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Who and What Is a Liverpool Player?

The Premier League runners-up are back in the Champions League and face a pivotal transfer window to ensure the club is sufficiently equipped for more games. What sort of player should Liverpool be targeting?

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Juergen Schwarz

This is truly the season to be jolly and a multitude of gifts await our wide-eyed visions of glee. Such unbounded joy has not been seen in many a transfer window but Liverpool supporters expect players to fit a new reality. Brendan Rodgers has delivered what was asked of him and more. There will be no agonising wait to discover which tricky European outfit will block Liverpool's path to the group stages of the Champions League and apart from the undoubted star of the show, Liverpool can choose who to sell and keep.

We know the following: Liverpool's squad is thin and short of depth in a number of areas, most of the players signed in Liverpool's last active transfer window will be on their way, only a few returning loanees can harbour any legitimate hope of being part of the first-team squad next season, Real Madrid may or may not decide that Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz will replace Karim Benzema, failing to provide defensive and midfield reinforcements would be madness, and the final third requires more than three names beginning with the letter "S".

Brendan Rodgers preached a philosophy of "death by football" and "resting with the ball" to the Liverpool faithful who he would hope to convert to his footballing ideologies. At the beginning of 2012, Rodgers spoke proudly of his methods that were bringing him success at Swansea and this was what Liverpool were signing up for.

My template for everything is organisation. With the ball you have to know the movement patterns, the rotation, the fluidity and positioning of the team. Then there's our defensive if it is not going well we have a default mechanism which makes us hard to beat and we can pass our way into the game again. Rest with the ball. Then we'll build again. When we have the football everybody's a player. The difference with us is that when we have the ball we play with 11 men, other teams play with 10 and a goalkeeper.

The end of Rodgers' first season brought some eye-catching results from a more direct approach compared with the patient passing game Liverpool deployed in the season's opening months. This season, Liverpool's football has caused death to the opposition but a number of the season's headline victories were achieved through brutal, relentless, and rapid transitions from defence to attack. Suárez, Sturridge, Sterling, and Coutinho were Rodgers' four horsemen of doom and we were witnesses to their predilection for untold destruction in the final third.

Possession was deliberately ceded to Arsenal and Everton in order to exploit and mercilessly punish weaknesses in the opposition ranks. Counter attacking was finely executed and displayed to the football world. However, Liverpool dominated possession when tearing Manchester City to shreds in the opening half hour at Anfield and in a fine display at the Etihad, Liverpool held a respectable share of possession against a confident, in-form, and irrepressible Man City side. Liverpool dominated possession in both routs of Tottenham with Lucas Leiva as the controller in the first game at White Hart Lane and Steven Gerrard patrolling in front of his defence in the reverse fixture.

Liverpool effectively controlled possession at Old Trafford and exercised an aggressive forward press to force Manchester United's defenders to make mistakes under duress. An earlier victory over David Moyes' misguided defending champions was not achieved with much possession but an effective rearguard display. Liverpool went to Stamford Bridge with not much gas in the players' tanks yet proved to be capable in possession and dominated possession to a ridiculous degree in the home defeat at Anfield even if Mourinho deliberately set up his side to defend like a team from a forgotten era. All these games had a variety of tactical set-ups in terms of approach and formation.

Liverpool ranked fifth in possession, fourth in pass accuracy, and third in shots per game in the Premier League. The possession and pass accuracy aren't wildly different from last season in a side that seems to have a flexible identity in terms of philosophy and tactics. Players have moved around and an unexpected title challenge with over 100 league goals scored arrived. After the draw against Aston Villa at Anfield, Rodgers hinted at the flexibility that may be characteristic of his tenure. "For me the system is irrelevant," Rodgers declared. "But the style will always be maintained, to control and dominate games."

In the press conference leading up to the Crystal Palace game, Rodgers reflected further on his approach after a home defeat against Chelsea. It revealed that in his mind Liverpool weren't a side that could neatly fit into one tactical box nor could a fixed philosophy be ascribed to the way Liverpool approached football matches.

What we've shown over the course of the season is that we can play in many different ways - possession or counter-attack, our ability to score goals has been there.

Does this make it harder for Liverpool to recruit and retain players or will good players naturally be able to fulfil the demands of varying tactics and footballing philosophies? The Liverpool Way has often been spoken of and it encapsulates how Liverpool as a club approaches footballing life. Is there a set of guidelines for new Liverpool players? Flexible, tactically intelligent, comfortable with both feet, mobile, dedicated, focused on improvement, and open to new ideas?

Philippe Coutinho, Jon Flanagan, and Raheem Sterling in particular have displayed an admirable flexibility not only in position but in mentality. A new role requires a rethink of one's position in relation to others on the field as well as different responsibilities that may be difficult to become accustomed to. Not all players are flexible and that should not be cause to damn them from a Liverpool existence. Yet a feeling prevails that a new breed of Liverpool player is being sought this summer for a manager and team that is still in the process of adaptation, evolution, and projected domination.

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