Liverpool boss reflects on his side's impressive start to the season
Speaking 12 months ago amid the growing realisation Andy Carroll didn’t fit his philosophy, Brendan Rodgers was asked what alternative he had to his preferred style of play.
“If plan A doesn’t work, plan B is to make a change to make plan A more effective,” came the response.
It was a comment that stuck in the minds of supporters, particularly during the difficult first few months of Rodgers’s reign with Liverpool stubbornly refusing to change tack in the wake of a well-organised defence.
Matters, though, have since changed. And while the Anfield outfit have grown accustomed to the Rodgers way, so the Northern Irishman has sought to compromise and fine-tune his insistence on free-flowing football.
Winning with style may be the ideal. But winning is the aim.
So it has been proven already this season, with Liverpool extracting three successive single-goal victories that have come in contrasting fashion.
On the opening day against Stoke City, save for a late flurry from the visitors it was a dominant display from Rodgers’ men.
Same too for at least the first half of the triumph at Aston Villa the following weekend, although the visitors were forced to dig in defensively after the interval.
And it was another rearguard action that secured an impressive win over Manchester United in their last outing.
But while accepting the natural development of the team and personnel has contributed to a more pragmatic approach at times, Rodgers insists it was always his intention to strengthen the mentality of his players.
“I think that is part of the growth of the team,” says the Liverpool manager. “I think sometimes when you come in as a coach and you have a certain philosophy and way you want to play, I think people think it is only about the ball.
“So they are just concentrating on the football, but it is not that. Of course you have to courage to play and pass, but you have to have the steel and that will and desire to win games.
“I think these are characteristics we have been working on day in, day out, exercises both on the pitch and off the pitch to improve that mentality. It doesn’t just happen.
“Over the period of time that message has got through. Over the last six or seven months that is being proven on the field. Each of the three games this season, we have shown that.”
Rodgers adds: “If you look at the Stoke game we were outstanding in our football, but we had to dig in because at 1-0 it is never an easy game, no matter how dominant you are.
“Against Aston Villa we were outstanding in the first half, dropped our lines deeper purposely after that because one of their strengths is counter-attacking and we needed to deny them space in order to take away a big part of their game. Tactically the players were brilliant.
“Manchester United was about the result. About winning.
“We could have played really well and been dominant and drew or lost the game. Winning 1-0 and the way we did, in the first half pressing high and in the second half having to dig in and fight and scrap and show passion and determination that told me after that game that we are on the right path.
“Hopefully we will continue to show all those fighting qualities. I said last year that we would get better and better in the second half of the season and I think it will be the same this season.”
Indeed, Liverpool – who will come up against former midfielder Jonjo Shelvey – head to Rodgers’ former club Swansea City this evening having lost just one of their last 15 Premier League games.
Liverpool were held to a goalless draw at the Liberty Stadium last November – they have only ever won three times at Swansea in 14 previous visits – but thrashed the Welsh side 5-0 at Anfield in February.
Swansea won the Capital One Cup the following weekend but have since won only three of 14 Premier League games, with tonight’s game the first of a busy schedule for Michael Laudrup’s side with a Europa League clash in Valencia on Thursday followed by a trip to Crystal Palace three days later.
Kolo Toure, though, believes Liverpool have to be on their guard to maintain their encouraging opening to the campaign.
“A great start is very important, definitely – but it is better to take it game-by-game,” says the Ivorian, who is fit again after missing the United match with a groin problem.
“We've been playing every game like a cup final and we want to win games.
“What we've done so far is finished now – we've won three games, but that is finished. It is the next step that is the most important, and that is going to be Swansea. We will put everything in to try and win this game because the past is done. It's finished.”