revealed that occasionally Swansea's line up would switch between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 during the course of games last season.  He explained that the main difference between the two systems is in the midfield, and "whether you play one controlling midfielder or two".  Presently the teams below the senior set up generally use two (Yalany Baio and Jordan Lussey for the u18s, and Conor Coady and Craig Roddan for the u21s), but that's something that may change over time and also as different personnel are introduced to the groups who are more suited to the 4-3-3 system.

For now though, Rodgers is unconcerned with what formation the junior sides line up with, insisting the main priority at this stage is instilling the basic requirements of how he likes sides to play, ie keeping the ball at all costs and incessantly pressing the opposition to win back possession. 

"It's not about the formation it's about the philosophy" he stressed. "It's the style that's important whether it's 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3. Rodolfo and the guys who work at the Academy have been operating for the last few years with a 4-2-3-1.  For me the modern game is very much about the command of the midfield, having three midfield players so you can dominate games.  That is the fundamental basis of our teams going forward."

"They were already on their way to doing that at the Academy and the principles will be the same - control, domination, tire teams out, keep them running, keep them chasing until the space opens up and then you have better opportunities to score, rather than the helter skelter, basketball game where you attack one end and then the other team attacks your end.  That will come over time."

Any tactical discussion involving Rodgers always comes back to one thing -  the midfield.  It's clear from numerous interviews he's done that the key to making his style of football work is having the right players in the middle of the park.  It's why he spent £15m on Joe Allen (whom he says is currently playing out of position and will offer "50% more" when he reverts to his more natural role) despite the more pressing need for players further forward.  It's why Nuri Sahin was brought in on loan from Real Madrid.  The ability to keep the ball and demand possession even in tight spaces is critical to any Brendan Rodgers team; "Whether we played one and two, or two and one, they have to control the game because you've got three midfield players and if they don't keep the ball it kills your team because the full backs are high.  If you watch Swansea now for example, you see the left is right up attacking on one side, the right back is up on the other side and you have all the midfield players and forwards co-ordinated to try and attack." 

Personnel is also a factor, and the boss and his coaching staff clearly feel that for the younger sides right now the best thing for them is to not change too much too soon and ask players to fill roles they aren't necessarily suited to.  Learning a new style is the first step, the change in formation will come later.  Rodgers explained;  "You can go to play 4-3-3 but you have to have the players.  For example last year at Swansea I had the profile of the players to work that way.  I had wingers that were quick and could come inside and be a threat on goal.  I had strikers that could build the game and be patient, but who could also threaten on the shoulder.  But the critical ingredient is your three midfield players."

"That leaves the two centre halves and one controlling midfield player. You can do that when you have players that are comfortable with the ball and that's something that we're looking to grow, but the style is the most important element of it. Liverpool has always been about winning, but it's also about the style.  Over time we'll look to put that in place at all levels."


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