Change of Defensive Emphasis

One of the paradigms that was the hallmark in the Rafael Benitez era at Liverpool, arguably cribbed from Arrigo Sacchi whose Milan side placed an emphasis on their only ever being 25m from back to front at any given point in time, was the ability for the team unit to shift in unison. This meant that when the team attacked the defence pushed up to compress the open space available for the opposition to play in should they win the ball back, and also placed more pressure upon the opposition team when going forward. This was the main tactical point that allowed Liverpool to maintain dominance in territory and possession (or certainly during their good days) and essentially compress teams into submission.

There was a trade-off, however, to this method of play. And that was that Liverpool often had to rely on a spark of brilliance when they couldn’t pass their way around a team, usually Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard or Yossi Benayoun. A lack of dexterity and agility in going forward as this way of play required a destroyer (or two) to play in the defensive midfield position to quater back the play, as it were. Obviously, the pinnacle of this was Xabi Alonso’s best season in red shirt in 2008/2009 when he played the metronome alongside Javier Mascherano and Liverpool essentially bossed opponents out of the game by not surrendering them any territory. This meant though that when teams purposefully came to Anfield to stifle Liverpool and put ten men in front of them they often lacked the imagination or dexterity to get through them, or relied on a bundling last minute goal as the pressure increased. This meant that Liverpool weren’t often pretty to watch, but it was rare that any team dominated them (the most obvious examples being Milan in the 2005 final – and that was when Benitez was implementing his idyll – and the Champtions League quater final against Chelsea at Anfield in 2009).

Roy Hodgson is obviously still in his infancy as a Liverpool manager, but in the early games the main problem has been the inability to retain posession or attain any semblance of dominance (needing a solid defensive display against Arsenal, aided by being down to ten men, leaving it the only option available and then being completely outplayed by Manchester City). The main difference in the way Liverpool have played thus far has been that the defence has dropped a lot deeper (maybe due to fears of the lack of pace between Carragher and Skrtel) and this, coupled,with a change in formation with Kuyt and Jovanovic dropping deeper and a more orthodox central midfield pairing has meant that the slow patient build up play and compression of space has lead to Liverpool looking completely at sea and not being able to get a foot hold.

The change in the mode of play can be seen here:

Although Martin Skrtel is playing on the different side of the pitch, you can see that a distinct amount of his passes come from deeper. This coupled with the fact he doesn’t have a midfielder closer to him to distribute to means that Liverpool have struggled to form any patterns of play. Indeed, the main pattern has been Gerrard getting the ball and trying to play a killer ball from deep as there aren’t any options with Kuyt and Jovanovic deeper rather than higher up the pitch.

The signing of Raul Meireles suggests that Hodgson will intend to employ the 4-2-3-1 as favoured by Benitez (with him being coupled with Lucas or Poulsen who provide a more defensive outlet), but if the insistance is of a deep defensive line then it’s going to take a very taleneted distributor to take the reigns deep in the park to help attain more dominance in possession. The early suggestions are of this and the imminent signing of Konchesky also shows that Hodgson wants two attacking full backs, perhaps Cole will be placed to the left of Gerrard and Konchesky will be the oulet to provide width on the left.

However Hodgson decides to get Liverpool to play, something needs to change fast or Liverpool will risk being in a dangerous place come Christmas.


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