Breaking Down Brendan Rodgers' Tactical Changes at Liverpool

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02:  Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Sunderland at Anfield on January 2, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

When Brendan Rodgers swapped Swansea City for Liverpool in the summer, the intrigue that followed him was arguably as big as the move itself.

The prospect of seeing this bright, young British manager bring his bright, young decidedly un-British ideas to one of the most storied clubs in the land was always going to be a fascinating one to watch, and Reds supporters wasted no time in backing the boss and looking forward to watching the way that he promised his team would play.

The Rodgers style is hardly revolutionary and nor is it the Northern Irishman’s own creation, but after a few years that had seen Liverpool really struggle to carve out an identity, it was sure to be welcomed by fans who crave a return to the top of the English and European game―but also want to watch good football along the way.

This isn’t a criticism of Rodgers’ predecessor, Kenny Dalglish, but all too often in his second spell in charge the Scot’s teams would seemingly be searching for a way to play. They were often caught between two stools.

So often the way that the Reds would play would depend on the presence of one man in their team: Andy Carroll.

With the big forward in the middle, wingers such as Stewart Downing would be encouraged to stay out wide and rain in crosses from deep in the hope that the £35 million man would deliver. When Carroll wasn’t playing, the likes of Downing would look to get as close to the byline as possible and seek to link up with his teammates on the floor.

It often created situations where the Reds would seek to adopt both strategies in a game regardless of Carroll’s presence or not, and it sometimes left players looking a little confused and frustrated when moves broke down. Rodgers immediately sought to change that.

By pretty much refusing to consider that Carroll had any sort of Liverpool future, Rodgers established that the two wide players in his 4-3-3 formation would effectively have to become forwards, swapping passes and getting into the box at every opportunity, even switching roles with Luis Suarez when the team’s star man would decide that his talents were better suited to him drifting wide for a brief spell.

The signing of Daniel Sturridge is a significant leap forward in this regard for Liverpool and Rodgers, especially following the injury to summer signing Fabio Borini and the fact that Downing and youngsters Suso and Raheem Sterling don’t provide the same goal threat from those wide positions that a recognised forward would does―although Sterling’s goal against Sunderland shows that he is providing glimpses of just that.

These wide positions will perhaps be the most obvious of Rodgers' changes to the naked eye as the manager’s methods become more ingrained and Liverpool hopefully begin to move up the table, but there are others which might be less eye-catching but certainly prove as important.

Pressing the opposition without the ball is one of the less-discussed qualities of the fine Barcelona teams we’ve had the pleasure to witness over the past few years, and that philosophy certainly seems to be taking hold at Liverpool under Rodgers, with Jordan Henderson in particular impressing in this regard in the Reds’ last two matches―two 3-0 wins in which the opposition had attacking threat squeezed out of them.

The three men in the Liverpool midfield will of course remain vital to everything that the club and Rodgers want to achieve this season. With Steven Gerrard reaching peak form and peak fitness in the past few weeks, he will certainly be vital to that.

The introduction of Joe Allen has of course brought with it much talk of the patient, passing style of play favoured by Rodgers, but in truth Liverpool were capable of this before.

It is the goals from wide areas and the pressing that they have really improved upon under their new Northern Irish boss, and although these qualities are―like most things associated with the club at the moment―very much a work in progress, they are slowly getting to where they need to be.

Rodgers will only hope that the team’s results follow suit.