I’ve written previously about my opinion on Brendan Rodgers’ hiring as Liverpool manager. Rodgers obviously has a clear and attractive footballing philosophy that appeals to fans, heavily influenced by the Total Football style of the Dutch and Spanish. The one point of worry for supporters may have been his rapid ascent, being placed in a big club with all its pressures before he’s fully developed the ability to think on his feet when things aren’t going well.
His failure to respond when Norwich City negated his most advanced midfielder and how uncomfortable Swansea looked when asked to play in any way besides the standard 4-3-3 supported the argument. However, despite the poor start to the season points wise, Rodgers’ Liverpool has shown the ability to remain unflustered and adapt to their surroundings. In their fixture last week against Young Boys, Jonjo Shelvey’s introduction added a directness to the midfield that helped break down the Swiss side. Bringing on a young midfielder for the winger Assaidi placed a focus on attacking through the middle rather than aimless crosses into the box.
Last Sunday against Manchester United, things were really going against Rodgers and Liverpool. Despite their unquestioned dominance in the first half the Reds entered the second a man down and with nothing to show for it. Considering the gravity of the occasion, it would have been easy for Rodgers to sit back in a 4-4-1 or 4-5-0 and claim a tough point at home. Instead he was proactive, with his substitutions offensive minded (Agger and Borini were forced through injury but Rodgers still managed to use the latter to his advantage).
Rodgers 4-3-1-1 formation during the second half was one of the best displays of football by a side with 10 men. Even Alex Ferguson conceded his side was second best, calling the performance poor. The strategy undertaken was a similar one used by Joes Mourinho during a Milan derby in 2010.
In that game Inter started with a 4-3-1-2 and Milan with a 4-3-3. Inter, just like Liverpool, dominated before the red card by virtue of overloading the central midfield. Wesley Sneijder and Luis Suarez both found joy between the lines. After the red card Mourinho kept the spine of his side intact with his 4-3-1-1, meaning Milan’s extra man did not apply in the middle of the park. The disadvantage was that the flanks were extremely free for the Rossoneri fullbacks to create overlaps with Beckham and Ronaldinho. However Mourinho asked his two advanced players to work the channels and occupy the opponent’s fullbacks while trusting that width was the worst part of Milan’s game. Lucio and Walter Samuel were also much better at dealing with crosses from wide areas than quick passing through the middle.