Brendan Rogers has recently said that his preferred style of play -- with a strong emphasis on maintaining possession, and quickly pressuring the ball once possession is lost -- is not immutable. He has said that you adapt your tactics to the players you have, not the other way around. Nevertheless, it seems clear that he was hired because of his tactical nous. With Rogers' hire FSG seems to have cast aside their previous model of progression -- traditional EPL values -- for a new model -- bringing a particular type of continental football to the EPL. Their thinking seems to be that we cannot beat ManU, Chelsea, or ManCity by playing their game; they simply have too deep of pockets. We'll never be able to best Mancini's varient on catenaccio, SAF's team-first sacrificial dedication, or Chelsea's never-ending stream of strikeforce. What we can do is stake our own ground. That's the only way to compete.
I know that I was not alone in my frustration with Kenny's lack of tactical experimentation. I found this curious because during his "interim" phase he was keen to play with the squad composition and formation. In particular, he enjoyed pretty strong results in the 3-5-2 during his first half-season back in charge. But last year he seemed stuck in his ways, even when they weren't working. This was problematic because the tactics seemed to not match the personnel: Downing, whose primary benefit is his crossing ability, would often play without a target man. Carroll would not play much, and when he did it was frequently without the best crossers on the team: Gerrard and Downing. The team seemed intent on playing down the wing, but without a target man in the middle -- and without anything approaching a winger on the right side -- it was so often inept. The results clearly suffered.
Why bring this up? Because Rogers has been brought in to change this. His preferred style is to control possession, pressure high up the pitch, and score goals through a series of short passes that eventually unlock defenses. All fine and good, but this style requires particular types of players who can both understand the system and thrive in it. The question is: do we have them?
In short, I think the answer is "Not really". At least, not at some key positions, and not with some key people in the lineup. Some LFC players will benefit from a new system, but some will likely not. Here, as I see it, is a rundown:
- Reina: He should thrive in this system for two reasons: because he is an excellent sweeper-keeper, which the maintenance of a high line requires, and because his distribution is excellent.
-Johnson: I think he'll be fine in this system, although it's not clear that it actually plays to his strengths. Over the years I've become convinced that Johnson is generally better and smarter than whoever he's been paired with on the right wing, but when he's had an offensive impact it's generally been by going alone. That's anathema in a tiki-taka system. But he is an offensive threat from the fullback position, which is required, and he makes good runs.
-Skrtel: He's fine. He's the shore-everything-up CB. Think Puyol. Doesn't have to do much except be the backstop, prevent the counterattacks, and get the ball to the CM to re-start the drives.
-Agger: Should thrive. He's always wanted to play more from the back, and this is his chance. I don't honestly think that he's as good bringing the ball forward as he thinks he is, but it's still an additional weapon.
-Enrique: I don't see how he helps the team in this type of system. He is not an offensive threat in any way. He is not a great defender. His crossing ability is pedestrian at best. During the last season he did not combine well with the central midfield or the left winger, whether it was Downing (usually) or Maxi or Bellamy.
-Lucas: TBD. Lucas is great at cleaning up other peoples' messes. He's good at making the simple, safe pass. That's valuable. He's not good at unlocking defenses. He's not good at making runs in the box. He's not good at shots from distance (or from anywhere else, for that matter). I love Lucas as a player, and I think he can have a role in this system, but he might need to adapt a bit. Tiki-taka is a parry-and-thrust system; Lucas parries, but he does not thrust. Either others will have to compensate for that, or he'll have to grow his game.
-Gerrard: TBD as well. Tiki-taka requires patience. Tiki-taka requires discipline. Tiki-taka abolishes gambling. These are not Stevie's strong suits, at least traditionally (I'll grant that he's picked his spots well so far in this year's Euros.) I think Stevie has the skill and smarts to thrive in this system, but does he have the demeanor? I'm not sure.
-Downing: Probably no role in this system. His strengths are neglected entirely by it, and his ability to adapt is not great.
-Henderson: I actually think he'll do great in this scheme, given time to adapt and grow. He has footballing sense, he has positional awareness, he has the ability to pass and move, and at times he's had a nose for goal (himself) or for putting someone else through. There will be some growing pangs, but I think he's well suited to it.
-Suarez: This isn't the best system for him. It doesn't incentivize individual creativity, nor high-risk/high-reward playmaking. That's what Suarez does, and it's what he can't do if this system is going to work. He'll have to be more disciplined in every facet of his game, and I'm honestly not sure if he's capable of it. Tiki-taka does not work with loose cannons.
-Carroll: I think he can work, but he'll need to improve his hold up play and distribution. Last year he showed signs of skill in this area, but it was inconsistent (to say the least). It will need to improve. He'll also have to provide consistent defensive pressure against the CBs of the opposition... something he got better at last year as the season went on. He also will need to time his runs better, since it will no longer be as simple as meeting a lazy cross in the air.
-Adam: No role. He's horrible at every aspect of this.
-Aquiliani: I think he'd thrive in this system, but who knows if he'll get a chance.
-Cole: I actually think he might do well in this system too. But see above.
-Bellamy: I can see this going either way. His best move seems to be to make a bee-line for the byline and then whip one in. That's not tiki-taka. But he can work a maneuver too, when he wants too. And he seems to have a strong understanding of the game. If he's told to with within a system, and there are other pieces around him capable of it, then he might be good at it.
-Kelly: Doesn't play to his strengths.
-Carra: A liability in this system.
-Kuyt: Would've been terrible in this system.
-Maxi: Would likely have been excellent in it.
Bottom line: Tiki-taka is much more dependent on versatile midfielders and fullbacks than dedicated wingers, CDM, or strikers. If the system is working well then goals should come from all over the field, not from a single player. Above all else the system requires discipline and patience. I'm concerned that a number of key players -- Gerrard, Suarez, Agger, Adam, etc. -- don't have enough.
I guess we'll see.