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On Imbalanced Tactics and Long-Term Plans

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Steven Gerrard's move to play as the single-pivot always seemed to have an air of chance about it. According to Brendan Rodgers, though, it was always the plan. And it remains the plan.

Clive Brunskill

When Brendan Rodgers first moved Steven Gerrard back in midfield to play as his single pivot it seemed a touch experimental. A move born of ageing legs and Gerrard returning from injury and needing a place in the squad right at a time when Lucas, the usual holding midfielder, found himself sidelined with a knock. Though Rodgers quickly appeared to embraced the move, it always seemed something of an accidental development.

Liverpool had the best strikers in the league, a freshly injured holding midfielder still trying to find his best form following an ACL tear when he was fit, and Gerrard had returned just in time for Rodgers to put all his eggs in the goalscoring basket by deploying a holding midfielder whose best qualities were in attack. It all made a crazy sort of out-of-necessity sense, though that it worked so well led to obvious questions about what would come next.

Taken at face value, what comes next is more Steven Gerrard of in the single-pivot and a focus on goals, goals, and more goals—at both ends in all likelihood given the imbalanced nature of Rodgers' approach. Taken at face value, it's also interesting to discover that Gerrard's move into a deeper midfield role wasn't accidental, the result of injury and circumstance. Rather it was something Rodgers planned all along.

"I sat with Steven when I first came in, two years ago," said the manager. "I said that this was my vision for him prolonging his career. I felt he had the real quality to play in that role. After that, it was only about timing really. It was about when we put him in that position. And probably halfway through the season, once I had the players fit that could move and work around him, we changed him and from then he's been outstanding."

Gerrard's talents certainly brought a lot to the set up, though at times when Liverpool needed to protect against the counter as when facing weaker sides or when they pushed for goals late on in matches his shortcomings in the role were also made apparent. Rodgers, though, appears less than concerned by the odd defensive lapse and unmarked runner—at least if it means Liverpool can manage two or so more goals for every one the approach gifts opponents.

It can be a difficult approach to swallow at first glance, but one only has to look at a defensively sound side like Chelsea dropping their share one-goal games against supposedly weaker opponents to be reminded that the goal is only ever to score more than the opponent. Liverpool may lose the odd 5-4 thriller, but that doesn't make it an invalid approach to football any more than Chelsea losing the odd 1-0 snooze-fest makes defence the wrong way to go.

It's an imbalanced approach, one that inflates goal totals and makes it difficult to fairly judge defenders. With the talent Liverpool has in attack, it also turned out that it was very much the right approach, even if in the end the side fell just short of their first Premier League title. What is surprising is that it seems as though it's an approach the manager and his captain had in mind all along. That it wasn't down to chance and circumstance. That it's the plan.

"Steven's a really intelligent player," added Rodgers, further illuminating how he views the role of his single-pivot. "He's played really as a more attacking player all his life, but he's dropped back into that role. It's still a playmaking position, and he's started off a number of our attacks from there. And for him to finish the season like he did was incredible. He goes into the World Cup in great form, and he will be strong next year as well I am sure."

For those wondering what to expect next season, and to perhaps gain a bit of insight into potential transfers this summer, Rodgers has made his views on the matter of midfield quite thoroughly clear. And anybody expecting something of a defensive correction, a rebalancing of Liverpool's rather imbalanced approach, should probably prepare themselves for a lot more goals next season. At both ends of the pitch.