Tuesday 26 September 2017

Rodgers the emphatic winner in battle of 'bright young bosses'

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

Paul Hayward

In this contest of two 'bright young managers', Brendan Rodgers crushed Andre Villas-Boas. So disorientated was Tottenham's coach after this devastating defeat that he found himself hugging Luis Suarez as the teams headed up the tunnel. If all else fails, love thy enemy.

In the red corner: a vibrant, eager Liverpool side led by the lethal Suarez, who did to Tottenham's centre-backs what Australia's bowlers have been doing to England's batsmen.

In the white: a slow, lumpy mish-mash with a wide-open back four, a non-inventive central midfield three and an isolated striker.

There was no rhythm, no zest and certainly no confidence in the attacking play of a Spurs side whose 6-0 loss at Manchester City on November 24 is now joined in the hall of infamy by this humiliation at White Hart Lane.

'Bright young manager' is, of course, a curse masquerading as compliment. Rodgers wears it well. Villas-Boas may have sported it for the last time, certainly in England, where the political minefield of managing Chelsea was not the last of his bad experiences in the Premier League.

EXPRESSIVE

Like Rodgers, he is an advocate of bold, expressive football. But that reputation is fraying. On this evidence Villas-Boas has no idea how to sculpt an attacking team from the mass of players bought this summer to replace Gareth Bale.

Assimilation is no longer an excuse. No manager can oversee 6-0 and 5-0 losses inside three weeks and claim that top professionals are still getting used to the training ground, the tactics or the culture. Too few of those bought with the Bale money are adding anything.

Paulinho, who was sent off for embedding his studs in Suarez's chest, is probably the best of them. Soldado scored a Europa League hat-trick last Thursday but looks cut-off in this formation. Nor does he exude the class of a £26m finisher.

Etienne Capoue was press-ganged to play centre-back again and endured a torrid afternoon with Michael Dawson against the movement and cleverness of Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson.

On the flank, Nacer Chadli chugs about without really hurting opponents. Erik Lamela, a record £30m buy, warms the bench.

Spurs might have lost 8-0. They have won one of six league games at the Lane and scored only 15 times in 16 fixtures. In the centre, Moussa Dembele, Paulinho and Sandro are a recipe for immobility and duplication. There was no zip or speed or intent in the movement of the ball through midfield. While the Tottenham board doubtless questioned the wisdom of giving Villas-Boas a second go in Premier League management -- and wondered why so many of the summer buys appear so mediocre -- Rodgers bore the look of a man whose grand design is bearing fruit.

As players stagnate under Villas-Boas, they thrive under Rodgers. Henderson -- "a beautiful boy to train," his boss said -- is a prime example of a footballer inspired to fulfil his potential by good coaching and man-management.

Gone was the tentative, floaty Henderson of his early years at Anfield. His place was taken by a quick-thinking, decisive, authoritative midfielder who wants to shape games.

We already know Daniel Sturridge (absent with injury) is finally living up to his billing. Under Rodgers, Suarez appears not to have noticed that the Champions League is going on without him. This, surely, is Liverpool's last season with Uruguay's finest on the payroll unless they can secure a top-four finish. They are second now, two points behind Arsenal, and playing like this every week could afford to dream of Madrid and Milan again.

In AVB's world, conversely, the team is constantly changing, the hierarchy is ill-defined and the side is not set up to facilitate fluent attacking play. There may also be a sense of alienation among some players, or a lack of faith in the leader, just as there is in the stands.

It is not Harry Redknapp's shadow that hangs over Villas-Boas so much as the sense that the decision to sack 'Arry could only be justified by the appointment of a proven A-list manager, rather than a young academic type who had already been blown out by Chelsea.

Rodgers started out with a big idea: a Spain-derived passing game that would restore Liverpool's identity and give the players something to work for and believe in. This result will surely have strengthened that belief. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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