A revolution is underway in the red half of Merseyside with Brendan Rodgers leading Liverpool to top of the Premier League with six games to play.
Some of the broad coaching principles that have underlined Rodgers’s method are ones that other managers would do well to follow if faced with regenerating a squad.
While Ange Postecoglou has taken over a poor international squad and Rodgers inherited a very talented club one (with all due respect, Luis Suárez is a slight step up from Josh Kennedy), the new Australian manager can learn much from the Reds boss when it comes to maximizing talent.
1) Clarity of vision from the start
Rodgers’s reputation for high possession, pressing football at Swansea preceded him upon arrival at Anfield yet it was naive to think that mimicking those methods would ensure success with his new team.
At Swansea, the template for this type of football was already in place thanks to previous managers Paulo Sousa and Roberto Martínez carrying on the club’s long tradition of possession based football that began with John Toshack in 1978.
This was not in place at Anfield so Rodgers’s challenge was to get players who had been playing unimaginative and ultimately unsuccessful football for his predecessors into a highly energised and technical system.
Rodgers is so committed to his football ideology that he famously presented the Liverpool owners with a 180-page dossier explaining it. The manager was open to fans from the very start saying that he would need time to see which of the players he already had could carry out his vision.
Ange Postecoglou has been similarly transparent in his tenure so far, especially after the 4-3 loss to Ecuador, by saying the game validated his thoughts on what he needs to do with the Socceroos. Like Rodgers he needs to maintain these ideas as he takes the national side through the World Cup and then the 2015 Asian Cup.
2) Don’t subscribe to stereotypes
Rodgers has always advocated the skill and technical quality of British players and clubs despite them usually being written off as overly physical and tactically one-dimensional.
Rodgers got Swansea City, a club from the distinctly unexotic surroundings of south Wales to mimic Barcelona; his methods were a breath of fresh air in the Premier League.
At Liverpool he has underpinned the team with similarly Spanish tenets while relying heavily on British players such as Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan.
Bluntly speaking, the last two Socceroos coaches have had little faith in the technical qualities of Australian players. They both set up their teams to defend deep and attack on the counter or aerially.
Like Rodgers, Postecoglou should strive to get his squad playing intelligent football: Australian players have shown they are capable of doing so.
3) Don’t be afraid of tactical flexibility
Paul Doyle recently wrote an insightful piece on how Rodgers’s tactical changes this season have kept opposition teams guessing about what they will face and have also worked to best cater to Suárez and Sturridge’s strike partnership.
Rodgers did not compromise his tactical ideals when the Swans came up against bigger sides in the Premier League and nor should Postecoglou with his Socceroos.
It was tactical flexibility and foresight that Postecoglou used so effectively in the A-League level at Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar. Just because he now finds himself in a staggeringly tough World Cup group, he should not be discouraged from still pursuing that flexibility.
4) Dramatic personnel changes are necessary and will work
Fabio Aurelio, Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani, Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, Joe Cole and Stewart Downing were all first-team players who Rodgers ruthlessly moved out in the early stages of his Liverpool career.
Liverpool do not miss these players’ qualities and the Socceroos are unlikely to regret freezing out their own underachieving players. On Lucas Neill, Luke Wilkshire, Jade North, Alex Brosque and Sasa Ognenovski should be worried.
5) There can be value in experience and what remains
While some players should be jettisoned, there is room for a manager to salvage and upgrade those who remain through smart and motivated coaching and man management.
Postecoglou looks increasingly likely to retain Mark Bresciano, Tim Cahill, Josh Kennedy and Brett Holman, and with good coaching could thrive. Postecoglou can look at Liverpool for some guidance. Under Rodgers, the much-maligned £20m signing Jordan Henderson has gone from a perceived waste of money to a mainstay of the Liverpool midfield and a possible England World Cup starter.
Steven Gerrard has also been reinvigorated in a deeper role that relies on his positional smarts and accurate passes. The Liverpool captain recently lauded Rodgers publically; saying the way he deals with individual players had been a “revelation”.