“Some people are big on systems, some people are big on players. Some say it’s the players who make the system, others say it’s the system that makes the difference.”
These words uttered by Liverpool veteran Jamie Carragher reported in the Telegraph resonate with the modern day changes in the philosophy of football. The defender reveals the particularities in the transition the Liverpool squad are having to make under new manager Brendan Rogers.
Carragher discusses the switch to a 4-3-3 formation, one that he himself concedes the club have never effectuated during his time there. Yet he talks candidly about his new manager’s expectations.
“I’ve learned from the way he talks to players about what he expects, even those who are not in my position. If I’m picked, I’ll know exactly what he was expecting from the other players. It’s not just what he’s saying to me, but everyone.”
Brendan Rodgers, it appears, is in the process of impressing his ideas upon his Liverpool charges but must be careful not to over-enforce the meticulousness of his strategies without stern consideration of the players at his disposal.
When fellow young manager Andre Villas-Boas was appointed Chelsea manager, he was forthcoming in his admiration of Barcelona’s pressing football and looked to implement a similar style. Whilst much is contended about his struggles to appease the senior players, the poor performances on the field during his short reign owe equally as much to a system that failed to utilise Chelsea’s assets and at the same time exposed defensive deficiencies.
The high-line, essential in pressing the opposition in their own half, left John Terry and David Luiz vulnerable to quick attacks and prone to mistakes. Van Persie’s crucial winning goal in Arsenal’s 3-5 victory over Chelsea last season was through a John Terry error in the backline and a series of poor performances from Luiz provoked a disparaging response from Gary Neville.
Di Matteo’s subsequent trophy wins with the team were the fruits of reverting to a defensive mindset that made use of Chelsea’s strongest performers. Guus Hiddink found a similar response after taking over from Scolari in 2009.
Whilst Chelsea’s identity was very much established by Jose Mourinho, he has since adopted an attacking style with Real Madrid. Once maligned by football purists for supposed negative tactics with Porto, Chelsea and Inter, the Portuguese has forged one of the most prolific teams in Europe after toppling Barcelona in La Liga and in the process scoring 121 goals (Barcelona scored 114).
“I think systems do play a part otherwise why not all play the same system? But it's still about players and them having the confidence and the belief to get on the ball and play.”
Just as Jamie Carragher acknowledges, the success of a team is ultimately defined by a system that assimilates the attributes of the player collective. And so much of Liverpool’s success will hinge on how Brendan Rodgers is able to adapt his system to players already there to maximise the talent available.
Should the managers be wary of trying to do too much too quickly?