Liverpool are in the Europa League for the 2012-2013 season and while extended travel and Thursday night games are difficult, the competition also gives Brendan Rodgers a chance to experiment away from the hotbed of the Premier League.
“If you’ve got little niggles and little injuries you’ve got to man up and we’ve got to come together and be strong.” (Brendan Rodgers, cited in The Anfield Wrap)
That is the message Brendan Rodgers has sent out to his young, paper thin squad. Whatever small knocks players will be carrying, they will have to get on with it.
With a minimum of 24 games between now and the opening of the winter transfer window in January, Liverpool’s squad will be stretched to its limits. Six Europa League group games, one Capital One Cup tie against West Brom and 17 league games, nine of which are away from home starting with Sunderland this coming weekend. These games will test the limit of Brendan Rodgers’ small pool of players. An international break is sandwhiched between home league games to Stoke and Reading which could further eat away at the squad.
This time last year, with a much larger squad, Kenny Dalglish did not have the extra pressure of the Europa League. This season, however, Rodgers will have to cope with trips to Russia, Italy and Switzerland before any depth can be added in the new year. Fans and media alike label the European competition as a “distraction” and see it as something that will stretch the squad with no great benefit other than for younger players to gain experience and game time. Not so.
What the Europa League provides is an opportunity for the new manager to experiment not only with his personnel, but with his formation and tactics. Rodgers philosophy will not change; possession, penetration and controlling the midfield will still be the centre of whatever team and formation the Northern Irishman selects. On several occasions since being unveiled in June, the former Swansea boss has stressed that his formation depends on the players available. He is flexible. The Europa League provides an opportunity to try new systems in a competition that is not top priority. 4-3-3 is clearly the first choice in the league, however don’t be surprised if Liverpool play variations of 3-4-3 and other formations which, if all goes well, could then be implemented in the Premier League.
Kenny Dalglish never had this opportunity, and as a result experimented with his system in the league. 3-5-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 4-4-1-1 were all tried upon The King’s return, with varying results.
Had Spurs not pipped Liverpool to a place in last seasons Europa League, Dalglish would of had the opportunity to experiment with tactics and playing staff, thus minimizing the risk of trying new systems in the more pressurized, high tempo environment of the Barclays Premier League.
Brendan Rodgers has this opportunity. Young players can gain experience, squad players such as Danny Wilson, who’s move to Blackpool fell through on deadline day, Daniel Pacheco, who’s expected move to join Villareal failed to materialize, and Joe Cole have the opportunity to either force their way into the first team, or force their way into finding a new club. The Europa League also provides the opportunity to try Stewart Downing in the left back position, although that would also block the progress of the impressive Jack Robinson.
Adam Morgan, Suso, John Flanagan and new signing Samed Yesil could all be handed the opportunity to impress, especially the forward players who could certainly force their way into first team reckoning and increase the pressure on the more senior, misfiring strikers.
This all gives the manager food for thought, even with a bare-bone squad that certainly needs beefing up.
Yes, the squad is bare. Yes, the squad is smaller than last year and yes there is more fixtures and air miles to cover. Is the Europa League a help or hindrance? Short term it may be a negative, but long term, for what Brendan Rodgers wants to do and specifically the way in which he wants to do it, it could well be a blessing in disguise. Only time will tell.
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