After greeting Jurgen Klopp on the touchline prior to kick off, former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers received a warm round of applause from those behind him in Anfield’s Main Stand. It rippled lightly around the stadium. Most Liverpool appreciate him, but they’ve moved on and, in his own way, so has Rodgers.
It was the Northern Irishman’s first time back at Anfield since being sacked by Liverpool in October 2015, four years ago almost to the day. This also means we are approaching Klopp’s four-year anniversary at the club, and as he released his trademark fist pumps to the Kop at the end of another thrilling victory, the fans celebrated a Liverpool team which is now undoubtedly one built in their manager’s image.
In some ways, the same could also be said of Rodgers’ Leicester side, even though he is less than a year into the job. The 2016 Premier League champions already had the profile of player the 46-year-old likes to work with, and he is receiving many plaudits for the way he has them playing at the beginning of this season.
He sent his side out to match Klopp’s 4-3-3, and will have been pleased with the spells of possession his side enjoyed in the first half. Klopp’s curveball was to use Roberto Firmino out on the left wing and Mohamed Salah up front, with Sadio Mane on the right.
During his time at Liverpool, Rodgers was known for tinkering with his tactics perhaps a little too much, but here it was the present incumbent’s tactical switch led to the first goal.
Mane had been doing a great job in defence against Leicester’s own Andy Robertson, Ben Chilwell. So much so that you could suggest this was the reason Klopp switched up his front three. But towards the end of the first half the trio returned to their usual positions, with Mane left, Firmino central, and Salah high up on the right.
Following a spell where Liverpool were asked to defend a number of set pieces, James Milner played a long-range through-ball with his left boot which found Mane down the left channel. Once the Senegalese flyer had latched on to it, there was never any doubt he would take the chance. It still needed a good finish to put it past Kasper Schmeichel in front of the Kop, but this is the quality we’ve come to expect from Mane.
Firmino set up another chance for Mane shortly after, and in the second half, having returned to the setup with which they had started the game, Firmino and Salah both threatened the goal.
Polite applause for Brendan Rodgers on his return to Anfield. 👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/LImtTjD7Ed
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) October 5, 2019
Only one of this now world-renowned attacking trio were at the club during Rodgers tenure. He was “lukewarm” on Salah when given the chance to sign him, and the way Firmino was utilised towards the end of his time at Liverpool gives some insight into the problems he had.
Rodgers praised Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, in the build-up to this game, thanking them for backing him as a young manager at a massive club. He also made sure he aimed some criticism in their direction, too.
“The support they gave me as a young manager at a big club, and they were still learning as well,” said Rodgers.
“I think they realised later on that if you do need a centre-half or a goalkeeper you have to pay the money and get him in.”
But FSG needed to build gradually. They weren’t going to spend £75m on a centre back (as they eventually did on Virgil van Dijk) and £67m on a goalkeeper (Alisson) without first having the money in the bank.
One of the ways they did make large amounts of money to invest in the squad was through scouting, buying, and developing players. Potential stars were spotted, signed, and if the right offer came in they would sell them on.
Of course, now the success has been achieved, Liverpool can offer new contracts to their star players as they are not lured by the likes of Barcelona, as Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho once were. The difference between those two sales to the La Liga giants is that two factions clashed on what to do with the Suarez money when Rodgers was at the helm, but when it came to using the Coutinho cash under Klopp, everyone at the club was on the same page.
Rodgers was constantly at odds with Liverpool’s recruitment team. It was an issue caused by his original insistence on joining the club, that they would give him full control in the transfer market, followed by a realisation, later on, that he didn’t have it.
The recruitment team wanted certain players, Rodgers wanted others, and this came to a head when the two parties decided to come to a compromise on which forward to buy ahead of the 2015/16 season. They bought two players rather than one, with the recruitment team bringing in Firmino, and Rodgers getting his own man, Christian Benteke.
Firmino turned out to be one of FSG’s shrewdest investments to date, and is now one of the best centre forwards in the world and leads the line for Brazil. Benteke is now struggling for goals at Crystal Palace and way down the pecking order for Belgium.
Rodgers’ ability as a coach has never been in doubt, but there were areas he needed to improve in the management game, not least his ability to work alongside a recruitment team with ideas of their own.
To solve this problem Rodgers began working with Lee Congerton, who was a chief scout at Chelsea when the Northern Irishman was managing the reserve side at Stamford Bridge. Congerton was appointed head of recruitment at Celtic, and has now followed Rodgers to Leicester.
Rather than be advised from above, Rodgers has found someone he has worked with before and can work on the same level. Though there were still some problems in this area at Celtic, any potential issues are yet to raise their head at Leicester, and so far it seems like the perfect match.
It was fitting that one of the players signed under Congerton’s watch created the opening which produced the Leicester equaliser — an opening they had been unable to create previously, having not even had a shot on goal until the 73rd minute.
Ayoze Perez, fresh off the bench and freshly signed from Newcastle in the summer, stabbed a pass through to James Maddison, who put the ball through Adrian’s legs. Even though possession was around 50-50, Leicester had scored with their first and only shot on target.
It would have felt like a victory for Rodgers, and he commented after the game that he thought his side looked like they could get in front in the game, but another difference between this Liverpool and the one Rodgers presided over is that they don’t know when they are beaten.
They pumped balls into the final third, and it was Mane again who produced when it mattered, winning possession in the opposition box and drawing a foul from Mark Albrighton. It had to be Milner, a Rodgers signing, who tucked the penalty away to give Liverpool their
17th consecutive Premier League victory.
James Nalton at Anfield