This is not tiki-taka: Why a pragmatic Rodgers is a good thing for Liverpool

The Northern Irishman has somewhat abandoned the principles which brought him success at Swansea in order to oversee a recent upturn in form at the Merseyside club
By David Lynch

Despite Brendan Rodgers producing an almost flawless display in PR terms during his unveiling as the new Liverpool manager back in June, his press conference produced one particular soundbite which had potentially eyebrow-raising consequences amongst the club’s more wizened supporters.

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As the Northern Irishman spoke of his desire to fight for the fans and made the obligatory references to the Reds’ fabled past, he underlined his status as an outsider coming in with a momentary lapse in accuracy.

“For me first and foremost [my job is] to defend the principles of this great club, which is about offensive, creative football but with tactical discipline,” he told reporters, making the necessary promises with regards to ‘style’ popular amongst new managers from the Premier League down to the Conference.

However, to observers of a certain generation, Rodgers’ misjudgement of the club he had joined, and the foundations upon which it was built, was clear from this utterance. They knew that, in reality, only during Kenny Dalglish’s first reign as manager were Liverpool the attacking tour de force described by Rodgers – a team as aesthetically pleasing as they were ruthless.

The Bob Paisley side which plundered three European Cups and six league titles – Liverpool’s most successful ever - was built on a philosophy of defensive solidarity allied to the art of simply finding the nearest red shirt when in possession. This was the true Liverpool way. A simple mantra, one ingrained in the club by the great Bill Shankly and arguably most recently emulated by Rafael Benitez.

Valued above all else by these all-conquering sides was one word: pragmatism.

And so it was encouraging to hear Rodgers break from his usually fastidious commitment to promoting the attacking virtues of his team as he praised their recent performances ahead of Monday’s clash with West Brom. He said: “We’ve shown flexibility in our game, which is important. We know the philosophy and how we want to work but it’s important you’re pragmatic and can adapt.”

It appears that the Reds boss has learned quickly that patience is in short supply amongst onlookers; an answer to the Anfield club’s desperation for progression which does not amount to a slavish adherence to tiki-taka must be found. And Rodgers should take great credit for having identified this and acted upon it with such alacrity.

For example, on average, Rodgers’ Liverpool make 20 less passes per game than the Carnlough-born coach’s Spanish-styled Swansea team of 2011-12. This, along with the fact that the Merseyside club have already matched Swansea’s tally of 44 goals for the entirety of last season, hints at a switch to a more direct style which increases the chances of broken passages of play, rather than attempting to reduce it – even when the step up in terms of quality is considered.

The Swans also regularly evidenced last season that they had been drilled in another aspect of the tiki-taka ideology - a commitment to aggressive pressing when out of possession. The south Wales side averaged 16 interceptions per match during the 2011-12 campaign whilst Liverpool, who visibly fall into shape upon surrendering the ball, average 14 this term.

Of course, despite Rodgers seemingly having found an approach which better suits his new club, the Reds’ league performances so far this season have been far from satisfactory as a whole. This largely stems from the heinous amount of defensive errors committed by his team throughout the campaign (33 so far) in comparison to Swansea (seven) in the last.

This statistic above all others serves as proof that pragmatism, despite its humble implications, is no easier to ensconce in a squad than an obligation to pass the ball relentlessly. No matter what their philosophy, all managers need time.

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