5 Experiments Brendan Rodgers Should Try During Liverpool's Preseason Tour
During the preseason tour, the Liverpool players and coaching staff will have plenty of opportunities to engage with their fans in those countries in commercial activities, community events and, of course, friendly matches, with their first in Jakarta on July 20.
As money-spinning as the tour will be, and as good of an overseas team-building experience it will provide, there will be important football-related factors on the agenda that both manager and players will not, and cannot, miss.
In preparation for the new season, let’s look at five experiments that Brendan Rodgers should try during Liverpool’s preseason tour.
For more information on the fixtures themselves, check out our complete guide to Liverpool’s 2013 summer tour.
Martin Kelly as Starting Center-Back
Since the 2012-13 season ended, Liverpool have been linked with a whole host of defensive options, but as the reported moves for Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Toby Alderweireld, reported by Peter Guy of the Liverpool Echo, have stalled, Kolo Toure has been the only defender signing of the summer.
Which means that, in light of Jamie Carragher’s retirement, Martin Skrtel should be looking to grasp his chance to establish himself once more as the Reds’ first-choice partner for Daniel Agger, ahead of Toure and the late-returning Sebastian Coates.
But the preseason fixtures should also provide Martin Kelly with the chance to start his conversion from right-back to his favored center-back position as he steps up his return to full fitness following yet another lengthy injury layoff last season.
With Andre Wisdom looking also to re-enter the first-team reckoning as a versatile defender capable of filling both positions, Kelly has shown in his appearances with the first team that he has the attributes to star in a central defensive position in the long term and to be the next true homegrown star in the Liverpool lineup.
It is too good an opportunity to miss for Brendan Rodgers.
Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen as Starting Midfielders
While the rumor mill has linked Liverpool with defenders and forwards—the goalkeeper position has been strengthened considerably with the addition of Simon Mignolet—it is curious, to the say the least, that central midfielders do not seem a priority.
Curious, because with Steven Gerrard fully established as the side’s deep-lying playmaker now, Lucas Leiva does not provide the physicality and overall defensive attributes to star as a reliable out-and-out defensive midfielder, especially if he does not regain his pre-injury form.
But also curious because in Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen, Brendan Rodgers has two much-maligned options who have shown glimpses of their ability to play in the center of midfield. Both have the ball-handling technique to excel in a short passing game there and the work rate to match their passing ability.
Indeed, Allen was used in a defensive midfield role after Lucas was sidelined with injury a few months into last season, while Henderson started out as a central midfielder before his versatility saw him move out to the right and into a more attacking role.
It could well be that Rodgers wants to see them play in a deeper role this summer before deciding whether to strengthen that department.
Given the lack of specialist starting options in central midfield—Luis Alberto was used in a deeper role in Liverpool’s first preseason game against Preston North End—this becomes an imperative.
Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe as Impact Substitutes
With top attacking midfield target Henrikh Mkhitaryan signing for Borussia Dortmund instead of heading to Anfield, as confirmed by BBC Sport, and with Luis Suarez’s status as a Liverpool player still uncertain, Graeme Yorke's suggestion in the Daily Mail of rumored links with Christian Eriksen make sense on paper.
The summer signings of Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto strengthen Liverpool’s options in the attack, but that has been countered by the departure of Jonjo Shelvey to Swansea City, who may yet be joined in the departing ranks by Stewart Downing, recently linked by BBC Sport's Phil McNulty to West Ham United.
Given the impressive impacts that young prospects Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe had on the first team last season, and after their encouraging performances against Preston, Brendan Rodgers should give them plenty of game time during their preseason schedule.
As the players step up their 45-minute appearances to 60 and finally 90, some of them will likely feature more off the bench.
Both Sterling and Ibe should be tried out as impact substitutes this summer to gauge their ability to find their game rhythm as substitutes and the potential influence they can wield with their pace and trickery.
This will prepare them well for their expected cameos in the first team this season, with more extended roles if they perform to expectation in the domestic cup competitions.
Luis Suarez as Left Forward and Philippe Coutinho as No. 10
With Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho signing for Liverpool in January, Sturridge immediately found himself Rodgers’ starting option up front, with Luis Suarez supporting him and Coutinho coming in from the left.
In Suarez’s absence at the end of the season, Coutinho shifted to the middle, to a position befitting the No. 10 on the back of shirt, and started to influence proceedings from the central attacking midfield role.
As Coutinho grows into the Premier League and settles in his favored central position, Rodgers should also consider Suarez’s natural tendency to drift in from the wide areas and use his trickery from a starting position on the left.
This was the position that Raheem Sterling did so well in during the first few months of last season. Starting Suarez there, with his ability to create from the flanks, as well as dribble into the middle and get into goalscoring positions, would provide another threatening and hard-working option from out wide.
Add this to, say, Iago Aspas on the right side of an attacking three in a 4-2-3-1, and Liverpool would have a fully interchangeable front four to devastate any Premier League defence.
Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto as Strikers
While that would deprive Liverpool of a main goalscoring option, and their best player last season, the silver lining is that in Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto, Brendan Rodgers has two options capable of filling in the same positions, if not necessarily with the same impact.
The two new signings are prized for their versatility: Aspas played all across the front for Celta Vigo, while Luis Alberto, having played as a false nine during his time on loan at Barcelona B, has gone on record stating his comfort playing up front in a report from David Prentice of the Liverpool Echo.
We discussed the merits of having an interchangeable and dynamic front four in the previous slide. Given Daniel Sturridge’s ability to play across the front as well, Aspas and Alberto may well find themselves given that opportunity and responsibility this season.
Jonjo Shelvey was tried as a false nine at one point last season, reflecting the lack of striking options for Rodgers in the first half of 2012-13. Now the Reds are well-stocked in forward selection.
If Suarez does leave eventually—and he won’t be participating in Liverpool’s first few games of the season anyway—perhaps the loss won’t be as devastating as they dread.
Provided that the adequate preparations are made this summer, starting on this preseason tour.