Examining the Genius of Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers

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Examining the Genius of Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers
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"David Moyes is a football genius" mocked a banner in the away end of Old Trafford as Liverpool humiliated their rivals Manchester United at the weekend. But the real football genius on the sidelines was the away team's manager, Brendan Rodgers.

"Make us dream" read another banner pre-match—something Liverpool supporters haven't done since Rafa Benitez led the club to a second-place finish and the Reds' highest Premier League points total (86) in 2009. Such a total this campaign will almost certainly see Liverpool crowned champions of England for the first time since 1990.

Rodgers has transformed Liverpool, and now supporters are daring to dream again.

 

Transformation

The week The Telegraph's Chris Bascombe compared Brendan Rodgers' renovation project at Anfield to that akin to one on the BBC's daytime show Homes Under the Hammer. It's certainly not a bad analogy.

In less than two seasons, Rodgers has all but secured a return to Champions League football for Liverpool. Such has been the speed of the transformation, Rodgers has yet to be given a contract extension, the manager himself preferring to wait until the end of his second campaign for talks to begin.

Lest we forget, Rodgers inherited a squad that consisted of several players on highly disproportionate wages, most notably Andy Carroll, Joe Cole, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing.

They have been replaced by Daniel Sturridge, Joe Allen and Philippe Coutinho.

 

Youth

During his (almost) two seasons at Liverpool, Rodgers has handed first-team debuts to 22 players. Nine of those have been brought in from the club's academy.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Adam Morgan, Suso, Andre Wisdom, Samed Yesil, Jerome Sinclair, Conor Coady and Jordon Ibe were brought in for Rodgers' first season, followed by Joao Carlos Teixeira and Brad Smith this campaign, with Lloyd Jones, Jordan Rossiter and Danny Ward having been named on the bench.

Meanwhile, we've all seen the progress of Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan, especially in the past four months.

Rodgers shares the same vision of the club's owners and values the importance of bringing players in from the academy. As he explained to LFCTV GO recently, via This Is Anfield:

There’s no point in having a youth system and an academy system in place if you’re not going to look from within.

It’s also about the football club, giving the value to young players and seeing them develop.

Such an admirable and socialist vision has gone down well in Merseyside.

 

Development

It isn't just the youth players that have flourished under Rodgers. The Liverpool team that started the match at Old Trafford consisted of 10 outfield players who have all been at the club over 12 months.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

The fact that Martin Skrtel, captain Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Flanagan and even Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are all showing vast improvements in their game from 12 months ago is a huge testament to Rodgers.

Due to a lack of European football this season, the Northern Irishman has been able to operate with a much smaller squad and thus interact with the players on the training ground more closely. Liverpool have profited.

"From week to week he is helping us improve and get better and he has been an absolute breath of fresh air to this football club," Gerrard explained to James Pearce of The Liverpool Echo this week.

Not only are they second in the league with a game in hand on Chelsea, having played all the top-half teams away from home, Liverpool also have a fully fit squad. Only long-term injury victim Jose Enrique is missing following the returns of Mamadou Sakho and Lucas Leiva from injury this month. Again, such luxury is not by coincidence; it's due to the careful planning of training and the season.

 

Man Management

He manages every single player differently, he knows we have different characters in the dressing room and his man to man, one on one management is the best I have known.

High praise for Rodgers from Gerrard in the Echo, especially when you consider the managers Gerrard has worked under: Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson, Fabio Capello, Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Rodgers deserves credit for the way he has managed difficult situations such as the departures of Andy Carroll and Pepe Reina and the Luis Suarez saga in the summer.

Not only that, but Rodgers has also managed expectations well and speaks admirably in the media. Hodgson made many glaring mistakes during his short reign at Anfield but the constant downplaying of expectations was one of his worst. It's similar to what David Moyes is now doing at Old Trafford.

"I would never say that at Liverpool -- even if I was bottom of the league," said Rodgers, via ESPN FC, when asked about Moyes' pre-match comments that Liverpool were favourites at Old Trafford.

“Anfield is Anfield. We expect to win and we have a mentality that has been developing over 18 months which we expect to win home and away and the belief is in the players and you see that in their game.” 

 

Mentality

That positive mentality has also been a key component of Rodgers' work at Liverpool.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Rodgers' appointment of leading sports psychiatrist Dr. Steve Peters in November 2012 coincided with a huge upturn in form for Liverpool. Since the turn of 2013, Liverpool have been a team who have displayed incredible mental toughness both individually and collectively.

Henderson, Gerrard and Sturridge have all discussed the positive influence Peters has had on their performances. It's likely that more of the squad have too, not least Suarez, who has displayed a completely new character this season: mature, leading by example and focusing purely on his football.

"If Liverpool stick with him [Peters] and Brendan Rodgers, they'll win the title," predicted snooker sensation Ronnie O'Sullivan last May, via ESPN.

Nobody could have expected such a prediction to happen so quickly, but O'Sullivan could be proven correct a year after he uttered those words.

 

Tactical Acumen

Michael Regan/Getty Images

This season we've seen Rodgers unafraid to move from his idealised 4-3-3 formation and possession-based game. Liverpool have operated with formations including a 3-4-1-2, 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 and most recently have used a midfield diamond.

We've seen Suarez and Sturridge rotate who played wide and who was central in the front three, most notably in the demolitions of Everton and Arsenal at Anfield.

We've seen Liverpool counter-attack, dominate possession and press high up the pitch, all in equal measure, all depending on the opposition and phase of the game.

Rodgers has shown his tactical acumen and flexibility, he is not the possession-obsessed manager whom some began to fear when results weren't forthcoming in the opening months of his reign last season.

Liverpool are now playing some of the most exciting, attacking football Anfield regulars have seen in 20 years.

They're breaking records week after week. If they continue the way they've started 2014—with 8 wins and 2 draws in 10 games so far—they'll break the biggest record yet: No side has ever gone from finishing seventh to winning the title the following season in the Premier League era.

Brendan Rodgers has made us dream.

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