Rodgers may need to add to player pool
"I like to control games. I like to be responsible for our own destiny. If you are better than your opponent with the ball you have a 79% chance of winning the game. For me it is quite logical. It doesn't matter how big or small you are, if you don't have the ball you can't score. This is our philosophy."
The words could have been spoken by any one of a number of decorated, diminutive Spaniards over the past few days. Instead, before he headed to Merseyside, they came from a Northern Irishman in South Wales with a distinct Catalan influence. It was Brendan Rodgers, then Swansea manager, talking in January.
Rodgers' philosophy helped get him appointed Liverpool manager. Impressive as his results were, a reputation as a visionary accounts for his swift rise. He brings clearly defined ideas and passing principles to Anfield. Whereas some managers have to adapt to suit the players they inherit, the Liverpool squad may find they are required to adjust to Rodgers' preferred system and style of play.
All of which poses the question: which can? Whereas Kenny Dalglish's team, with increasing incoherence, switched tactics, Rodgers played 4-3-3, tweaking it to 4-2-3-1 after Gylfi Sigurdsson's January arrival gave him an attacking central midfielder.
Had the Icelander signed on at Anfield, he would have reprised that role. Instead, his move to Tottenham leaves a situation vacant in Rodgers' new team. But while Sigurdsson's goals brought him headlines, the dominant feature of the Swansea midfield was their perpetually precise passing. The deepest of them, Leon Britton, was deemed the English Xavi, so high was his pass completion rate. Together with Joe Allen, he lent the control Rodgers values. If there are no direct Anfield equivalents of the undersized pass masters, the quality of Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva dictates they must start if fit. The Brazilian will presumably be deputed with becoming the passing hub of the side, always available to receive and recycle possession at the base of the midfield.
But the identity of the third midfielder is more intriguing. Rewind a year and Charlie Adam was signed for his passing, yet the Scot's idea of distribution differs greatly from his new manager's. At Blackpool, the 50-yard, diagonal 'Hollywood' balls that invariably appeared impressive in highlights packages actually resulted in the Seasiders losing possession too frequently. At Liverpool, the merits of the shorter, simpler ball are more valued. But Rodgers values one-touch passing and Adam can be too ponderous.
Then there is the resident enigma. For all the testimonies about Jordan Henderson's talent, Liverpool are yet to see enough examples of it or, indeed, to determine what sort of midfielder he is. The evidence of last season should show he is neither a right winger, nor a creative No. 10, nor a Sigurdsson-style scorer; and if he is Rodgers' kind of player.
Yet greater technical talents are available. Alberto Aquilani and Joe Cole are back from loan spells - due to a lack of buyers, in the Italian's case - but his prowess in Luciano Spalletti's Roma side, playing a Spanish-style 4-6-0, indicates a possible appeal to Rodgers. Cole's tendency to over-elaborate in possession may count against him but, after thinking he would finally be granted his preferred role off a striker when he arrived at Anfield two years ago, he could be the adjunct to the attack.
The option is to use him on the flanks, but a glimpse at Swansea's wingers - normally Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair - shows Rodgers' preference for pace. His interest in Sinclair and his admiration for the precocious Raheem Stirling make sense but the speediest of Liverpool's senior options are Craig Bellamy, linked with a return to Cardiff, and Luis Suarez, who often lined up on the right of a front three for Ajax.
In a one-striker system, there is the question of how to accommodate the Uruguayan; his profligacy and tendency to roam count against him as that lone forward, while his willingness to appear everywhere means he is far from a conventional winger. The simple thing is determining that Suarez starts, the harder element determining where.
Andy Carroll poses a different dilemma. Aerial prowess is not necessarily the most useful attribute in a short-passing team. While Liverpool's need for a predatory finisher is obvious, consider the most successful strikers for Rodgers at Swansea: Fabio Borini and Danny Graham. These are multi-dimensional footballers, part target men, part mobile movers, part finishers. Unless he becomes the second Mark Hateley at AC Milan, Carroll's challenge may be to emulate them. Intriguingly, given his Spanish influence, Rodgers has pondered playing without a striker at Swansea, though last season would suggest Liverpool need forwards, not false nines.
At the other end of the pitch, Rodgers may be better served. He likes a footballing goalkeeper, so Pepe Reina could be his Michel Vorm, and attacking full-backs, indicating Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique should remain in favour. Few centre-backs pass the ball better than Daniel Agger, even if Jamie Carragher's propensity to aim long may count against the declining veteran, while keeping Martin Skrtel is an objective.
Rodgers' teams don't concede by not losing the ball. Scoring requires different characteristics altogether: a clinical touch, more creativity, class and quickness on the flanks and greater conviction. After an end-of-season improvement, Carroll may need more of an all-round game; Stewart Downing a dramatic turnaround in performance, end product and even personality.
For the second successive summer, there is a need for quality additions in the final third, one heightened by Dirk Kuyt's departure. If the midfield tends to be the pivotal area in any Rodgers team, Liverpool's difficulties last season lay across the front half of the side. Many of the men who were Dalglish's buys have rarely looked Liverpool players. In style of play, they may not be Rodgers players either. At a club with a tradition of managerial messiahs, it would be achievement to make Liverpool play like Swansea, especially if that transformation takes place without several signings.