Brendan Rodgers returns to Swansea on Sunday. It's the club at which he truly rose to national prominence and the one he established as a Premier League team. Indeed, the story of the Welsh side that wowed English football with their passing game is already a well-worn tale. Whether Rodgers can now perform the same trick at Liverpool remains to be seen.
Even the notion that Rodgers needs to change Liverpool's approach seems to be an affront to former players. After all, this is not Swansea. Liverpool are the five-time European Cup winners - they have their own 'footballing philosophy' thank you very much. "It makes me laugh when I keep on hearing about this philosophy of Liverpool, but that is the way they have always played," claims Sky Sports' own Jamie Redknapp.
"During the '80s I studied how Liverpool played and I watched Alan Hansen come out with the ball from the back and play it to Graeme Souness. All of a sudden I start hearing about Liverpool's philosophy. I was there for 11 years and all we did was pass the ball - nearest man you pass it and you move. This is not anything new that they are doing is it?"It may not be altogether new but there are signs that Rodgers' ambitions for Liverpool are having an impact on the team's style of play. It's something apparent from watching the Reds - Joe Allen happy to retain the ball at all costs in the centre of the pitch and wingers who are encouraged to seek options other than the crossed ball from the byline. It's also evident in Liverpool's Opta statistics for passing and possession.
|Liverpool year-on-year comparison|
|Short passes per game||440||464|
Of course, Kenny Dalglish wasn't exactly an advocate of kick-and-rush football. As the song says, 'pass and move, it's the Liverpool groove'. But clearly there has been a shift. And if there is a reluctance to accept that Rodgers' job is to introduce a style of play, perhaps that unwittingly acknowledges why he is the right man for the role - because Rodgers wasn't the man who introduced passing play to the Swans either.
That man was Roberto Martinez, Rodgers' rival for the Anfield post in the summer. And the current Wigan boss is convinced that the principles he established at the Liberty Stadium will remain in place under Michael Laudrup and beyond. "The philosophy is the same: composed in possession, defend with the ball, being patient with the ball," he told the South Wales Echo. "The concept is exactly the same.
"The difference is personnel and partnerships and they do different things. But look at Leon Britton's role; for me he is the stamp of this style and the style is exactly the same. I can't see the style changing, it is very strong at Swansea City. Whoever is going to manage this club is going to be with the same concept. The football concepts at Swansea are very strong and I am proud of that."
It is no surprise that Laudrup intends to continue doing similar things at Swansea - his arrival at the club was no accident by chairman Huw Jenkins or indeed the Dane himself. "I did some research about this team and club.," he said upon being appointed. "I wanted it to fit with the way I see football. With the philosophy this club has, and the way I see football, I think it's a very good match."
That means putting a premium on style. As Laudrup explained in a recent interview with the Guardian: "I don't think it's just a matter of what number we are going to be in the table because, really, it doesn't matter if we are 10th or 14th. Who will remember if we have 43 or 48 points? It's overall - how did they play? I think if you asked the people on the street here, 'What do you prefer, 10th and changing the style of play or 14th and remain the same style?', the answer is obvious."
|Swansea year-on-year comparison|
|Short passes per game||497||452|
And yet, despite this focus on continuing the recent traditions at the club, the passing and possession statistics are down on last season. Perhaps the explanation for this lies in the slight shift of emphasis that Laudrup is keen to make. Like Rodgers at Liverpool, this isn't about overhauling a strategy but tweaking the approach.
"When I see a game on the television and you see afterwards 'possession percentage 60-40', that doesn't say anything for me because it could be that one team is playing the ball between the back-four 120 times," added Laudrup. "It's the same as when someone says, 'Look, one of the central defenders had 98 per cent good passes'. Yeah, but it was from here to there. For me, possession is to keep the ball while you are waiting for the possibility to penetrate. Every pass is for a reason."
The result of the tweaks is that both teams go into Sunday's game with remarkably similar passing and possession statistics - and it's the same story in the Premier League table itself. Swansea have one more goal than Liverpool and one more point; the two teams have conceded exactly the same number of goals. Which club has moved in the right direction depends upon your 'footballing philosophy'. But we may get some clues to the answer on Sunday.