In May of 2012, Brendan Rodgers traveled to Austria, where the Spanish national team had set up camp before the Euros. He wanted “to watch training and mix with the staff and people there and just exchange ideas,” according to Daily Mail. Rodgers’ footballing philosophy is congruent with Spain and Barcelona; it is one that hails possession of the ball above all other aspects of the game.
Pep Guardiola elaborated on this doctrine in an interview before the 2011 Champions League final. He told ITV (h/t goal.com), "We are going to try and play with the ball and attack, because we have a not good defence. We try to keep the ball, to control the game through the ball but we are up against one of the best teams of the world so maybe it is not possible but we are willing to try.”
If you watched a Barcelona match during the Guardiola era, you’d have noticed that as soon as they won the ball from their opponents, they would immediately begin passing it around (and sometimes even backwards), even if there were enough Barcelona players forward to launch a counterattack. The only time long balls were used was when they wanted to spread the play to Pedro or David Villa in wide areas. Rarely was a long ball expectantly launched forward to one of the front three.
Young Brendan Rodgers intended on bringing this philosophy, which he had used with much success at Swansea, to Anfield. He brought Joe Allen with him, a player whom he called the “Welsh Xavi.” Allen was supposed to emulate the Blaugrana legend by being the key possession-minded link between the defense and attack. Shortly after, Nuri Sahin was acquired on loan from Real Madrid, setting up a dominant midfield, at least on paper.
With this in mind, it has to be said that watching Liverpool this season has been nothing like watching the Guardiola-inspired Barcelona. Part of this can be attributed to the difference in skill level of the players on both teams.
Joe Allen started brightly but has been sub-par since. Sahin was ineffective and soon found himself on the way to Dortmund—his departure left Liverpool with no one that possessed the dribbling skills, vision or ability to make incisive passes like an Iniesta or Xavi. An argument can be made for Steven Gerrard, but his specialties are either long, driven passes or sweeping ones.
In addition, the Reds do not have a player with the quality of Sergio Busquets, who is widely regarded as the best one-touch passer on the planet. His one-touch passing capability is another of Barcelona’s key components that allow them to dominate the midfield.
That being said, Liverpool have still been trouncing teams on the bottom half of the table—however, their scoring chances have not been created by dominating possession and tiki-taka style passing.
In contrast with Barcelona, when Liverpool players have been regaining possession of the ball, they’ve created scoring opportunities by quickly getting it forward to Suarez, Downing or Henderson.
Statistics support this as well. According to WhoScored.com, Liverpool has kept an average of 57.4 percent of possession in Premier League games while Barcelona come in at a whopping 69.7 percent so far this season. In the recent 5-0 romping of Swansea at Anfield, Liverpool only kept 54 percent of the ball. Away against Wigan, Liverpool won 4-0 but kept only 48 percent of the ball.
It seems as if Rodgers has temporarily adjusted the style of play because he knows he currently does not have the players to play the way he wants.
However, things are changing, albeit slowly. The arrival of Brazilian playmaker Coutinho has shone a glimmer of hope on Rodgers’ ambitions—news that the owners will offer support during the summer transfer window has to be music to his ears. With a few more moves, Liverpool could take the necessary steps towards dominating games, even against big opposition like the Manchester giants, Chelsea and Arsenal.