Premier League preview: Liverpool return to original blueprint

The owners of Liverpool are finally starting to put their stamp on the club, exemplified by the hiring of Brendan Rodgers to implement a different type of football.

Fabio Borini was the first signing of Brendan Rodgers for Liverpool.
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Plan A normally comes first. Not at Liverpool, however, where the Fenway Sports Group's second managerial move represents the idea they had all along.

In recruiting Brendan Rodgers from Swansea City, the owners have belatedly reverted to their original intention. They have a young manager with a progressive ethos, a man they can deem a visionary. This was what they envisaged when they bought Liverpool in October 2010.

And yet rather than being a clean break from the past, the new campaign has to be viewed in the context last season provides.

The dismissal of Kenny Dalglish was controversial to the faithful supporters, completely understandable for others. The icon's return to the front line, originally so successful, had delayed FSG's search for a long-term choice.

Now they have one. This has become a job with different demands. Unlike Dalglish, Rodgers is not charged with securing Champions League football in his first full season in charge. Unlike Dalglish, however, Rodgers is limited in his spending.

After £120 million (Dh690m) was committed to transfers in 2011, 2012's expenditure is a more moderate £25m. In the rebranding of Liverpool as Swansea by the Mersey, Rodgers has begun by turning to his disciples: the striker Fabio Borini, with whom he has worked at two previous clubs, was his first signing; Joe Allen, a cornerstone of his midfield in Wales, the second.

But, as may become the manager's mantra, it takes time. Dalglish attempted to restore Liverpool's reputation for passing football last season, but the figures indicate that it was unsuccessful: Liverpool had the eighth best pass completion rate in the Premier League, Swansea the highest.

In every category - forward, backward and square passes, in the attacking, defensive and central third of the pitch - the players Rodgers coached last season were more exact than his new team.

Their brand of accuracy cannot be injected immediately. It is why this is a transitional season. The hope now is that an ethos leads to excellence.

If "The Liverpool Way" - a rather elastic concept at times - was the defining theme of Dalglish's time in charge, passing principles will underpin the reign of Rodgers.

"In my upbringing, on my travels, the statistic that interested me was if you were better than your opponent with the ball, you have a 79 per cent chance of winning the game," he said last month.

Last season, however, completing an unwanted hat-trick of traumatic campaigns, Liverpool won just 37 per cent of their league games. Indeed, the statistics were so demoralising that they provide plenty of room for improvement, but also illustrate how far they have to go to catch up.

In their joint-lowest league position for half a century, 37 points behind second place, winning as few home games as relegated Blackburn Rovers and with the fourth worst record over the second half of the campaign, the facts amounted to a mandate for change.

By compiling a 180-page dossier for his meeting with John W Henry, the owner, and the chairman Tom Werner, Rodgers provided a detailed explanation of his ideas. Conveying them to his players may prove a greater challenge.

If, to adapt the cliché, last season was a league campaign of two halves - generally decent in the first half, normally disappointing thereafter - Liverpool were also a team of two halves.

Despite Pepe Reina enduring the poorest of his seven seasons as the Liverpool goalkeeper, the defensive side functioned fairly well. The problems occurred at the other end; the woodwork exerted a magnetic effect upon their efforts, chances were squandered and Liverpool were also outscored by Blackburn.

Veering between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, between a hulking target man, in Andy Carroll, and a more mobile forward, in Luis Suarez, leading the line, there was an incoherence to their approach.

Rodgers has been consistent in his preference for 4-3-3, which can become 4-2-3-1, and swift to see a future without Carroll: not because his £35m price tag has proved an intolerable burden but simply because he does not suit the style of play.

The more adaptable Borini, who should start on the left, is no one-stop solution to the goal shortage, and he represents a step in the right direction. But after an exodus of the experienced, with Craig Bellamy, Maxi Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani and Dirk Kuyt departing, Rodgers may have to rely on some of expensive underachievers.

Stewart Downing, the scorer of the first competitive goal of his reign after drawing a blank in the league last year, is the most likely to start. Jordan Henderson, spared greater criticism because the winger was more woeful than him, or Joe Cole, returning after a year on loan at Lille, could be heavily involved.

For each, the challenge is not just to become essential to the new regime, but also to ease the reliance on Suarez and Steven Gerrard.

The bigger issues for the manager to address. He has to make Anfield a fortress again, to bring about progress after three years where Liverpool have regressed, to restore a controversial club's reputation for dealing with events quietly and with class and to ensure that, no matter how much the Merseyside public regret Dalglish's departure, they embrace his successor and his philosophy.

And, along the way, one of football's ideologues has to vindicate latecomers to the game. Because this season marks the first when a plan devised by baseball fans in Boston will be put into operation on the other side of the Atlantic and in a very different sport.

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