“If you are good enough, you are old enough.” This adage can be heard around the halls of Liverpool’s training ground, Melwood. Along with an inclusion of youth, the Liverpool squad of 2012/13 has already seen drastic changes for the better.
Departing to Boston on Liverpool’s North American tour, Rodgers surprised many by allowing a lot of academy kids to come along and train with the senior players. Last week, Liverpool fielded their youngest starting XI on average since 2003, a very refreshing change and a potentially risky move. This injection of youth solves several issues that were plaguing Liverpool last season. Sentimentality and favoritism saw players receiving starting positions over other potentially more deserving players. With Europa League, two domestic cups, and the league causing a congested playing calendar, Liverpool needs players in all positions. FSG isn’t supplying the same amount of cash for transfers as previous windows, vetting the youth is a way to increase the squad without breaking the bank.
Maxi Rodriguez could score goals, and it was frustrating seeing him benched week-in and week-out under the old regime. In some corners, Liverpool supporters were furious when he was sold, but he was on one of the larger wage packets in the squad. Lowering the wage structure is crucial to help balance the books at Anfield. Seeing some senior players leave for very cheap or free was very difficult, but it allowed for new players to come in and improve contracts for those who fit into the new manager’s vision. With those players exits, Rodgers could offer improved contracts to the likes of Suarez and Skrtel. The news of these contracts gave the same feeling as a new signing.
The playing style of Brendan Rodgers is no mystery. He openly speaks about it and it was on display every week last season with his impressive Swansea side. This style has forced changes to take place in the squad that in the long run will pay dividends. Short passing will weed out the players that rely on the Hollywood ball and with a front three, the target man is forced to be more versatile. This didn’t bode well for Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll, both players who have moved away from Merseyside. A free-flowing style can be the prettiest to watch but if you can’t convert your chances then you are sunk. Possession without penetration is meaningless; coming up against a staunch defense could see a lack of goals akin of last season. Personally I believe the goals will come, but it’s going to take time for everything to click.
Now there is one caveat to all of these plaudits, the growing pains. Boasting the third best defense in the league, with no departures in the back four, Liverpool should have that part of their game down. Unfortunately, with all of the changes in tactics, the defense is asked to play out of the back constantly, and adds a large risk element (as could be seen during the Manchester City and Arsenal games).
As supporters we’ve been told for years that Liverpool is in a transitional period, but for the first time, I actually believe it. We may or may not qualify for Champions League, but considering the direction we are heading, this season will be better than the last.