Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Liverpool fans have a lot to like in Rodgers

New manager slowly leaving mark on club

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Bit by bit, Brendan Rodgers is revealing just what he has in mind for Liverpool Football Club. And if you pause to think about it, you realize just how far he has taken the Premier League outfit since his appointment last June.

When Rodgers succeeded club icon Kenny Dalglish as manager, it marked a sharp turn from the old ways to modernity at Anfield.

The Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra racism scandal -- and Dalglish's baffling, prehistoric reaction to it -- had left everyone associated with the club red-faced, and despite a League Cup triumph the season went down as one of the most embarrassing and brand-damaging in the history of the club.

How long ago those times now seem.

No, Liverpool is not contending for the title, and it'll quite likely miss out on Europe as well.

But in just under 10 months Rodgers has managed to spark a transformation from a stuffy, old establishment side to something rather more XXX, free-thinking and better suited to football in the 21st Century.

And while he has some way to go before he is truly able to leave his mark (something that can only, fully happen upon Steven Gerrard's exit), the signs of change are already noticeable on the pitch, where the Reds of 2012-13 are playing some of the most attractive football in the Premier League.

Fluid, eye-catching football is something of a Rodgers hallmark.

Last campaign his Swansea side won the hearts of all who watched it come 11th in the table, and this term only Chelsea and Manchester United have scored more goals than Liverpool.

Of course, 22 of those goals have come from Luis Suarez, but with the likes of Juventus and Bayern Munich keen to sign the Uruguay forward in the summer Rodgers will likely be forced to turn to the transfer market in order to find a replacement.

It's a process he should welcome.

Rodgers' purchases are typically astute (in his final two years at Swansea he brought in Scott Sinclair, Leon Britton, Danny Graham and Michel Vorm), and the 40-year-old would do well to rid himself of the controversial Suarez in any case.

One of the players rumoured to be in the mix to replace Suarez is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who has scored 19 goals (none of them penalties) in 21 matches for Ukrainian Premier League leaders Shakhtar Donetsk so far this season.

Newcastle attacker Hatem Ben Arfa is another transfer target -- with Andy Carroll expected to go the other way -- and Ajax playmaker Christian Eriksen is thought to be on Rodgers' radar as well.

In defence, Valencia left-back Aly Cissokho has also been linked with a move to Liverpool, as has Swansea defender Ashley Williams--a 28-year-old Wales international who worked two years with Rodgers at Liberty Stadium.

Several of Rodgers' Liverpool signings -- most notably Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho -- have already settled nicely in their new surroundings, and each of Mkhitaryan, Ben Arfa and Eriksen is the sort of versatile, comfortable-on-the-ball outfielder the manager fancies. And unlike some of the players he inherited, they would enhance his playing philosophy rather than detract from it.

Last May Dalglish's final Liverpool teamsheet read as follows: Doni-Kelly, Carragher, Agger, Johnson-Maxi, Henderson, Shelvey, Downing-Suarez, Carroll.

Liverpool's opponent in that match was Swansea, being managed for a final time by Rodgers, who replaced Dalglish 18 days later.

And if the new manager is properly backed by the club's owners in the summer transfer window his team for next season could look something like this: Reina-Johnson, Skrtel, Williams, Cissokho-Gerrard, Lucas Leiva-Ben Arfa, Eriksen, Coutinho-Mkhitaryan.

Slowly but surely, Rodgers' vision for Liverpool is taking shape.

Should he be given the freedom to follow his imagination he just might end up painting a very pretty picture.

jerradpeters@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 C8

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