Would Winning Alone Suffice?

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If one reads the title of this piece, it would not be too far fetched to assume that readers might think they have entered an Arsenal/Chelsea fans blog site by accident, as this is a topic which has been a bug bear for Arsenal fans during their trophy drought ridden years. The terms ‘winning ugly’, ‘winning at all costs’, ‘beautiful football’, ‘passing the ball into the net’ ‘park the bus’ etc. are jibes which are often involved in such discussions.

So, does this topic matter to Liverpool fans? Would winning alone suffice? Or is how we win is equally important? Do such expectations change as the season progresses? There are a lot of such questions floating in my mind currently and I am not sure if this piece would actually answer any/all of these satisfactorily.

Winning Suffice

Premise 1 : Winning alone would suffice, how we win is not (as) important

There would be a significant percentage of the fan base aligned to this viewpoint. Liverpool fans have seen lots of other clubs win trophies, even though that team might not have been the best team in that tournament. But such teams identify the opportune big moments and do what it takes to win such moments. Moments helpfully coined as ‘6 pointer’ by Sky Sports.

So let us assume this is a valid premise, then there are couple of follow up questions which spring to mind.

  • Is the current manager the best available manager to fulfill the premise?
  • What happened to the philosophy espoused during the past 3 years? Where does it stand with respect to our performances in our opening two games?

“I thought he was a real handful tonight. His hold-up play is outstanding, he has a wonderful touch for a big guy and he can control the game.”

The above quote is from Brendan Rodgers on Christian Benteke’s good performance against Bournemouth. Taking nothing away from a solid home debut from Benteke, the quote above would have been unthinkable in any of the previous three years of the Brendan Rodgers era. One could argue that the manager has refined his vision principles, or more aptly is adopting a ‘horses for courses’ philosophy, but Brendan Rodgers is also known as a stickler for his principles on playing style.

The juxtaposition between the manager being unable to find a striker to fit the exact proposed style for that fee vis-a-vis the manager tweaking his preferred style to fit a preferred player will be interesting to watch over the coming months as it re-ignites the player vs system/philosophy again.

Another interesting (or horrendous, as suitable) thought on a personal level is would a manager like Tony Pulis be more suited towards achieving the stated premise, considering his enviable record in sustaining sides in the Premier League. Not for one moment am I saying our football is as dire as what we usually see from sides managed by Tony Pulis, or that I am ignoring the copious amount of money spent by Pulis to keep Stoke in the Premier League. I am just wondering about the right fit for the premise at hand and it is a thought process which will keep me interested as our season progresses.

Premise 2 : How we win equally matters

The second premise is one with which our current manager identifies himself with. On multiple occasions, the manager has talked about playing an attractive style of football with controlled possession. Other tenets of Rodgers’ philosophy include giving a chance to young players (‘if you are good enough, you are old enough’ , ‘running through barbed fences’) and giving the players a stage to express and perform.

Few of the open ended questions on this premise include :

  • Do our opening two performances have an identity resonance with what the manager has espoused during the last three seasons? Or do we just put it down to early season blues and lack of synergy between the new signings?
  • Are players like Henderson, for example, presented with the best stage to show his inherent strengths when played as the deepest midfielder? Are players like Coutinho able to perform to the best of their abilities in a wider position. Is this a debate about functionality vs grandeur even a valid one?
  • Does it do proper justice to the way we setup with two wide players when both of them are always comfortable in gravitating towards the central positions?
  • Does the spirit of meritocracy still exist? For example, how does Lallana play the full 90 minutes on the back of two such performances? The argument of lack of options holds no good, when Danny Ings/Origi have not got a look in from the bench and a player like Markovic does not even make the match day squad.

Then there are questions which bring both the premises into a direct conflict, such as

  • How long would one accept good performances without results to accompany it? (First half of 2012/13 season for example)
  • How long can we sustain results without performances justifying the result? (The long unbeaten run during the second half of last season)

At the moment, it might be difficult to answer many, or in fact any of the questions stated above with any degree of conviction. In fact I would go on to say that the above mentioned questions are actually ‘thoughts expressed aloud’ with no definite answers available at this exact moment of time.

There is a valid argument if fans state that this article is ‘jumping on the back of the manager’ or is at least ‘5 weeks early’, and I am willing to accept their point of view. I would just be happy if we think about this as the season progresses and debate it, if need be.

Liverpool FC. Onwards. Upwards.

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  1. Great piece. These are questions(thoughts expressed aloud) need to be aired. Rodgers teams definitely have a habit of starting morbidly slowly and then picking up around December/January. Not saying this is like the 2013/2014 season but if we can make that our template I’m ok with that. Grind out a result while your team builds up cohesion and by the time your’re free flowing you’re ok. We don’t seem to finish strong either so if we can end by grinding out results(playing ugly), again, I’m ok with that with a nice dose of sexy football smattered in the middle of the season. Early days is always about the 3 points regardless of performance.

    • Thanks mate first of all for taking time out to read and leave your feedback. Rodgers’ teams have traditionally had a good second half,but the last season was a car crash. With the season fixtures piling up unfavorably for us it is imperative for us to snatch how many ever points we can. How we do it is the debate? Do we believe we have the flair to dominate those games, or do we believe our manager has the nous to outwit them tactically. Will be an interesting viewing.

  2. i wouldnt mind these 1-0 wins for atleast 10-15 games,given the amount of pressure both the manager and squad is under. Playing those glamorous barca style football is fun but at the moment its all about get max points possible is key to gaining momentum towards that coveted cl place. we always play fluid attacking after christmas so i wont be bothered abt these gritty wins now knowing we can easily make the push to next level with this squad. we should not forget its result based business now. we need to get atleast 3 years of continuous cl qualification to attract big stars and increase our revenue in asia.

  3. Hi, well written piece. I will say that it is very, Very, early to come to any conclusions. I remember 1984 when Liverpool started terribly, for two months we were dreadful and even dropped down to the relegation spots. If I’m right we ended up winning virtually everything. Gerard Houlliers Liverpool perfected the art of winning ugly in 2001, similarly most of Benitez’s reign ’09 apart, was hardly free flowing. Tonight we had five starters making a home debut to take into account. I believe the manager is being pragmatic, correctly because we have a tough run coming up. Given that we still created four clear cut chances tonight whilst sticking to a deep and rigid shape. I know you are trying to be even handed but there is definitely an underlying criticism which comes through. I feel (without disrespecting your valid opinion) that you would be equally unhappy if we’d played a fluid, expansive style and lost one of our opening matches. The only side in the league who have looked good so far are City and their side, Sterling (ugh!) apart, is a very settled one and full of players who know each others game inside out. I feel that performances will come organically but are not particularly important yet whilst 3-4 of our best players are not match fit and others have hardly played together.

    • Hello James,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. As a long time supporter, I do understand your analogy with the 1984 season. And my intention was not to criticize the team. The intention was to look at sustenance in the long term and that performances matter as time ticks along.Ultimately we could have lost both of those opening games quite easily with similar levels of performances, so yeah performance was the constant I was looking at. Agree to your viewpoints at a high level definitely though.

  4. I don’t mind the 1-0 wins while the players get use to each other. I do think BR is desperate to make the Lallana purchase seem worth it and not another bad buy. I would like to see another player get a chance in that position, Markovic or Firmino to create more, or have two playing up top with Ings or Origi beside Benteke so he has someone running off his flicks and to get someone else in the box if we are to cross more. Benteke looks so isolated at times.I do believe that the team would play better and have more of a creative element if BR made these changes. But it’s still early and 6 out of 6 isn’t to bad for now, I think fans will be okay with just results this early but after a few more games I think we will be demanding more style to go along with the results.

    • I think we were lucky to get 6 from 6….. We could very easily be on 2 points at the moment…..
      If our midfield looks as lackluster as it did last night when we play Arsenal, then heaven help us…..

  5. Honestly the football has been weak but we can see its still attempted at being nice. We have so many players it just comes to naturally that a stricter way of playing and slightly refining the attractive style into a more efficient point accumulating system. Benteke showed promising signs he can fit our philosphy so it doesnt have to be a radical change in style. Great piece but I am one of those fans that would honestly take 38 1-0 wins this season to remove the horrible omen of not having won the premier league because I firmly believe when thats gone alot of our players will feel less pressurised by fans and it will lift the gloom currently hanging over our fans

    • I would take 38 1-0 wins too. But you can win 1-0 by controlling the games better too!

  6. Our football has been poor. I don’t know how long we can pass the ball around aimlessly without even threatening to create a chance….. Coutinho is the only one trying to make things happen…. For the rest of the team, they seem lulled into a false sense of security… As long as we have the ball, and pass it to one another, we should get the points …. If only football was played like that…..!!! Bournemouth looked purposeful and move the ball forward when ever they got the chance…. We looked pathetic…… My feeling after the game…..
    Either our footballing philosophy sucks….. Or we are implementing it in the worst way possible…….!!!!! BR has spent so much of money, and yet many of his own big money signings can’t even get a look in…… Honestly think that he is the weak link….. Bring in Klopp and watch what he does with the same bunch of players……

  7. I’m not sure how that quote about Benteke would be unheard of in previous years. Solid hold up play, good touch and controlling the game have always been what Rodgers wants from his front man. Rodgers has been quoted recognizing both Suarez and Sturridge for the same type of performances. More than anything else, Rodgers has always wanted flexible attackers that can provide different attacking options. Benteke doesn’t represent a change in vision, just the fulfillment of the original one. A quote like “He won all of his arial duels and that’s the most important thing,” would have been unheard of. Had Rodgers said something like that, I’d really be scratching my head.

    Also, Rodgers’ stubbornness about possession and attractive attacking football is not about his personal taste (or providing entertainment). It’s about winning consistently. Early in his regime he spoke over and over about the amount of times a game is won/drawn by the team with more possession. The higher possession team has a significantly better chance of winning, because keeping possession protects you from your own vulnerabilities. The first 20 min against Bournemouth proved this philosophy. We looked a step behind Bournemouth, they were fired up and sharper than us. Yet, at 20′ we had 52% possession, which meant the far better team (them) had fewer chances; by the 30′ we had 6 chances to their 1. Granted, the scoreline was unjust, but even had they been ahead 1-0 (as they should’ve been) the damage was limited through keeping the ball. Possession is not just about being easy on the eyes, it’s about weathering the bad spots. Rodgers knows this and works to implement that knowledge, though it is difficult in a high-pace league like EPL. Things will get beautiful, but it’s ridiculous to think they should always be beautiful. Sometimes we look ugly, especially these first two games, but we at least keep the ball and protect ourselves. Hats off to the lads for 2 clean sheets and 6 points. Well earned.

  8. As we integrate so many new players into the squad I am quite happy grinding out wins. The first few months of this season are all about learning to play together, getting the rest of the top talent match fit while accumulating as many points as possible. LFCs best football is coming. Once they have players like Firmino and Sturridge back in the starting XI working with the likes of Ibe, Coutihno and Benteke the goals will come. Milner and Hendo look like a good pair in the middle but they need a good DM playing a holding position so they can be freed up to support the attack. Illarramendi would do nicely and his accurate passing would help start an attack. LFC finally has the right mix of quality players to contend with last years top four teams. The elegant football will come as this group learns to play As a team and so will more wins. In the mean time we must get every point we can no matter how “ugly” some think they are.

  9. Honestly we have looked dreadful. Yes I know there are some new signings.. But hendo Ibe lallana and at times coutinho are not new. They need to be more purposeful. It’s all just too slow. Lethargic passing. Only coutinho atleast tries to do something.
    I really think BR is not a good tactician. I really cannot understand why he would not just play a diamond formation with firmino benteke up top can as DM coutinho as the 10.
    And if he’s worried about width he’s got clyne bombing forwards and firmino can drift in and out of right too. It’s highly frustrating. He’s been lucky so far. One a golazo and another offside.
    Let’s see going forward.


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