Rodgers seems determined to bring his brand of possession football to Liverpool, but will he come to regret losing a potential plan B?
New Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers issued a statement of intent today by declaring that he would be open to the prospect of £35m striker Andy Carroll going out on loan, with AC Milan rumoured to be interested in a deal. Carroll initially struggled following his high profile move to Anfield 18 months ago, only finding something vaguely resembling form toward the end of the last campaign.
He divided opinion when Roy Hodgson included him in his Euro 2012 England squad, given a number of strikers at less illustrious clubs had superior goalscoring records for the season. However at the tournament Carroll put in some respectable performances, scoring a wonderful header against Sweden and coping well with a barrage of long balls sent his way in the Italy match. Rodgers declaration today heavily implies that he will attempt to bring the same brand of football he produced at Swansea to Liverpool, and therefore Carroll does not fit in his plans.
Under Rodgers Swansea garnered great acclaim for the style of football they brought from the Championship into the Premier League. Rodgers instilled in the players a philosophy based around keeping the ball from the opposition and gradually wearing them down by making them chase the ball, a strategy not entirely dissimilar from Barcelona's. Rodgers team finished 11th managing to pull off surprise wins against Arsenal, Man City and Liverpool along the way. Rodgers learnt a good proportion of his trade whilst a coach under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, and in his early managerial career has so far stuck rigidly to his principles regarding possession.
The proposition of loaning out Carroll combined with acquisition of Roma's tricky forward Fabio Borini definitely would suggest that Rodgers will want his Liverpool side to play this form of possession based football in the coming campaign. But in doing so, he is going against the managerial consensus that a coach should base his system around the players at his disposal and not the other way round. Rodgers may be insistent on his philosophy but are the resources he has available to him adequately suited to playing this style? While it is certainly possible, there are simultaneously a number of players who will need to compromise their natural game's in order to adapt to this style.
There is no doubt that Lucas Leiva, Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam are all quality players, but their qualities are of a distinctly different variety to Rodgers preferred central midfield pairing at Swansea of Joe Allen and Leon Britton who were so pivotal to their success. Lucas as a tough-tackling but technical proficient holding midfielder would be the most likely to succeed in playing Rodgers' style, and his defensive tenacity could provide vital steel to the Liverpool midfield.
However for Gerrard and Adam to play faux tika-taka would require a sense of discipline in possession which does not come naturally to either player. Both are fond of attempting to play 'Hollywood' passes too often, and Adam has a tendency to shoot on sight, (even making frequent attempts from the halfway line) which has produced limited success in a Liverpool shirt. Gerrard is more than capable of playing a short passing game, however his natural inclination is to try and create a forward momentum for his team rather than prioritise the retention of possession, and this would need to be curbed to integrate into Rodgers preferred system.
The potential loaning out of Carroll is a confident declaration that Rodgers has invested so much faith in his system, he does not feel the need to reserve a plan B. Yet this lack of flexibility could eventually possibly come back to haunt Rodgers. Often the teams who have been the most successful against Rodgers' inspirations, Spain and Barcelona, have congested the middle of the park and forced the play out wide, knowing a lack of physical presence in the box makes them less likely to frequently cross the ball.
Barcelona and Spain often get out of this through the intricate trickery of players like Xavi, Iniesta, Messi etc, however Rodgers does not have this sort of quality at his disposal, and Carroll could provide an alternative plan of attack in such a scenario. Even Pep Guardiola resorted to flinging Gerard Pique forward in desperate circumstances, such as the now famous Inter Milan-Barcelona Champions League Semi-Final of 2010. I would suggest Rodgers perhaps would have been more wise to at least keep hold of Carroll until January and given the Geordie striker a chance to prove himself.
As it is Rodgers has suggested Carroll is unwelcome at Anfield before he has even seen him in pre-season training and this could have a number of potential effects on the squad. They could see this as a statement of authority by Rodgers and galvanize toward his philosophy knowing that the system is capable of making players surplus to requirements, and push on successfully as the season progresses. Equally, the players could see the dismissal of Carroll's ability as a harsh judgement toward a player who has never been accused of lethargy for his team, and actually had shown recent signs of coming good on his investment. Secondly, if Rodgers did struggle to get his players to adapt to the new system and the team were struggling with results, would they come to regret the inability to play an alternative brand of football.