Square pegs in round holes: Brendan Rodgers' true undoing at Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers 2

Brendan Rodgers' insistence on playing players out of their natural position was the true key to his downfall at Liverpool.

Rodgers spent close to £300 million - as reported by the Liverpool Echo - on 31 players during his near three-and-a-half years on Merseyside and after suggesting that his squad were still in transition, owners Fenway Sports Group had heard enough.

The Northern Irishman often fielded players in positions that were unfamiliar to them, and while the ex-Swansea City boss has always been regarded as an innovative coach, there’s certainly a fine line between genius and insanity when it comes to selecting an XI.

Despite the huge sums plundered during transfer windows, Rodgers was still relying on players performing outside of their preferred roles, and ultimately it lead to poor results and cost the Ulsterman his job at Anfield.

STEWART DOWNING & JOSE ENRIQUE

During Rodgers’ first season at Anfield, the coach opted to field Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing in opposite positions, with the Spanish full-back operating in a wing role ahead of the current Middlesbrough man.

It was an experiment which proved inconclusive. Both players were restored to their natural positions later on in the season, although Downing’s form markedly improved after Christmas, along with the side in general.

GLEN JOHNSON

Glen Johnson was England’s first-choice right-back for many years and the defender was brought in to play that position at Anfield back in 2009. The ex-Chelsea man was sometimes deployed as a left-sided player by Kenny Dalglish prior to Rodgers’ arrival, but Johnson is considered a right-back by all and sundry.

Johnson, who left the club on a Bosman in the summer to join Stoke City, was sometimes selected at left-back by Rodgers, but it was his deployment in a three-man defence which raised most eyebrows.

When Rodgers reverted to his 3-5-2 last season, Johnson, who had lost his place as the first-choice right-back, was sometimes shoehorned into a central defensive role alongside the likes of Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and/or Dejan Lovren.

EMRE CAN

Speaking about the Germany international in the summer, Rodgers said this about Can’s preferred position to The Mirror: "As you see he can play in the back three, against Newcastle he played as one of the two centre-halves when we played a back four and was comfortable. But I think his passing range, his strength, his power he's best in midfield and I think once again he's finding his fitness."

In his debut campaign at Anfield, Can’s versatility was stretched to breaking point. The big-money signing from Leverkusen was initially picked in midfield as part of a three-man lineup, before eventually dropping into defence alongside Skrtel and Sakho.

Can impressed at times in the role, as Rodgers’ Reds went on a 13-game unbeaten run from December to March . However, he was then farmed out to right-back as results suffered and Liverpool’s season unravelled after suffering defeat to Manchester United on March 22.

The 21-year-old suffered particularly chastening afternoons against Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final and Stoke City on the final day – where the Potters inflicted the biggest defeat in 52 years on the 18-time league winners with a 6-1 hammering.

Can may be one of Liverpool’s most versatile performers, but an effective Premier League right-back he isn’t!

RAHEEM STERLING

Sterling was converted from a traditional winger into a No.10 role at times during the tail end of Liverpool’s ultimately failed title push in 2014, and the youngster shone in the role – so much so that he was fast-tracked into the World Cup squad by Roy Hodgson that summer.

It looked as though Rodgers had helped to carve out a new position for the prodigious Sterling, but as the likes of Rickie Lambert, Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini toiled to no avail as strikers, the young winger was tried as a lone frontman – despite finishing being one of his weakest areas.

Sterling’s pace and movement caused problems for teams, but the lack of killer instinct and seeming inability to strike the ball with any degree of force denied him adding to his goals tally. The move up top did little to deter Manchester City from making their £49m move in the summer, as covered by the BBC, but he was never going to be lined up as the Citizens’ next No.9. Manuel Pellegrini has deployed Sterling wide left so far.

LAZAR MARKOVIC & JORDON IBE

Liverpool’s best football under Rodgers came when they played two up front ahead of a midfield diamond, so it was something of a head scratcher when Rodgers forked out £20m - according to the BBC - on winger Markovic from Benfica.

The youngster struggled to impose himself on the Premier League initially, and was further hamstrung by Rodgers’ insistence on playing him as a left-wing back. He was eventually loaned to Fernerbahce in the summer.

After breaking into the side in explosive fashion in the second half of last season, youngster Ibe has suffered from a similar problem to Markovic. Rodgers’ insistence on wing-backs hampered Ibe’s performances. The ex-Wycombe Wanderers teenager has bucket loads of potential, but must be allowed to perform further up the pitch.

JOE GOMEZ

Gomez was brought to the club in the summer from Charlton Athletic as a promising right-back who was expected to eventually move to a central role, but Rodgers decided to plunge the youngster in at the deep end at left-back.

Gomez’s composure and ability have been impressive so far, but it is unfair to ask the teenager to operate in an unfamiliar role for the season’s entirety at a club with huge expectations like Liverpool.

Defeat at Manchester United last month, where Gomez conceded a penalty, was the last Premier League start for the ex-Addicks youngster.

JORDAN HENDERSON

Current captain will always give his all to the situation at hand, but plenty is taken away from the England international’s game when he is selected as a right-wing back. In short, he is a midfielder and should be selected in the engine room.

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