It’s a natural human reaction to be averse to change. Change is difficult. Change takes effort. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, why would you want to change?
It’s for this reason that those who appear to like change are treated with suspicion. Those that change things when they’re going well. Those that seek unnecessary change. Those who seek change for change itself.
Brendan Rodgers would fall into this latter category. The manager is seemingly never entirely satisfied with his Liverpool team, even when they win. Characters of this ilk tend to be labelled as ‘tinkerers’.
They are the permanently dissatisfied, and the helpless. They are panned and patronised by all quarters. ‘Why can’t they just leave things be?’, we ask.
But the difference with Rodgers right now, is that when he makes changes, he tends to get them right.
Against Southampton last month, Rodgers opted to play a 4-4-2 diamond for the first time this season. The largely extinct formation meant that Liverpool could play with two strikers and allowed Philippe Coutinho to be deployed in his preferred No.10 position.
And it worked. Liverpool took the lead in the opening quarter courtesy of Luis Suarez.
However, Southampton gradually came back into the game and appeared the more likely to get the second goal. So Rodgers responded. He brought on Raheem Sterling for Countinho, and switched back to their more familiar 4-3-3.
A minute later, Sterling scored. And Liverpool would eventual end the game comfortable 3-0 winners.
However, not every change that Rodgers has made has been as successful. The Liverpool manager’s early attempts to incorporate Suarez and Sturridge in the same team by playing three at the back were largely unsuccessful. And Rodgers admitted tactical folly was at fault following Liverpool’s 2-2 home draw with Aston Villa, when the team’s flat four in midfield were overrun.
But the important thing to note about both cases is that Rodgers changed things; and changed them for the better. Liverpool have found better ways of incorporating their two danger men by employing 4-3-3 and the 4-4-2 diamond. And in the game with Aston Villa, Rodgers removed Coutinho at half time and introduced Lucas Leiva to positive effect.
But Rodgers doesn’t just make changes for the sake of change. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The Liverpool manager’s total of 71 substitutions this season is fewer than any of his contemporaries in the Premier League.
This suggests that more often than not, Rodgers gets things right from the start. But it is also suggestive of a confidence. Brendan Rodgers apparently doesn’t feel the need to make the kind of redundant substitutions that other managers do in order to feel like they’re doing something:
‘A striker for a lesser striker’ – ‘A winger for another winger’.
When the Liverpool manager picks a team, it’s because it’s the one he believes to be the best for the job. And he retains this confidence in his convictions even if his team are losing.
When Brendan Rodgers makes changes, it’s because he actually thinks they’re going to make a difference. And more often than not, they do.
But if they don’t, the Northern Irishman doesn’t immediately disregarded them either. Rodger’s experiments with playing Steven Gerrard in defensive midfield were widely ridiculed following the team’s 2-2 draw with Aston Villa.
And while Rodgers recognised he’d erred tactically, he didn’t see things in quite the same way. Rather than ditch his captain, he merely tweaked the team around him.
And it’s worked.
While defensive midfield may not be Gerrard’s best position, his eagerness to pass the ball forward – and pass it long – means that the team can get their forward players onto the ball quickly.
This allows Liverpool to put Suarez and co. into one-on-one situations with the opposition defence – exactly what other don’t want.
Gerrard is undeniably defensively weaker than Lucas and Joe Allen, but his greater passing range allows Liverpool to play to their strengths.
This kind of holistic approach is surprisingly rare in football management. Players are often picked on reputation and quality, rather than overall effectiveness in the team.
There are two conclusions that can be drawn from Brendan Rodgers management of Liverpool this season. The first is that he appears to think about football differently from most managers. The second, and more important deduction, is that a lot of what he thinks turns out to be right.
Rodgers may not have the Midas touch. But right now, he’s about as close as you get.