24 August 2010

Liverpool 2010/2011: Dismantling the Rafalution?

It's not yet staring into the depths of the abyss or a downward spiral kind of situation yet but it certainly felt like that  last night. Seeing Alberto Aquilani on the stands rather than on the bench on Thursday night was sort of a precursor of things to come. Soon after, it was announced that Aquilani was on his way to Juventus. Thankfully, only on loan but still, I'd prefer for him to stick it out at Melwood rather than in Turin.

Ah well, there's no point in crying over spilled milk. Of course, as I write this, there's still some milk in the glass albeit on the verge of tipping over - Javier Mascherano. The fact that he went AWOL on Monday night said it all. He was on his way and there was nothing that could be done.

OK, keeping Mascherano was always going to be an uphill battle so, that was reluctantly set aside. There was after all, a game to be played against (possible) top four rivals and potential title challengers, Manchester City. Fifteen minutes into the game and things were looking decent. Gerrard was spraying passes all around the pitch and the defence had a good shape about it.

Not for long though. The game was never going to end up scoreless but it was the way Liverpool played that was more worrying. Being beaten by three-goal margins isn't a common sight to most Liverpool supporters but it wasn't surprising to see why.

First off, the team needs to press a lot more. All this men-behind-the-ball stuff is ridiculous especially against a team that can clearly move the ball around well, all over the pitch. And, this isn't some sort of personal opinion BS that I've decided to throw in, just to criticise for the sake of it. It's a reality of modern football. All the good teams do it. Even the oh-so amazing Barcelona do it and will continue to do it better if when they get their hands on Mascherano.

Then, there's our beloved captain. To put it bluntly, Gerrard cannot play in central midfield. He just can't. No matter how many times he tells the press that he can, don't believe him. Yes, he has all the capabilities to play in that role but for all his prowess, lacks the tactical discipline and tends to switch-off now and and again especially on the defensive side. He'd do well in crucial Cup ties or against smaller teams but against teams in the upper tier of the league, he's better off playing in the hole or on the wings where he has less responsibility.

Of course the problems don't actually end there but if ever Hodgson needed to prioritise, the top of his list should look like this:

Find exorcist for Fernando. Quick.

Yes, where is our Fernando and what have you done with him? It got so bad on Monday night that if a passerby dropped in the match that night he might have thought that he had been transported back in time to 2005 when Milan Baroš was leading the line for Liverpool. Seriously.

All joking aside, it's just one match that was bound to be tough. Certainly helps put things back into perspective for the it's-all-good-times-now brigade out there. To me, the real good times in recent years was being crowned European Champions in Istanbul followed by an FA Cup win a year later, followed by another European Cup final and topped off by the club's highest points tally for decades in 2008/2009.

If Hodgson even comes anywhere close to any of that, I'll be a happy man. A very happy man.


Ian Yee said...

Hey Chip,

Nice blog you're running over here ;-)

1. It is a real shame that Aquilani has to go out on loan. He's a magical little player who would have gone some way in filling the void left by Xabi Alonso if he was fit. I guess he just needs first team football now to get his fitness back. But as a United fan, I hope he never comes back...

2. And though I do agree that a Liverpool team with all those players at their disposal should never sit back against a team like Man City, I don't think it's true that "all good teams" should do it. Not everyone can play like Barcelona. Inter Milan played sitting back a lot and they won the Treble. United defended deep and played on the counter a lot during the season they won the League and UCL double too. It all depends on the opposition, I guess.

3. Yea, putting Gerrard anywhere else apart from attacking midfield/in the hole is a waste of his abilities. Why leave such a potent attacking force to do all the tackling? It's like asking Mascherano to play up front.

Chip said...

Hi Ian,

So, all that messing with the comments thing finally worked! Good of you to drop by my humble blog.

As we're in agreement with points #1 and #3, I'd just like to expand on the second point you made.

Mourinho's Inter did "park-the-bus" against many of their opposition but they pressed and harried all of their opponents. Something that was definitely lacking with the Liverpool team on Monday.

If Hodgson works on that, Liverpool should be fine against the bigger teams or at least, not lose by that many goals

Ian Yee said...

True... I see what you mean. It's not just about how deep teams defend, it's also about how they press the ball, and in that sense I totally agree. You can't give the top teams any time on the ball like before if wanna pull off an upset.

I think it's because the top teams have also been learning how to play against teams who sit back and defend. United reverted to a traditional 4-4-2 with two wingers to stretch the opposition defence and send crosses in from out wide.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a lot of difficulty against the smaller teams who sat back because he liked to dribble in-field (and never seemed to realise when it wasn't working), whereas Antonio Valencia goes wide and sends the ball in more often. You can't sit back against players like that. You have to press them higher up the field to make sure he doesn't get the ball or in to positions to put the ball in.

As for that freak result against City, maybe Hodgson was hoping to build on Liverpool's greatest strength last season - their defense. They had the best defensive record outside of the top two, and they weren't too far behind either. But he needs to realise that a lot of it was down to Mascherano pressing from midfield as well, not just the back four. If he thinks the back four can soak up pressure against teams like Man City, without Mascherano, then he's being naive.

He seems to have realised that, though, buying Mereiles as a like-for-like replacement for Mascherano. Not on the same level, but quite similar in terms of his style of play. He'll put himself around quite a bit in midfield, but unfortunately, he probably won't win as many balls as Mascherano. Then again, who could?

Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you

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