I am definitely feeling my Red oats this week after attending Liverpool's friendly here in Chicago. Sure, it wasn't quite the full house I might have expected, but a rabid crowd nonetheless. Is it because Liverpool just don't have the footprint here in the States they'd like to think they do? Man United sold out Soldier Field, but of course we know their global mark is higher than just about any club in the world. Chelsea played at Toyota Park when they were here, and Liverpool would have sold that place out twice over. Or maybe the American crowd, while excited to see their favorite clubs come to them, has caught on to preseason football being on the same entertainment level as Gray's Anatomy or getting a new driver's license.
But that's not why you called. Sunday saw Lazar Markovic's first outing in red (or black, as it were) and all the new signing have engineered this question of whether Liverpool will become this year's Spurs, i.e. sold their best player and center of the team for an obscene amount of money and tried to replace him with a raft of signings. It didn't work for Tottenham last year, but that might not mean it didn't work. And these are two different situations. At least that's what we want to believe.
If we go back to last summer, Spurs sold Gareth Bale for enough money to give everyone in the world a college education, and brought in Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chirches, Christian Eriksen, and Erik Lamela. All of these were pretty highly thought of at the time. Paulinho had just come off a dominating Confederations Cup performance with Brazil (how does that look now?), Chadli was a regular in the Belgium team that might be the second or third best in Europe, Soldado had banged the goals in Spain, and Eriksen and Lamela were chased by a host of teams, including Liverpool.
Did it not work because these players just couldn't adjust? Perhaps, but that's too simplistic. First, Andre Villas-Boas rarely looked like he had a plan. There was constant experimentation and rotation and no one seemed sure of where they were supposed to be. Second, most of these players were used to playing in attacking and free-flowing sides, especially Eriksen and Lamela. AVB wanted more the quick-strike counter type of side, and they were rough fits. It really wouldn't surprise me at all if a few of these players have much better seasons under Pochettino, who favors more possession and creativity. Third, these players weren't added to an already established spine. The defense at White Hart Lane still had the achy-breaky Michael Dawson and whatever Jan Vertonghen in, there was no midfield anchor at all and these players were expected to form it, and Soldado took over the striker duties immediately.
None of this is a problem at Anfield. One, it's pretty clear Brendan Rodgers has a plan (more on this in a bit), and isn't buying players to constitute it but to supplement it. Connected with that, these players are brought in to play a certain system and way, instead of just bought because they're good and then be folded and squeezed into something they might not be. Third, there is already an established spine at Liverpool. There are four genuinely good centerbacks (though I still have my doubts about Skrtel, but I'll give you he's better than most), Gerrard, Allen, Henderson, and should anyone get hurt Lucas comprise the engine room to help anyone joining there like Can, and Sturridge has enough of a track record at Liverpool to think he'll score enough to not burden any new arrival with that duty. There's also Sterling and Coutinho in the attacking third. We already know that what was already in place is more than enough to field a very good side, and the new signings are meant to augment that.
That doesn't mean I think everything will automatically go smoothly. There's going to be an adjustment here, because I think Rodgers is going to transform, or at least evolve, what Liverpool want to do. Last year, because of the dominating form of the strikers and their strengths, Liverpool adopted a more, Steve-Nash-Era Phoenix Suns attack, seven seconds or less, as Deadspin put it. But I don't think that's ever really been Rodgers's preferred method. When Suarez was suspended, or Sturridge hurt, Rodgers fielded mostly a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. That's clearly what's going to happen here, but I also think he'll want Liverpool to have the ball more. Sure, having the counter attack of hellfire and death in the holster will come in handy. But the additions of Markovic, Lallana, the flexibility of Can, as well as the ball-playing from the back of Lovren and the other rumors suggest that Liverpool will have a far more fluid, inventive style of attack, with the front three or four or five constantly rotating and popping up all over.
I'm not sure it will take from the off, I hope it does. There could be some adjustment time, especially after September 1 when rotation is required for Champions League and Premier League fixtures start to pile up. It could take some time for players to develop that understanding when they're being rotated and different combinations are on offer. But I think we can safely say that Liverpool are more likely to not "do a Spurs" than they would.