Liverpool’s appointment of Brendan Rodgers is surely the most exciting managerial signing of the summer. After years in which the biggest jobs in the Premier League appeared to be a closed shop for British and Irish candidates (Redknapp was hired when Spurs were at the foot of the table) it is exciting to see a successful domestic manager given the opportunity to prove himself at the top table. Recent seasons may mean that Liverpool aren’t quite in the position they once were, but in terms of expectation Rodgers will be under no illusions of the size of the job he has taken on.
Rodgers arrives at the club completely tied to the possession-based style of football that he had success with at Swansea. Speculation has been rife around how the Northern Irishman will be able to implement his ideas on the Liverpool squad. Andre Villas-Boas demonstrated last year how difficult it can be imposing such a specific style of football on an established group of players. Similarly, there are key members of Liverpool’s squad who may have to adapt their games in order to fit into Rodgers’ preferred 4-3-3 formation.
With a defensive unit largely in place and Joe Allen recruited from Swansea to play the pivot role in front of the back-four, the focus is on how Rodgers juggles the midfield and forward line. Steven Gerrard will fill a central position but will be encouraged to play less vertically than can be his want. For all Gerrard’s qualities he has always been a direct player constantly looking for forward passes rather than settling for a simpler option to retain possession. To the midfielder’s credit his Euro 2012 performances demonstrated recognition that ball retention is an essential part of the modern game and Rodger’s will hope that he can maintain that into the season. Up front both Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez offer options across the front-three, but gaps remain. Stewart Downing offers natural width but lacks pace and guile, while Andy Carroll has largely been written off by both Rodgers and the press as a viable option. Rodgers would surely love to bring in another wide forward before the transfer deadline, which brings into question the decision to let both Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy leave so easily.
With an incomplete squad, Rodgers may have to adapt his methods in his opening campaign to ensure Liverpool make a genuine challenge for a top four position. It is likely that this season is too early for the new manager’s influence to truly take effect, so the hope is he gets enough time and financial backing to really progress the club in years to come. The problem the club has is that hiring a manager for a medium-term project is all very well if the existing star players buy into it. While Rodgers may recognise the need for a couple of seasons to prove his true worth, he will hope the likes of Luis Suarez, Pepe Reina and Daniel Agger share his patience.