Tactics & analysisPosted by Leif Larsson Wed, December 24, 2014 12:52:42
Soon the transfer window opens again and it has been talk of Liverpool signing Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba and other top, top European players. Well, forget about it. That particular boat sailed when our title challenge last season proved to be a flash in the pan.
For years Liverpool has been unable to sign the cream of the crop. Our inability to challenge for the league title and our recent absence from the Champions League being the main reasons. Our grand history has not been enough to lure the very best to Anfield. (Luis Suarez was not world-class when he arrived).
So when we surprisingly got ourselves in the title battle mix last season some believed that top class players once more would like to come to Liverpool. That notion was proved wrong during the summer transfer window this year. None of the top players signed for us. Alexis Sanchez being the prime example, we wanted him he didn´t want us.
Why couldn´t we attract these kind of performers? I think it´s because they know what´s happened to Liverpool in the last decade or so when we finished second. The following campaign has seen us slide down the table and end up among the also-rans once more. It happened in 2001/2002 when we came second and the following year dropped to fifth. Same old story in 2008/09 when a runner-up spot transformed into a 7th place finish a year later.
So this summer the first-rate guys didn´t want to gamble on a move to a club that in the recent past never been able to maintain the required high standards for a title fight more than one year. So they turned down a Liverpool move and awaited how the Reds would perform this season. If Liverpool had been able to once more fight for the Premier League crown then it would have been a completely different situation in the summer of 2015. Then top-drawer players might have been interested in joining Liverpool due to our recent efforts aswell as our history. But since Liverpool once more has slided down the table new proof has emerged of how risky it would be for world class players to join us. They don´t want to plodding around in mid-table and playing Europa League on Thursdays.
Our reputation was on the mend thanks to last season´s exploits. Due to this season´s mediocre performances and results it´s worse than in a long time and has made it almost impossible to get the match-winners to come to L4. We had the chance and blew it. Lately a typical Liverpool slipping exercise.
Now we need another strategy and that is to find young gems and develop them ourselves. Nothing else to do as:
We Go Again.
Tactics & analysisPosted by Leif Larsson Tue, December 23, 2014 17:34:56
If Liverpool is going to reach top four now it´s the time to build a foundation for that specific challenge. The next six matches in the league are all winnable and the Reds need at least 15 points, probably more, from them to be contenders for fourth. If we fail then hope is gone as eight much harder fixtures awaits.
The promising performance against Arsenal has raised hopes in Liverpool quarters. After a despairing time belief is back. And if the optimism is going to materialise into something solid then Liverpool must act immediately. And a fine possibility has appeared named a favourable schedule. The next six league fixtures, from Boxing Day to the 31st of January, are matches where a Liverpool in form can gain both a lot of points and territory in the table.
This is the forthcoming programme: Burnley away, Swansea home, Leicester home, Sunderland away, Aston Villa away, West Ham home. None of the games are of course easy but Liverpool is normally a better side than all six opponents. But to think the Liverpool of today can notch up six wins on the bounce is to believe too much. There is always a banana skin waiting somewhere. But this is the chance, perhaps there be no other this season, to really muster a top four challenge.
First up is newcomers Burnley presently placed in the relegation zone. They have upped their game a bit recently and not lost at home in four games so it´s gonna be a battle but Liverpool should be able to come out on top. Then Swansea visits Anfield, always a tough tie. The Reds has had the upper hand recently beating the Swans inte last two matches at L4. Number three is a distinct possibility even if Swansea at the moment is higher up in the table than Liverpool. On New Years Day newcomers Leicester, right now at the bottom of the table, visits Liverpool. We beat them away not long ago and this is on paper the easist match of the six and should end with a comfortable home triumph.
The year of 2015 starts with two away fixtures. At Sunderland we´ve had mixed fortunes in recent years. The last six results contains three wins and three defeats. The Black Cats are draw specialists this season and it will take a first-rate display to turn back home with three points. But doable. A week later we travel to Aston Villa where we have three wins on the trot. After beating Liverpool in September the Midlanders lost six on the spin but they have improved considerably since only losing once in the last seven. Liverpool is out for revenge for the Anfield defeat and aims to extend the winning run at Villa Park. Villa is goal-shy so the Reds ought to manage a positive result.
Last outing in the six-match sequence is high-flyers West Ham currently in fourth place. The Londoners have punched above their weight this season and sooner than later they are going to slide down the table a bit. Liverpool lost the away fixture but at Anfield West Ham is almost always downed. The Reds has clocked up 42 games in a row without defeat against them and Hammers last win at L4 came in the stone age, or 1963. No matter where West Ham is placed in the table this is a match Liverpool should, must, can and will win.
Liverpool could be the winners in all six matches but I´ll settle for 15 points. If we grab less then it´s definitely good-bye to top four. Because we need to be close or in top four when the next eight fixtures comes along. They are really tricky tests. From the 7th of February to the 4th of April the schedule looks like this: Everton away, Tottenham home, Southampton away, Manchester City home, Burnley home, Swansea away, Manchester United home and Arsenal away.
So now it´s imperative that the Liverpool players talking the talk also walking the walk. In other words:
We Go Again.
Tactics & analysisPosted by Leif Larsson Mon, November 10, 2014 18:03:56
In a flash Liverpool has become goal-shy. Last season the goals flew in, this campaign we need ten strong horses to drag the ball over the line. Not literally, but you get the picture. What is the reason for this massive change? Here´s an analysis.
The selling of Luis Suarez is of course one factor just as the abscence of Daniel Sturridge for a large chunk of the season. But I believe there is another significant factor: Liverpool has been found out. And hasn´t find a new way to play effective football.
The present situation started when Brendan Rodgers became Liverpool manager in June 2012. The new boss immediately declared his football philosophy and it was based on a lot of possession and aggressive ball winning. This was implemented in his first season in player´s minds and in the actual play. But it proved to be the wrong answer with the available personnel.
Liverpool players wasn´t skilful enough to pass the ball around long enough for the opponents to lose patience, make a reckless mistake and open up the defence. Instead the opponents won the ball long before that happened. Our passing ability and movement was not of required class. At the same time Liverpool was too impatient themselves and tried to penetrate opposing defences with clever balls which was not on. The result was lost possession even in these cases.
Manager Rodgers had to come up with something else. Already in this first season he started to lean more to counter-attacking football. He kept saying, still does, that posession football is the way he wants Liverpool to play, but on the pitch everybody could see the new style.
Last season it was plain obvious that Liverpool had chosen a different type of football. Rodgers realized that he had several lightning quick players, both in legs and mind. Liverpool took advantage of this and Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho and others tore Premier League defences to shreds with speed and great passing. Now, all of a sudden, it took only two or three passes to create chances, a vast difference to the tiki-taka experiment gone bad. No team could live with the explosive football. When the ball was won, seconds later it was a goal-chance or a goal. The players available and the version of football was like hand in glove. A perfect match.
Of course other teams became aware of how Liverpool played but couldn´t find a remedy. Chelsea did it to a certain extent by playing anti-football for 90 minutes at Anfield and winning 2-0. But the result was more due to Chelsea luck and Liverpool nerves than any tactic masterstroke from the visitors. So this fast counter-attacking football could have been the Liverpool way even this season. But circumstances wrecked it.
Suarez left and Sturridge got injured. It meant that two of the major components in the attractive brand of football was gone. The remaining players weren´t good enough for the counter-attacking football. Furthermore visiting teams had now learnt their lesson and nowadays they are defending extremely deep making it impossible to beat them with pace.
So right now Liverpool is out in the wilderness. We can´t play possession football, the players are not up to it. Not yet anyway. Perhaps a season of training can do the trick. And the counter-attacking football has also gone out the window. Maybe it can be reintroduced when Sturridge returns.
But it´s doubtful if possession football or a counter-attack version are possible in the near future. Liverpool must in all likelihood come up with a third method. And that is not done in a heartbeat.
Right now we are playing slow possession football. And it´s neither fruitful nor pretty. It´s in fact extremely ineffective and unattractive.
We pass the ball around in the back four and in midfield before hitting hopeful and almost always futile long balls forward. Another common scenario is when we try to penetrate with passes around the opposing penalty area without finding the gaps, in the process losing the ball. The counter-attacking is in principle non-existent as opponents defend deep and close down space.
So we are not good enough playing possession football and opponents doesn´t allow us to play the counter-attacking version. No wonder goals are hard to come by.
To solve the problem Liverpool must learn a new way. We must move a lot more, preferrably intelligent, and pass the ball quicker and more accurate. It has to be one-touch football today to be able to find the gaps in a tight defence. And we can of course always mix this with counter-atacks.
The solution is there but it will take time for Liverpool to get the hang of it. For starters it takes a heck of of a lot of learning in the training field and at least one season practising it on matchdays. The question is now if Liverpool has got players of required quality to do it and if the fans and the club has got the patience to wait for it to fall into place. Another crucial question is if Brendan Rodgers realizes that a new kind of football must be introduced. His ideas isn´t working anymore so a change is necessary. He is stubborn in his thinking but at this time he must be flexible. Let´s hope Liverpool and Rodgers can find a successful new path and then:
We Go Again.
Tactics & analysisPosted by Leif Larsson Wed, October 15, 2014 21:42:59
The international break is over and the next one comes around in a month´s time. Crammed in between is the most crucial period for Liverpool this season. We play four league games, two Champions League ties and a fourth round League Cup match.
It´s imperative to do well in all seven matches otherwise it´s a huge risk that the season goes into meltdown.
Okay, perhaps nothing as dramatic but bad results could mean we are eliminated from the League Cup and on our way out of the Champions League. And in the league it could mean that we are so far behind that a title charge is almost impossible and a fight for fourth place an uphill struggle.
Next up is Queens Park Rangers in the league on Sunday, maybe the most important match of them all. The newcomers are at the moment propping up the table with only four points in seven games. It´s a must win game for the Reds because if we can´t beat the worst team in the division then what hope can we have to be near the top this season. None, I would say.
After the trip to London a home match versus Hull awaits and then Newcastle away and Chelsea at home. Liverpool need at least ten points from these four encounters to really be back on track and in place to compete at the the top end of the table. It will be difficult, especially when considering our shaky form in the first seven fixtures. But it must be done. I believe it can.
In the two ties with Real Madrid in the Champions League, on the 22nd of October at Anfield and on the 4th of November in Spain, it´s also essential to at least take one or two points so that Basel doesn´t sail away and become uncatchable when going in to the last two group stage matches. This mission is also hard but to sustain the CL dream we mustn´t let Real roll over us twice. That´s out of the question. At Anfield we need prove our strength and get something out of that duel.
On the 28th of October Swansea arrives at Anfield for a League Cup fourth round clash. Even this fight is an important one. Liverpool will probably not be able to win the Premier League or the Champions League so our best chance of silverware is in one of the two domestic cups. If we lose against Swansea then only one opportunity is left, the FA Cup, and that is a thin line to walk if a cup win is to be secured. So a victory over the Swans is a way to keep spirits high and hope for a trophy alive.
So the upcoming seven matches can be the ones which defines Liverpool´s season. I am nervous but can hardly wait. Soon enough:
We Go Again.
Tactics & analysisPosted by Leif Larsson Mon, September 29, 2014 13:30:05
Last season the title was within Liverpool´s grasp, but it ended in a frustrating runners-up-spot. With the indifferent start this season is it realistic to believe in another title assault or even win? If you are an optimist it´s highly possible, if you are a pessimist the chance has already gone begging.
Let´s take the realist´s look at things. A comparison with last season´s start is in order - and offers some hope. Because it wasn´t great either. Points-wise it was close to okay but less so when it came to how we played.
The Reds won the first three games of the 2013/14 season but it could easily have been four points instead of nine. Then we were lucky to draw with Swansea an lost deservedly to Southampton. Liverpool continued to stutter a bit and drew with Newcastle and was outplayed and lost to Arsenal and then to newcomers Hull. After 13 matches we had gained 24 points, if this form had been the same the season through we would have landed in sixth place, behind Everton.
So our football was only temporary good and the points tally wasn´t especially impressing. But after the first 13 matches Liverpool clicked into gear. In the remaining 25 matches the Reds won on 19 occasions and had at some point an incredible eleven match winning streak. So even if the start is weak things can pick up. Another statistic from last season proves this. In the first 19 matches Liverpool collected 36 points. In the last 19 it was 48.
Okay, we have been worse both on the pitch and in the businees of gaining points so far this season. But if you compare the corresponding fixtures from last season we are now only three points worse off. Against Southampton, Manchester City, Tottenham, Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton we picked up ten points in 2013/14. This season against the same opponents we have seven. Less, but not a catastrophe.
A look at the goalscoring shows even more similar figures in the two compared seasons. Last season we found the net eight times in the first six games. This season the amount is exactly the same after half a dozen fixtures. This shows that there is no reason to panic over the so far lame result. Of course back then Luis Suarez started to bang them in but I´m sure Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli can do the same from here on.
Defensively we were stronger last season at the start, we only let in four goals in the first six matches compared to nine now. This is a worry and a shortcoming to be rectified. Promptly.
The question now is if Liverpool can improve in the manner we did last season and slowly but surely be the attacking monster that we were just some months ago. It will undoubtedly be a tricky task. Some new faces are finding their feet and I guess the bedding in period is not over for quite a while. So it is plausible that Liverpool will struggle for some time yet - both in attack and in defence.
I would like to think that our boys eventually can get up to last season´s quality and beyond. But I doubt it will happen. Too much seems to be malfunctioning right now. The red machine needs new parts, more oil and a testing period before it´s ready to compete with the blue one from London and the light blue from Manchester. Even the red one in London is for the moment running smoother than ours. I think the upgrading phase is a season long and won´t be completed until next autumn.
So this season the best we can hope for is a place in the top four and cup silverware. It will be extremely difficult to finish above Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. We have to focus on keeping Manchester United, Tottenham and Everton behind us. A tough proposition in itself. It will be a battle between these three and ourselves for the remaining Champions League spot. I don´t think early pacesetters such as Southampton, Aston Villa and Swansea can keep it up all the way.
If we manage to get another year in the CL and lift a cup trophy I´ll be satisfied and then:
We Go Again.
Tactics & analysisPosted by Leif Larsson Wed, September 10, 2014 17:09:21
With Daniel Sturridge out injured Liverpool will probabaly start with a single striker against Aston Villa on Saturday. Mario Balotelli will lead the line in a 4-3-3 formation. When Sturridge is back the question is if the Reds regularly should play with one och or two strikers. Let´s take a look at pros and cons.
Our manager Brendan Rodgers is known to prefer 4-3-3 but during his Kop tenure he has often dared to change to other systems, both between matches and in them. Sometimes he has ordered out two recognised strikers, at other times one.
The 4-3-3 system contains a single striker and two wingers/attackers/midfielders beside him. Another common approach is a 4-4-2 formation with two strikers in front of a midfield diamond.
Before Balotelli signed it all pointed to a 4-3-3 with Sturridge as the lone striker. With the Italian on board new possibilities arises.
Okay, so let´s examine the advantages and drawbacks with one or two strikers. First the one striker option.
The best thing with this is the team gets more width in attack. If for instance Raheem Sterling and Lazar Markovic plays alongside Sturridge they can stretch the opposing defence to the brink. This trio has also got pace and likes to change positions between them so attacking play with these three front guys is tough to handle for any defence. Especially if they are quick, mobile, technically gifted and poised to shift positions. Like the Liverpool trio. And we have alternatives in Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana who both can fill the wide spots with almost the same effect. So attack-wise 4-3-3 is a good choice.
But there is some downsides to the system. If these three attackers get to eager and goal-hungry it could leave holes between the lines for the opponents to counter-attack in. And because we don´t have a mobile midfield trio, whoever plays, there is an imminent and critical danger if the forwards lose the ball high up the pitch.
Another deficiency with only one striker is that he can be isolated if Liverpool is under pressure and the other team dominates the ball. In such circumstances the lone striker is often the only outlet when the ball is won, and when he gets it his options are limited. With no team-mates nearby it often results in lost possession. With a fellow striker beside him it would be a better chance to keep the ball and buy time for the rest of the team to close in and provide help.
Another benefit with a forward duo is the extended trouble they can cause central defenders. If two strikers develope a good understanding then they have a great chance to combine themselves past the centrebacks. A lone striker will find this really difficult. Two striker also strikes more, if not fear, then at least more nervousness in a back four. It takes more alertness and better positioning from defenders than to handle just one striker. And if one of them is not on song then hopefully and probably the other is and can be the goalscoring match-winner.
A minus with two central forwards is that the width is to an extent taken out of the attacking equation and penetration centrally is the only option left. The fullbacks can´t always be participants up the field and provide width and crosses. And if the ball is lost when they are on offensive duty it leaves space behind them for opponents to exploit.
Furthermore the 4-3-3 is on the whole a more solid formation defensively. It´s easier to rapidly change from attack to defence with 4-3-3. It´s a more smooth system than 4-4-2.
But as always the best thing is to choose the system that suits the available personnel. In Liverpool´s case it doesn´t matter so much, our current crop of players can perform well whatever system the manager picks. In the long run, though, I think 4-3-3 is the better alternative.
But whatever happens regarding formation the only really important thing is that:
We Go Again.
Tactics & analysisPosted by Leif Larsson Sun, September 07, 2014 21:19:27
Possession-based foootball or counter-attacks? Which alternative, to unlock defences, is the best method for Liverpool? Or can they be combined? My firm believe is that the Reds right now should concentrate on counter-attacks. It´s all the rage nowadays and is suited to the current Kop squad.
When Brendan Rodgers arrived at Anfield two years ago he declared that his philosophy was possession football and claimed that the more of the ball you have the better the chance of winning any given match. Perhaps that was true some years ago but I don´t think it is anymore. Not completely accurate anyway.
Some of Liverpool´s games last season is proof enough. The best examples is the matches versus Arsenal and Everton at home. In both encounters the opposition had the larger chunk of the possession but the Reds won comfortably, and big, 5-1 and 4-0. And a lot of other matches in football in recent years, all over the world, has demonstrated the same scenario. The team with less possession win with ease. And the common method is to counter-attack with speed and precision passing.
The latter is the difficult ingridient for success. Without crisp passing counter-attacks breaks down quickly, becomes ineffective and forces you to permanently chase the ball. Which of course is tiring. But if the players can hit long passes with accuracy to a forward in full flight, then this tactic is truly effective. And the current Liverpool squad is filled with players who can do just that. Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana are three of out of many. So therefore counter-attacking is the best Liverpool way at the moment.
Apart from attacking skills you also need defensive ones. Such as patience when defending deep, it could take a while to win the ball from a team that likes to pass it around. In other cases it takes stamina, game intelligence and aggression if the ball is to be won early. You must quickly determine when, where and how to close down, tackle or intercept. All this is also existing in the red armoury.
The possession method, to pass the ball around forever and ever, is not a suitable way for Liverpool. We are simply not good enough to do that. Even Barcelona and Arsenal, the two teams that arguably perform this best, are often locked out nowadays.
If you play possession style then the opponents almost always can get the whole team behind the ball and to find space and maneuver past ten opponents craves some magic passing. Liverpool is not up to that. We still hasn´t got the know-how how to probe and con the opposition. Well, at least not often enough to choose possession football. And we own the ball it feels like a crucial mistake is always around the corner, especially when the ball is passed around in the back four.
Okay, sometimes lesser teams can crumble and open up and make mistakes but when the Reds face better teams it´s almost impossible to penetrate them after a 40 or 50-pass move. So the recipe to open these defences is counter-attack.
Luckily the manager has changed his take on how Liverpool should play. He still insists that the idea is a lot of possession. But I think it´s a smokescreen, he wants the team to counter-attack. And why not? We have some speedy customers to do it, such as Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno. And if we fail with one counter-attack then:
We Go Again.
Tactics & analysisPosted by Leif Larsson Wed, September 03, 2014 15:19:55
Liverpool was really busy during the transfer window, now shut, and signed nine players. Seven was bought, one loaned in and one bought and loaned back. Here is my verdict on the transfer business this summer. In short: good but with flaws.
After last season many realized that Liverpool needed more depth and quality in the squad to be able to compete on several fronts this season and in the long run. The starting eleven was excellent during 2013/14 but the red bench was not as strong as our main rivals. During the summer that has been rectified. At least to a large extent, if not fully.
After the departure of Luis Suarez the forward line needed reinforcements. Two strikers has signed, veteran forward Rickie Lambert and the erratic but talented Mario Balotelli. Fabio Borini has returned from his loan period at Sunderland and Iago Aspas has been shipped out on loan. All in all we have a weaker front line now. The numbers are up, last season we only had three recognised strikers, now it´s four. But players of the highest calibre are still two, that is if Balotelli can live up to his potential. Neither Lambert nor Borini is good enough to lead a line in a team challenging for the title. It´s a thin line we are walking on and we must hope and pray that both Daniel Sturridge and Balotelli can stay injury free and not lose form. But we should have signed one more high quality striker. The striker set-up is a bit fragile, it could come back and haunt us.
But perhaps Brendan Rodgers football philosophy salvages this issue. He wants players to be capable of holding a lot of different postitions so perhaps both Raheem Sterling and Lazar Markovic can fill in as strikers if the need should arise.
In other forward positions, wingers and attacking midfielders, we had a decent crew last season. Good status but short in numbers. The signings of Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic has made this department stronger. Especially as both Sterling and Philippe Coutinho probably and hopefully will develope and be better players this time around.
The Reds have signed powerhouse Emre Can and not lost anyone so in the midfield area we have more options now and are arguably more solid. But we still lack a complete midfielder with both attacking and defensive qualities. A ball-winner and a playmaker rolled into one. Okay, there are hardly any out there but we still need one. In the next window this must be a priority.
Last year we let in 50 league goals and therefore the defence really needed an upgrade. And it has materialised. New centreback Dejan Lovren raises the standard in the back four. He could be our new leader in defence and has alredy showed some promising play. He is going to get better as the season progresses and he is also going to make Martin Skrtel raise his game now that he can relax and share the leader burden. I think the two of them can become the new Hyypia/Henchoz or Hyypia/Carragher pairing we have been longing for.
The fullback positions has also got a strengthening input. Leftback Alberto Moreno is apparently a gem. I still shiver with delight when I think of his goal versus Tottenham. His Spanish compatriot Javier Manquillo makes up for healthy competition in the rightback position. We have lost the two English guys Martin Kelly and Jack Robinson but the Spanish replacements are better.
Some reports claims that Victor Valdes, the former Barcelona keeper, is on the verge of signing for Liverpool. He is injured right now and his quality is unknown nowadays. But he could in all likelihood give Simon Mignolet a fight for the shirt, he surely need that. The Belgian has not recaptured the form he had at Sunderland which prompted Liverpool to buy him last summer.
So the verdict is that Liverpool has strengthed really well in the area where we needed it most - defence. But in a few positions we failed. To have been a perfect transfer window we should have signed one more first-class striker, a box-to-box-midfielder and competition for our goalie. The latter is perhaps happening.
But since many shortcomings in the squad are adjusted the business for next window is easier. The Reds can focus on fewer positions and on fewer names. In four months:
We Go Again.