Yesterday’s 3-0 win over Sunderland saw a new edge to Liverpool’s attack, with Rafa Benitez doing what has been called for on many occasion this season and switching Steven Gerrard back into midfield alongside Javier Mascherano.
I’m not suggesting Gerrard should be dropped back there for every match but at home to the likes of Sunderland (and Blackburn recently) it’s definitely a tactic that pays off. For me, I’d do likewise away to the likes of Wigan and actually attack these teams but that’s a whole other debate!
Regardless, Gerrard moving back into midfield meant Fernando Torres was partnered up front by Dirk Kuyt. I’ve always maintained that that’s Dirk’s best position, as his best asset is his workrate, thus when playing in the middle he drags defenders out of shape and creates space for his strike partner, eg. Torres. When pushed out wide his work rate only becomes effective in covering the full back, against Sunderland at home that shouldn’t be needed.
So Dirk’s presence and running enabled Torres to drift out wide (to the left most often and for the goal), drag defenders out of shape and run at them from wider than normal. Torres is one of few players in the squad who can run at and dribble past defenders so again one of his strengths are therefore played to.
Our shape yesterday was also more effective with a lot of width, with Ryan Babel supplying it down the left (assisted by Insua) and Glen Johnson bombing on ala Dani Alves for Barca on the right. Meaning our right midfielder, Maxi, was able to drift inside, again pulling the defenders out of shape and giving more support centrally for Torres.
See the chalkboard below for how Babel stayed out wide on the left while Maxi floated inside.
Without wishing to turn this into another debate on the manager, and as great as it was to see us genuinely ‘control’ a game, it’s still frustrating because most of the above has what those in the stands have been asking for for months; to attack average teams; to give Torres more support up front; to get some creativity into midfield and to play to our strengths rather than worrying about stopping the opposition primarily.
The other side of the coin is, it’s been a long time since key players like Johnson, Gerrard and Torres have all been fully fit and in the team together, maybe now we will see the real Liverpool.
Mind you, with a tough test away to Benfica on Thursday, a team full of attacking players, I doubt we’ll be seeing Gerrard alongside Mascherano there, and with Maxi ineligible our shape will be very different again.