The Real Deal? Or Yet Another False Dawn?

19 November 2013
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Due to popular demand (3 of you asking for it) I decided to give this blog writing a go. Recently in the comments section I wrote “Kopblog is dead. RIP.” In no way was this in disrespect to Gerry, or Aitch but for whatever reason we hadn’t had a new blog since August and that’s far too long. Back in the day, we used to get a new blog every week and in 2008 we were treated to interviews with Tony Barrett and Tony Evans. (Not exactly A list celebrities but amongst the leading journalists who covered the club). Now, if we get one blog a month we are lucky. It would be great if out of a few of us, one could contribute a blog every week. Return Kopblog as being the Blog’s Dollocks.

The international break gives us a good chance to take stock and evaluate how well Liverpool are doing. 11 games gone and we’re 2nd in the league. 2 points behind the leaders. We are the 3rd highest scorers and only 2 clubs have conceded fewer goals than we have. If any of us would have been offered this before the start of the season we’d have took it and ran away before anyone changed their mind. In terms of results it really couldn’t have gone any better than we’d hoped.
So why then are a large part of the fan base (myself included) unconvinced? Maybe it’s because we have been in a similar position before and got all excited only to be let down for whatever reason. Like Digger has said in the comments a number of time “I’ve seen this movie before”.

groudnhog

In 1996-97 after 12 games we were 2nd, just 2 points behind the leaders with a game in hand. After 31 games we were just 3 points behind the leaders, but picked up 8 points in the last 7 games. We finished 4th. (Only the top 2 qualified for the CL back then).

In 2001-02 after 11 games we were top of the league with the same record we have this season. By Christmas we were 5th however we did rally to finish 2nd with 80 points.

In 2002-03 after 12 games we were top of the league with 30 points. 4 points clear. We took 4 points from the next 12 games and were 6th in January. We finished 5th.

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Those are examples of when we’ve started great and fell away. There are many other times as well when we’ve thought the team has come of age or turned a corner, and then we’d lose at home to a lesser side.

It’s not these past failures that have me unconvinced though. Past failures don’t have anything to do with the current side. We have different players, different manager, and different owners. What has me unconvinced is the way we have performed in most of our games.

When BR got the job he gave a lot of interviews where he talked about the way he likes to play. He spoke about the four Ps being the cornerstone of his philosophy.

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 19, 2013: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers before the Premiership match against Newcastle United at St. James' Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Possession

“I like to control games. I like to be responsible for our own destiny. If you are better than your opponent with the ball you have a 79 per cent chance of winning the game…for me it is quite logical. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, if you don’t have the ball you can’t score.” – Brendan Rodgers

“If it is not going well we have a default mechanism which makes us hard to beat and we can pass our way into the game again. Rest with the ball. Then we’ll build again.” – Brendan Rodgers

Penetration.
Pressing.
Patience.

Then I read a number of fan forums where people have studied the way Swansea played under BR and studied the way Barca play. Then I read various comments Brendan made and it seemed to back it up. It all got me rather excited about what might be in store for Liverpool.

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The tiki taka way


The tiki taka is based mostly on a 4-3-3 although there can be 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-2-3 variants.

The Formation

The 2 centre halves split very wide and the full backs push high up the pitch. The defensive midfield player acts as a pivot with 2 midfield in front to his left and right (you can also have the 2-1 midfield, the double pivot and the ‘number 10’ in front). Ahead of that is the 3 up top. Central striker and 2 wide forwards. The triangles represent the passing angles and the pressing zones when the team doesn’t have the ball.

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Pressing

Winning the ball back quickly is the most important part. The idea is to win the ball back within 5 or 6 seconds after losing it. Look at the triangles in the image, these are zones. Lose the ball in those zones and the 3 players that make up the triangle are meant to hunt for the ball. So for example say the central striker here is Sturridge the midfield player on the right is Henderson and the right wide forward is Suarez. Should Suarez lose the ball while trying to dribble to his left, Sturridge, Henderson and Suarez himself need to hunt the ball. The rest of the team move up as a cohesive unit to condense the space. If Sturridge, Henderson and Suarez fail to win it back in 5 or 6 seconds they along with the rest of the team retreats into a deeper reactive defensive position and wait for certain triggers to attempt to get the ball back again.

Triggers

There are certain triggers that the team waits for in order to press in packs of 3. The few that I know of are when a player has to look at the ball to control it, or a player miss-controls, or receives it facing his own goal.

“You cannot go (press) on your own…You work on zonal pressure, so that when it is in your zone, you have the capacity to press. That ability to press immediately, within five or six seconds to get the ball, is important. But you also have to understand when you can’t and what the triggers are then to go for it again because you can’t run about like a madman.”Brendan Rodgers

I remember watching Barca play against Arsenal at the Emirates in the Champions League and the first 20 minutes was the best football I have ever seen in my life. They would lose the ball and win it back in 2 or 3 seconds. Arsenal who are a very good passing side just could not cope and really should have been slaughtered 5 or 6-0 by half time. Their 5-0 and 6-2 wins over Real Madrid are also good examples. Obviously Barca have world class players all over the pitch so I wasn’t expecting Liverpool to be playing like this. But I thought if Swansea can dominate the ball against the likes of Arsenal and United under Brendan’s management then with better players and better resources at Anfield he should be able to make a big impact.

We signed Joe Allen for £15m and went to 4-3-3. Results were not good but you could see the way we were trying to play. We had lots of possession but no pressing and not a lot of penetration. Early days though – I thought the other elements would develop over a few months or maybe when we strengthened further in January.

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The reality though is our game didn’t seem to develop from August to December and it looked like we had the same problems every week. Struggle to break teams down, get caught out in transition, concede daft goals.

In January we signed Sturridge and Coutinho and the philosophy seemed to change. We were more direct, and reactive. Catching teams on the counter attack. We scored more goals and won more games. I’ve not heard Brendan mention the 4ps since. In fact in an interview he did where some of the lads at the anfield wrap and other blogs were asking him questions – someone brought up the 4ps, wanting the manager to go into more detail on it but Brendan dismissed it as the media making a big deal of it. That set my bullshitometer off and I’ve been a bit wary ever since.

Brendan Rodgers deserves credit for being pragmatic and changing up the tactics in order to get better results. However going into this season, with an entire off season to identify transfer targets, plan how the team will play and coach the players accordingly I would have thought the performances would begin to reflect the manager’s philosophy. The reality is that it hasn’t. The first 3 games we went 1-0 up early and hung on for our lives in the 2nd half. We gave up possession in those games and didn’t press at all. Carragher, working as a pundit for Sky couldn’t understand why we were deploying those tactics and bear in mind, Carra was training under BR just a few months ago, and he’s baffled. This got me thinking that our results weren’t coming by tactical design but more down to the fact we had a striker in hot form and a goalie making unbelievable saves.

Then came the 4 centre halves against Southampton, a team that presses. Then 3 at the back and now 4 at the back again. At times Gerrard is deeper than Lucas, other times he’s been higher up the field in attacking areas. Moses started left wing, then in the ‘number 10’ position and then the bench. Skrtle was on the verge of being bombed out, next he’s first choice. Agger was first choice, made vice captain, then he’s out until our most recent game. Pragmatism from our manager? Or is he winging it?

Does it even matter it matter though? If the season started on new year’s day we’d be 4th in the league. See table below.

tables

Looking at these 2 tables the evidence suggests we are the real deal with Brendan doing a fine job. The 2013 table is 29 games and the last 38 game table is of course taking into account results over our last 38 games. This suggests that over a long period of time we have shown consistency. Champions league qualification form if you will.

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ISTANBUL, TURKEY - WEDNESDAY, MAY 25th, 2005: Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and Steven Gerrard celebrate winning the European Cup after beating AC Milan on penalties during the UEFA Champions League Final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But hold on. There is a caveat. Neither of these tables include our first 11 games last season where we played West Brom away, City home, Arsenal home, United home, Everton away, Chelsea away. I think if I’m to be convinced about our credentials we must include a tough run of fixtures to give an accurate idea on how well we’ve done over a period of time. That’s why the most important period is August – May. After all, you play everyone home and away and there is inevitably that part of the season where you have the tough run of fixtures.

On December 30th we’d have played all teams in the league and will have faced the tough matches away from home. If we are still top 4 or close to top 4 in the above tables and of course the real table then I will be a believer.

Nonetheless Brendan deserves great credit for our improvement. Look at the goal scored and goal difference in the tables above. We are putting sides to the sword especially at home. Since January we’ve been very good against the bottom half teams at Anfield. For years we have struggled to beat lesser teams at home. Now when the shite teams come to Anfield they get their asses whooped.

A question I’ve asked myself a few times is can Brendan get us to punch above our weight. Can we finish above teams who on paper should be finishing above us. Are we the real deal or is this another false dawn? We will start getting some answers to these questions over the next 6 weeks or so. Starting with the Derby.

For the first time in a while I’m a little worried going into this fixture. Usually going up against Everton I’m confident we’ll win. They tended to choke under Moyes when up against us. Almost as if they made the game bigger than it was. Got too fired up and played poorly. Under Martinez though they pass it better and they have proved difficult to beat. They have already played Chelsea and Spurs at Goodison. Beating Chelsea 1-0 and drawing 0-0 with Spurs. Their only defeat was away to City. This is going to be a tough game.

No doubt the Everton crowd will be up for it early on, booing Suarez and Gerrard any time they get near the ball. Screaming at the ref any time one of our players make a tackle. Our players will need to show some minerals. We need to pass the ball well, quiet the crowd. Get them frustrated. Our midfield cannot crumble when pressed, they need to step up and control the game. No silly fouls near our area or giving away stupid corners. The lads need to be composed. I’d be tempted to leave out Coutinho and play Allen, to try to get control of the midfield. Allowing Gerrard to push further forward.

I’d pick the following team:

Mignolet, Johnson, Toure, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Allen, Henderson, Gerrard, Suarez, Sturridge.

Hendo to play inside right with Johnson overlapping him. These 2 combine well on the right and can catch Everton out when Baines is high up the pitch. I’d have Suarez penetrating from the left. Not playing as a winger but taking up positions towards the left. He is one of the few who is on Enrique’s wavelength.

Gerrard in an advanced midfield role is key for creativity centrally. He’s torn Everton apart from this position many times and could do so again.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, January 19, 2009: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard MBE celebrates scoring the opening goal against and Everton during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If things aren’t going well we can always bring Coutinho and Moses off the bench to make an impact.

Prediction: My head says 2-2 but the heart says we’ll win 3-2.

Hope you enjoyed the blog. Now lets have some debate. Cheers.



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