Liverpool face tough test of Rodgers' way
The rapier versus the bloodaxe as Stoke arrive at a vulnerable Anfield
One of Brendan Rodgers' first acts as Liverpool manager was to restore the oldest surviving sign that proclaimed "This Is Anfield" to its place in the players' tunnel.
It dates from 1974, Bill Shankly's final year at Liverpool. He placed the sign there "to remind the lads who they're playing for and remind the opposition who they're playing against". Rodgers also ordered that the goal nets be red as they were in Shankly's time.
It would, however, be hard to argue that, in terms of results, this is Anfield as Shankly knew it. The last 11 matches played beneath its stands have seen only two wins and those were against Gomel, a Belarussian side that were, frankly, here for the ride, and Chelsea, whose focus was on a European Cup final in Munich.
You would have to go back to March 1959, long before the first of those signs was put up, to discover Stoke's last victory here. This afternoon, they will provide the starkest possible contrast to Rodgers' brand of possession football, a bloodaxe against a rapier. Yet, when asked if he is prepared to compromise his philosophy even a little, Rodgers calmly said "no" four times.
"We had 14 clean sheets at Swansea last year. The season before we had 22 in 46 games," he said. "The reason for that was that we defended with the ball.
"That has been something I have been working on here as much as anything. Against Udinese we had 74 per cent of possession and our opponents had just four shots at goal. They scored three times.
"At Norwich the previous Saturday, we had 67 per cent of the ball and a hatful of shots. Norwich had three shots and scored twice."
That is why Daniel Agger's decision to end a summer of speculation by signing a fresh four-year contract on Friday was such an important one. "He made it very clear he loves the club and the city," said Rodgers of the man who looked likely to follow Joleon Lescott from Merseyside to Manchester City. "My type of football emphasises his qualities."
Until the rebuilding can continue in the January transfer window, Rodgers concedes his squad boasts a fine first XI but lacks any kind of depth, which is why he still sees a future for Jamie Carragher at Liverpool.
It is why his next task is to tie down a crop of talented youngsters, led by Raheem Sterling, to long-term contracts, although he argues that to overpay or over-indulge them now would create a harvest of twenty-somethings who lack a footballer's most basic requirement – hunger.
"There has been a wee bit of negativity about the results," Rodgers said. "But in the longer term I am gaining more because I am seeing the young players earlier than I would have done and, when we do get reinforcements in, we will have that depth."
Rodgers not only inherited a dreadful set of home results from Kenny Dalglish, but a questionable balance sheet. The £110 million Dalglish spent on players who – with the notable exception of Luis Suarez – have either left or have a limited future at Anfield, accounted for six years of profits on player sales. Under the circumstances, the £11m Rodgers spent on taking Fabio Borini from Roma appears excessive. Even against Udinese, the 21-year-old, whom Rodgers coached when on loan to Swansea, seemed almost anonymous.
"Firstly, he has been played a lot out of position and Fabio's story here was to provide support and grow into his role," Rodgers said. "I wanted to get in a young midfielder who understood how I worked and Joe Allen has been outstanding. I have seen enough of Fabio to know his qualities but transitions are never smooth."
Liverpool v Stoke City is today, kick-off 3pm
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