Our new series of articles focussing on Fantasy targets moving within the Premier League kicked off with a look at West Brom’s new boss Steve Clarke yesterday. Continuing in the same vein this afternoon, we run the rule over the new man in charge at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers.
Following the dismissal of Director of Football Damien Comolli and manager Kenny Dalglish, the club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, have reassessed their “moneyball” approach after spending vast sums of cash the previous summer in an attempt to secure Champions League football. After being linked with the likes of Louis Van Gaal, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Martinez, the Reds have opted for one of the most promising managers in the British game as they seek to re-establish the club as a top-flight force after a dismal eighth place finish ultimately led to Dalglish’s sacking.
The former Swansea boss arrived with a ringing endorsement from club owner John W Henry, who summed up just why he was regarded as the perfect candidate for the Anfield vacancy:
Brendan’s comprehensive football philosophy is perfectly aligned with those at the club and those soon to join the club. He was the first choice unanimously among them and he had no hesitation at all in embracing exactly what we want to try to build at Liverpool…we firmly believe that the direction the club is heading in will lead to Premier League championships.
The Liverpool job is Rodgers’ fourth in the past four years. Having previously been in charge of Reading’s youth set-up and the Chelsea reserves, his first role as a number one came back in 2008 at Watford. The Irishman guided the Hornets to 13th place in the Championship before agreeing to return to Reading as first-team manager a year later, but a disastrous run of form saw him part company with the club just halfway through his first term at the helm.
Rodgers spent seven months on the managerial sidelines before Swansea came calling in July 2010. Handed the chance to build on a style of possession-based football established by Roberto Martinez, he guided the club into the top-flight at the first attempt with a 4-2 play-off final win over Reading. Rodgers remained true to his 4-3-3 passing game ethos and was rewarded with an 11th place finish last season, with 14 clean sheets accrued over the course of the campaign. At home, in particular, his side were a regular source of defensive points for Fantasy managers, with nine clean sheets compared to just five on the road; the Liberty Stadium also witnessed wins over the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and City, and draws against Chelsea and Spurs.
The Previous Regime
The Carling Cup may be sitting in the trophy room but that one piece of silverware can’t disguise the fact that Liverpool were a disappointment last term. A shoot-out win over Cardiff in late February delivered the club’s first trophy in six years but, while the Reds also reached the FA Cup Final, they failed miserably in the league.
The Anfield faithful witnessed a mere six home wins under Kenny Dalglish – a record no better than relegated Blackburn. At both ends of the pitch they frustrated Fantasy managers, returning just five clean sheets and finding the net on 24 occasions. On the road, Liverpool lost 10 times under Dalglish in 2011/12; the same number as Wolves and just one less than Steve Kean’s outfit. Defensively, they were a little more solid than at home, accruing seven clean sheets but, going forward, scored 23 goals – the same tally as relegated Bolton.
The Season Ahead
Bearing in mind he has just replaced a Liverpool legend, Rodgers will be keen to appease the red half of Merseyside as he steps into the breach. One needs only to look at Roy Hodgson’s failure to win over the Liverpool support as an example of how it can all go wrong but, already, Rodgers seems to be making all the right noises – his press conference unveiling afforded the Irishman a chance to impress and he wasted little time in emphasising his approach to the job:
The way I want to play here is the Liverpool way. The history and tradition of this club has been about offensive football, attacking football – but always with discipline. The game will be based around what Liverpool are about, which is control, dominating games with the ball, working very hard when you haven’t got the ball and keeping the game as simple as possible. Of course I’ll bring in a certain philosophy which I’m attached to but the principles of your game are based around the players. For me the best thing about the game other than scoring goals is having the football, and that’ll be the idea and the fundamentals we’ll work on – but they are playing ultimately to win.
At the back, Rodgers will be relieved to hear Daniel Agger has confirmed he is more than happy at the club and intends to extend his stay, though recent transfer rumours have suggested Martin Skrtel and Pepe Reina may be subject to interest from Man City and AC Milan respectively.
In terms of transfer targets, it’s been well-publicised that Rodgers has struck up an agreement with Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins which prevents him from making a move for any Swansea player for the next 12 months. This, of course, does not apply to Gylfi Sigurdsson – despite having an agreement in place to move to the Liberty Stadium, nothing has yet been signed and the Hoffenheim midfielder now looks favourite to follow the Irishman to Anfield, having excelled under his stewardship at Reading and Swansea.
Rodgers has been cagey on the subject of transfer targets as he seeks to mould Liverpool into a team of his own making. Sigurdsson, clearly, was on his mind though when he spoke of what is required to step the club forward in the season ahead:
There are a few players who can come in and improve the group straight away. I know what we’ve got, more or less, in the squad, but I also know there are a couple of signings that could really improve what we do. I know the types of player I need to bring here to make us function well and that’s something myself, the club and the board will look at. That’s something we’ll work together on over the course of the summer and hopefully we can get one or two in.
From a Fantasy perspective, Sigurdsson would be a significant asset next time round if a move to Anfield transpires. While there is no doubt his Fantasy Premier League (FPL) price would rise substantially, an average of 5.7 points per game in 2011/12 following his January loan move was the highest of any midfielder in the game – even a cost of 9.0, for example, would look value for money if he can scale similar heights.
At the back, Liverpool’s assets may well be earmarked by many if Rodgers can mirror the same sort of defensive returns achieved by Swansea last time round, while Steven Gerrard could well be set for a resurgence if he brings his Euro 2012 form to the table. Maybe the most intriguing aspect of Rodgers’ approach is how this will affect Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan was a massive disappointment in the previous season, though hinted at an upturn in form by producing attacking returns in four of his last five home games. A role on the left wing, cutting inside onto his more favoured right foot may afford Suarez more freedom to wreak havoc if Rodgers decides to select Andy Carroll as the lone forward in his 4-3-3.
With so many questions still unanswered over Liverpool’s prospects heading into next season, perhaps Monday’s fixture list has done Fantasy managers a favour. Their first three home games sees City, Arsenal and United all roll up to Anfield and, with an opening day trip to West Brom, in addition to visits to Sunderland and Norwich in the first six, their schedule could hardly be trickier. Chances are, then, the majority will be comfortable with little Reds’ investment to begin with, giving us time to assess their form and Fantasy prospects before their schedule takes a turn for the good.
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For Gameweek 38
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