The contenders: Liverpool

EPL preview: Tinkerman has to walk alone

New signing James Milner will fill the midfield void left by the departure of Reds icon Steven Gerrard.
New signing James Milner will fill the midfield void left by the departure of Reds icon Steven Gerrard. PHOTO: REUTERS

Brendan Rodgers made plenty of tactical moves last season as he sought, at times desperately, to spur an inconsistent team to keep up with rivals. But after finishing a dismal sixth, the axe has fallen on both backroom and playing staff. Now that the manager has had his own way with new signings, he will be expected to deliver results even as he continues to fine-tune his strategies. He will now stand or fall on his own choices. The Straits Times looks at the one of the five title contenders today, Liverpool. Tomorrow: Manchester United

Claudio Ranieri marked his return to English football - he is now the manager of Leicester City - after an 11-year absence by referencing his nickname and noting that every manager is a Tinkerman now.

As squad rotation has become the norm, so they are but few indulge in tactical tinkering quite like Brendan Rodgers.

Liverpool endured a season of systemic switches last year. The left-field 3-4-2-1 formation seemed their salvation before it was unlocked and its flaws exposed as their campaign collapsed.


Now Rodgers' decision-making will be scrutinised again - on two fronts, really.

The Northern Irishman survived a summer cull of his backroom staff, which saw assistant manager Colin Pascoe and first-team coach Mike Marsh leave.


    1 Getting striker Daniel Sturridge back
    to health and staying healthy. He is
    out till September and they cannot
    afford to see him limited to just eight
    starts for another season.

    2 James Milner. Experienced, versatile
    and dependable, he could make life
    without Steven Gerrard more than

    3 Rodgers has to find his best XI and
    best formation fast. Plenty of new
    faces and options will make it
    challenging but he needs to have a
    settled side.


    1 Can Rodgers survive a tough start?
    They begin at Stoke, where they lost
    1-6 in May. Other games include
    Arsenal, Man United, Everton,
    Tottenham and Chelsea - all away.

    2 This is Rodgers' fourth season and he
    has not won trophies yet. Will he lift
    any silverware this term?

    3 How will the Reds cope with losing
    a key player for a second straight
    summer. With Raheem Sterling
    following Luis Suarez out, how will
    the club respond?

Last season's failings were not just due to him. Poor recruits such as Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic were not his choices, although Dejan Lovren certainly was.

Now, Rodgers has seven of his own additions and the chance to reshape his team. He will stand or fall on his own choices.

Pre-season has entailed an experiment with a midfield diamond that worked so well during their title challenge in the 2014/15 season. However, Rodgers seems to have settled on 4-3-3.

With Daniel Sturridge likely to be sidelined for some, if not much, of the season, he need not worry about how to accommodate a strike partnership just yet.

Hence, Christian Benteke, the second-most expensive player in Liverpool's history, will be the spearhead. The question then is deciding which players will offer craft or graft in their supply line.

There are five other positions to fill in the midfield and forward line. Four players seem shoo-ins.

Captain Jordan Henderson and new recruit James Milner should offer energy in the midfield.

Brazilians Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will be counted on to provide creativity in more advanced roles.

The Copa America has restricted their roles in pre-season, as Adam Lallana, Jordon Ibe and Markovic have deputised.

There is a chance that Coutinho could be used in a deeper berth but his form as a No. 10 made him Liverpool's Player of the Year last season. Firmino, too, may prefer a role off Benteke in a narrow 4-3-3.

Lallana cost £25 million (S$53.6 million) but flattered to deceive and should be sidelined by greater talents.

Ibe, while young, is alone in offering genuine width, and could be used in a contingency plan.

Danny Ings, who produced his best Burnley form in a strike duo last season, almost certainly will be. His selection would require different tactics.

A further issue for Rodgers to resolve is the composition of his midfield. Milner has had freedom to go forward in friendlies and has scored. Henderson, too, prefers a box-to-box role.

So does Emre Can, who showed his potential in defence last season before his unfamiliarity with the position was exposed.

Lucas Leiva is the only natural holding player in Rodgers' squad. He has not always been a favourite of the manager, so Milner may be asked to anchor the midfield.

But second-guessing Rodgers is difficult, who is notable for unexpected decisions. They can be brilliant or they can backfire.

If they bomb this season, it will probably be his last.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2015, with the headline 'Tinkerman has to walk alone'. Print Edition | Subscribe