8 Sept 2015

Anfield Warning: Legend slams Rodgers for 'confusion' and 'mystery' over £29m Liverpool attacker

It's early days yet, but it's fair to say that Liverpool attacker Roberto Firmino hasn't really hit the ground running at Anfield. Firmino cost £29m over the summer, but one thumping shot against West Ham aside, Reds fans have seen precious little of the attacker's undoubted quality. In August, I argued that Brendan Rodgers' obsession with the 'high press' will hinder Firmino's creativity, but Liverpool legend John Aldridge also questions whether the manager knows how to effectively utilise the Brazilian.

In his column for Sunday World this week, Aldo bemoaned the ongoing 'mystery' over Firmino's best position in the team. He explained:

"Where is [Firmino] meant to be playing? Is he a wide player, a creative midfielder, a forward? I have no idea and I can only hope that Brendan knows where he wants him to play him long-term, because his role is adding to the confusion".

Rodgers has a long-standing habit of buying players without knowing how to utilise them effectively and/or playing them in the wrong positions. Examples:

* Sahin: A deep-lying midfielder playmaker, but Rodgers insisted on playing him as a number-10, a decision that sabotaged the Turk's effectiveness, and invoked the ire of (then) Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp, who barked: "Nuri is a great player...but fielding him in the number ten position is not the best solution in my opinion".

* Borini: A central striker, but Rodgers often played him out wide, or on the left or right of a front three. Unsurprisingly, he failed to make much of an impact,

* Markovic: A speedy, skillful wide-player, who ended up playing as a wing-back, and when deployed as an attacking player, was forced to spend most of his time 'pressing', and defending.

* Balotelli: Rodgers insisted on playing him as a lone striker, which is not the Italian's best position. Two months into his Liverpool career, Balotelli even stated this publicly: "I've never been an out-and-out striker. If it was my choice, I would always go with two strikers. It's the way I like to play, but Brendan [Rodgers] asked me to play as the first striker". Did Rodgers listen to this plea? No chance. He continued to pointlessly play play Balotelli as a lone striker, which totally wasted his talent. After signing for Milan in August, Balotelli (correctly) blamed Rodgers' 'tactics' for setting him up to fail.

* Aspas: Did well as a centre-forward in La Liga prior to his Anfield move, but as per usual, Rodgers decided to utilise him in a different position, something the frustrated the Spaniard. In November 2013, he noted: "It's been hard. I'm playing a bit further back than I did at Celta, but over here you need to run a bit more because it's a bit more physical".

I could go on, but the point is clear: Rodgers seems to buy players without having a developed strategy about how to integrate them into the team effectively. Rather use a system best suited to available personnel (which entails putting aces in their places), Rodgers seems hellbent on shoehorning players into an inflexible system, even if it means constantly using players out of position.

In my view, this - combined with Rodgers' obsession with pressing - is one of the reasons attacking players at Liverpool rarely hit the ground running. They're so preoccupied with the 'high press', and defending their 'zone' that their attacking instinct is curtailed. That, or they're just too knackered to consistently make an attacking impact in the final-third of the pitch.

As for Firmino - As Aldo notes, it's hard to discern Rodgers' plan for the Brazilian, but hopefully, he'll figure that out quickly, and then allow him to grow into one position for the rest of the season, preferably the number-10 role.

This opens up another problem: Firmino scored/created the majority of his Hoffenheim goals as a central attacking midfielder, but the number-10 role is also Coutinho's best position. Both players can't operate there, which means one of those two will constantly be deployed in a role that curtails their overall effectiveness.

This issue will not be a problem on Saturday, though. Coutinho is suspended, which hopefully means Firmino will play centrally, just off (hopefully) two strikers:

-------------- Mignolet
Clyne ---- Skrtel -- Lovren -- Gomez
--------------- Lucas
--------- Milner -- Hendo
------------- Firmino
------- Origi ---- Benteke

Author: Jaimie K


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