Tactical analysis of Liverpool’s comfortable 3-0 win over QPR yesterday.
Given the malaise that has afflicted Liverpool in a miserable 2012, it was bitterly ironic that the squad was affected by a virus on the day of the Reds’ final game of the year.
As a result of said virus Brendan Rodgers stayed at home, as did Brad Jones. Assistant Manager Colin Pascoe took over managerial duties. He was ill also, and was barred from the dressing room at half time as the medical staff aimed to protect the players ahead of the visit of Sunderland in the week.
Rodgers did select the team however, and decided to rest Jonjo Shelvey, Lucas Leiva and Suso. Jordan Henderson was given an opportunity, while Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling returned.
It was a 4-2-3-1 system for the Reds: Gerrard and Allen sat in midfield allowing Henderson to play behind Suarez. Stewart Downing continued on the right, with Sterling on the left hand side against the club he left as a fifteen year old.
The back five remained intact from the Boxing Day capitulation away to Stoke City.
Pressing Makes an Impression
An important part of the Brendan Rodgers’ master plan is putting pressure on the opposition. The reason Barcelona have swept all before them in recent years is the ferocious pressure they exert upon the opposition when they lose the ball.
Liverpool started this game brilliantly, mainly due to the fact that the early pressing was immense.
Typically, the snarling Suarez led from the front in this department.
Also excellent at this was Jordan Henderson. Henderson is much maligned, but nobody can fault his work rate. Whether simply “putting in a shift” is enough at this level is another question, but at Loftus Road his pressing was terrific.
Henderson’s energy was boundless, and he was very eager to get involved. So much so that he dispossessed his own captain at the edge of the opposition’s penalty area after thirty five minutes.
Suarez weaves his magic
A combination of Liverpool’s high-intensity approach and QPR’s general ineptitude gave Luis Suarez the platform to display his myriad talents. He opened the scoring in style after ten minutes.
QPR suffered throughout the first half due to the huge gap between the centre backs and the central midfield pairing. Unfortunately for Harry Redknapp, there is no better player in the Premier League at exploiting that space than Luis Suarez.
Suarez often drops deep to pick up space “between the lines” as Rafa Benitez calls it, and with or without support he can do damage. For the first goal, he did it all alone by dropping into that space, collecting the ball, beating Clint Hill with consummate ease and rolling the ball clinically past Julio Cesar.
For the second goal, he had support. Suarez won a header in a similar position, exchanged passes with Downing before dribbling along the end line. He cut the ball back across the goal, and was in the right place to fire the ball to the net when it rebounded kindly for him. The fact that he was attracted to the ball immediately after he passed it showed him to be the natural finisher many believed he was not.
While Steven Gerrard and others rightly hailed Liverpool’s first half performance as one of the best of the season, a degree of perspective is needed.
Fulham last weekend resembled Ebenezer Scrooge compared to how benign Rangers were. QPR were pathetic in the first half. Their effort was minimal, as they made no effort to close Liverpool down. The alleged midfield destroyers Diakite and Mbia were non-existent; at one stage Sky Sports broadcast a shot of Steven Gerrard alone in midfield with no QPR player even casting a shadow in his vicinity.
Armand Traore’s effort to close down Luis Suarez in the build-up to the second goal was laughable, while the third goal was due to Redknapp’s men not heeding the early warnings of leaving Gerrard unmarked at corners.
As noted above, there was too much distance between their back line and the midfield. As an attacking force they were blunt. Adel Tarrabt was the only meaningful threat, wriggling away from Joe Allen a couple of times to sting Reina’s hands from distance. Djibril Cisse demonstrated his lingering affection for the club that brought him to England by not trying a leg.
Jamie Mackie on the right wing did make an effort, but fell victim to Liverpool’s offside trap more often than not. He has clearly been picking up a couple of bad habits from his teammate Cisse.
All of that notwithstanding, Liverpool have made a lot of poor teams look good this year, so credit to the Reds for ending this game as a contest within twenty seven minutes. Redknapp shored things up in the second half by replacing Cisse with Shaun Derry. That move, along with an increased effort, kept Liverpool at bay in the second half.
Those of us with Luis Suarez as our Fantasy League captain were particularly disappointed by QPR’s stray from their self-destructive tendencies of the first half.
Pascoe replaced Henderson with Lucas at a time when QPR were beginning to look threatening, but Liverpool cruised throughout a dull second half.
Causes for Concern
It may be churlish to be critical of any aspects of Liverpool’s performance, but the return of Joe Allen offered some food for thought. Allen is a tidy player, but really struggles defensively. In the absence of Lucas, and with Gerrard bombing forward, the diminutive Welshman struggles when subject to pressure from the opposition. He looked susceptible here again, as QPR’s only offensive threat came from when Adel Tarrabt ran at him. While Allen remains in the embryonic stages of his career at Liverpool, there are question marks over him as we enter the New Year.
It would be interesting to see him play further forward, like Xavi does for Barcelona.
Elsewhere, the injury to Jose Enrique is very frustrating. A torn hamstring may mean several weeks on the side lines for a player returning to top form. Rodgers may have to address his absence in the transfer market, or else give Jack Robinson an opportunity. Stewart Downing at left back is not the answer.
Man of the Match
Here’s a surprise: Luis Suarez was Liverpool’s best player in a game of football. At Loftus Road he was at his swashbuckling best: hassling and haranguing the opposition, working tirelessly, creating opportunities for his teammates, and scoring another brace of league goals. Steven Gerrard is worthy of a mention, but Suarez was in a class of his own.
Thank you all for reading my columns and here’s to a successful year for you, your families, and your football team.