Cutting from the same cloth - thoughts about the future

Posted by Aristotle on October 28, 2012, 01:09:56 AM

I've been struggling to put it into words but for the lack of a more articulate alternative; I bloody love this new Liverpool team. For the first time in far too long the team is playing with a real purpose and a plan that is being followed from top to bottom. Mr Dilkington wrote a post on similar lines not too long ago and it got me thinking. In the supposed football of tomorrow youth development, transfer regulations and living within your own means is the name of the game. Liverpool's hierarchy is banking on this to become a reality but where does the club really stand if this in does come to fruition?

We have seen the club simultaneously reduced to asset stripping in the form of selling Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres for high sums of money and then in complete contradiction seen the club bring in not only amongst the top English talent out there but also world class talent nurturers from Spain to help them along. As far too many established internationals left the scene we saw Jerome Sinclair, Jack Robinson, Raheem Sterling, John Flanagan, Suso, Jonjo Shelvey all making their Liverpool debuts breaking into the club's top 20 youngest debutants. Sinclair and Robinson as youngest debutants in the club's history and Sterling 2nd youngest goal scorer in history. In and of itself a remarkable milestone considering the club's rich and long history.

The future is undoubtedly bright but the sitution of today is a little bit more in doubt. I have full faith in Brendan Rodgers but he is someone who fully believes in a system. A characteristic I admire greatly but one I am very sceptical about as I get the feeling that Rodgers' system, despite aiming for the opposite is too reliant on individuals. He has, much like Kenny Dalglish, suffered from the terrible headache of missing Lucas Leiva in midfield. Instead, and this is both a superb compliment to his quality and a damnation of the system, Joe Allen has immidiately become all but indispensable. When I watch us play it's with great joy. Even when we fail something it's as if we are failing for the right reasons. Much was made of Downing's square pass into the box, it was risky and cleared and that was it really. But when you think about it, a telling sign of just how far along the team has gotten in such a short time. If you look at it abstractly. The sheer audacity of a right winger, playing at left back, squaring the ball into the box before the feet of the reserve keeper with Samuel Eto'o within spitting distance, just to stay true to the philosophy of the club is incredible. There will be mistakes undoubtedly, Skrtel's howler vs. City when he should've bolted it into the stands is one, yet on the other hand moving the ball with 5-6 touches from our own penalty box to the opposition's has happened more often than I can recall this season. It hasn't always paid off, but when it does you know it'll be something special.

And thus we get to my original thesis. Are we actually equipped to make this happen? I have this bad feeling that Rodgers' system is a bit too close to Walter Mazzarri's one at Napoli. Again I have nothing but the utmost respect for Rodgers. He has found a footballing philosophy he believes in, he wants to implement it and has done little to suggest that it's impossible. But there's still that gnawing feeling. That voice at the back of my head that suggests it's all a bit too reliant on everything staying the same, hence the comparison to Mazzarri's Napoli. On their day Napoli are one of the greatest team in football to watch. They are so organized, cohesive and well drilled that it's a thing of beauty to behold. Napoli's starting XI are a group of individually talented players and mid-table avarageness turned into title contenders by incredible organization last season they showed their potential by being extra-time away from making it to the CL quarter-finals. Only faltering once someone went missing. Their line up of De Sanctis-Aronica-Campagnaro-Cannavaro-Maggio-Zunica-Inler-Gargano-Hamsik-Lavezzi-Cavani provided Serie A viewers with some memorable games. Pummeling Inter in home and away. Cavani's hat-trick sinking Milan at the San Paolo. Dominating Juve before Conte's Any Given Sunday-esque team talk inspired the Old Lady to a 3-3 draw. In the CL they took on and won City, gave eventual finalists Bayern a run for their money over both legs before being eliminated by Chelsea. They beat Chelsea 3-1 in the first leg quite convincingly. They were doing fine in the second leg, holding their shape until Maggio went off. This one loss of a key element in their game, forcing a switch meant they surrendered all their advantages and were pummeled by Chelsea who went on to win 4-1 in extra time.

And this is my biggest concern for Rodgers' system. I only take Napoli as an example because to me they are the obvious to go to when comparing an almost totalitarian belief in the system. The system is set up and perfected with the starting XI in mind and it seems as though there are no spare parts. Rodgers has been very hesitant to make changes during our games. It seems as though certain players have a part to play and they are kept on regardless of circumstance because no one else is trusted and/or capable of playing the same role. The Reading game is a prime example where we gave the advantage away, coping with it by making 3 substitutes when it seems that a like-for-like substitution would've enabled us to keep the same tempo going. When Gerrard starts a game he ends it. Same with Suarez and Allen. No matter how they are playing, if they are tired or one sneeze away from picking up a second yellow.

Our lack of depth is a worry already, but it seems we're making it too hard on ourselves. Sterling is already become a starter as has Suso and although fantastic and promising is also a concern. In this 4-3-3 system we are trying to play the requirement for Rodgers seems to be that the widemen are versitile, quick and can beat their man. Suso and Sterling fit that description perfectly but are they ready to shoulder so much responsibility at such a young age. Without meaning to repeat myself, is the team frankly strong enough to cope with that and where do you draw the line between giving youngsters an opportunity to impress and when are they getting game time as a last result?

Without the riches available to many a club out there where does strength in depth come from? And secondly, and just to add more pressure on these young players, can Liverpool "pull a Barca"? Barcelona have of course done this superbly, better than any team out there. In the 2007/2008 season they had Yaya Toure anchoring midfield. The next season they bought Seydou Keita yet to virtually everyone's surprise unknown entity Sergio Busquets came in from the B squad and went on to play 46 matches in his debut season. Pedro Rodriguez was a player not many people had faith in initially. Making his debut at 20 people thought he couldn't be that good, since he hadn't broken through already. In his first season he only managed 14 games as Barca won the treble. Next season this relative unknown went on to play over 50 games and became the first player in history to score in 6 different competitions in one season. Similarly Thiago Alcantara came from seemingly nowhere to amass an incredible 60 games before the age of 21.

As Rodgers' philosophy starts setting roots at the club will we have the courage to trust the players we make? How realistic is the aim of having at least 5 of the starting XI homegrown players whilst challenging for trophies?

It's all very exciting, in fact I don't remember being as excited for anything so hypothetical in my time of watching football. We're already showing so much potential and I for one can't wait to watch it progress before my eyes. So strap yourselves in, I think we're in for one hell of a ride.

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