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We’re Not Far Off The Right Blend

by Roy Henderson // 23 April 2012 // 23 Comments

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“And he huffed and he puffed and he huffed and he puffed, and eventually he blew the house in.”

Narrator – The Three Little Pigs

WE all trudged home or switched off our streams in the wake of the weekend game with West Brom, and immediately on gauging the mood online, it was reassuring to see one or two of the wiser heads making suitably ‘wise’ comments. In amongst the ocean of blert-based panic, that is.

Watching the game, and seeing chance after chance, and save after save, and more of the now customary abuse of the Anfield woodwork, in amongst the despair and panic (the usual), a reassuring minority seemed to feel that there was a pattern to it all. And as an analyst, when you’re looking for solutions to your problems, it’s always nice when there’s a clear pattern you can get to grips with.

We have three clear issues to address.

1. Finishing.

2. Decision making in the build up.

3. Concentration (basic tasks and basic defensive common sense).

That’s it.

And guess what? They’re nice problems to have. Do you know why?

They’re not systemic.

Say we’d stuck with Roy Hodgson as our manager? We’d have retreated further into our new mode of football to the extent that what you saw today from West Bromwich Albion might have been all we had in our locker, save for a little more quality at our disposal in various positions. If that doesn’t frighten you, it should.

Set a low block and buy players who lack in both quality and pace, and you find yourself in a spot that, when you harbour ambitions of successful, let alone trophy-winning football, may take years to address (short of a Graham Carr style revamp of your first team squad). To win things, you have to be capable, at least when the big tests come, of imposing your game on the opposing side. When you’re passive and you’re timid – when your balance is tentative in any way – you’re sunk. Say goodbye to any notion of trophies for a few years.

It doesn’t matter if Kenny loses his job or gets the bump elsewhere in the summer – we should be thankful our playing squad has something approaching an offensive balance in its locker. Why? Because when the peripheral details aren’t quite right, they’re relatively easy to address. You don’t have to re-establish the whole thing from the ground up.

Slot in the right personnel in the midfield, and a side that seemingly makes stupid decisions and dissipates defensive pressure becomes something a little more relentless – a little less likely to relent. In that context, you build on the already cornucopic generation of chances, and ideally add to their quality. But most of all, you make life less and less easy for the defence in front of you. Wear them down, and the pressure tells. If we can add finishing prowess to that mix, we’ve truly struck upon a stucture we can build on.

People shouldn’t panic – the result could easily have been 4-1 in Liverpool’s favour today – and the fact we’ve all felt that way about the majority of games this season means something.

Stick with it, and integrate it, but most of all, prune and add quality.

The building blocks are almost in place – it’s not like the days when Rafa was scraping a Kromkamp in a swap for a Josemi – the squad is getting close.

It was a gutting result yesterday, there’s no hiding from it.

But the side’s not far off the right blend.

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  1. We are not far off but also a million miles away in the same breath. Rather than players being the issue, I think it is the shape more than anything. We don’t need to tuck our full backs in at home to west brom. Whenever glen Johnson attacked, danny anger tucked Enrique in (and vice versa when Enrique attacked) and had three players marking one striker for long periods in the second half with two centre mids ten yards in front. It’s outdated. At any one time only 4 people max can be in their box as a result. The full backs should be twenty yards higher and the wingers / wide men should tuck in between the lines to give them space and to effectively become additional forwards. When we attack we have got 5/6 players who are not contributing.

    • I sort of agree with you Ben and can see what you are saying , i to was frustrated at us not having players in the box when it was needed. However you can’t argue with the fact that the system led to 30 bloody shots yesterday and god knows how many corners.
      Unfortunately the result will bring the usual crowd out calling for the sacking of KD etc, i have already (on other forum) seen us compared with Notts Forest and Leeds!!! Overall i agree with Roy here this is a team that is closer to being right than a Leeds or Forest.
      Frustrating none the less.

  2. I agree we are not far behind. I also agree with Benjani. The formations and positioning of players is what worries me most. Quite baffling at times. KD excelled last season with a poorer squad he Is failing this year with his own squad. Hard to make out really but I would like to see him get the chance to put it right. #ynwa

  3. The facts are we’ve had the third most shots in the league this season and given away the third least. Can’t be too far away from being a successful team with those numbers on our side.

  4. Wise words indeed.

  5. Thank you. We need some sensible voices amidst all the cries of outrage.

  6. Roy, it’s me!

    Great article and good points. I watched the highlights and it could have been 4 or 5, but at the same time, I wasn’t surprised to see West Brom had won when the results came up at full time.

    I think you’re right: a few players in a few positions. You’re blessed with a magnificent defence and an outstanding keeper – you need to keep them first and foremost.

    The question is – attacking players. Who can you bring in, and who is actually going to bring them in.

    I’ve been impressed with Newcastle (who hasn’t) at the way they’ve replaced an ageing first team midfield (Barton, Nolan etc) with Cabaye and Tiote, and Cisse looks to be a masterstroke. Obviously they have the money, thats not a problem for Liverpool – but who is going to bring the players in? Is the scouting system up to it?

    I know you disagree but I’ve been really disappointed in Downing. At 20 million it must be incredibly frustrating – the decision making, the lack of pace, the lack of adventure…

    I hope the scouts are working hard in Europe and further away to bring in some quality. The league is stronger when Liverpool are competitive.

  7. Spot on, Royhendo…

    You’ve got to think that if we keep up this style of play integrating 2 or 3 quality new faces next season in the midfield/wing, it’s got to turn…

    If we manage to keep Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique/a stunning new left back together and fit, that’s a quality backline for the next 3/4 seasons with a new brood including Flanagan, Kelly, Coates & Robinson perfectly aged and still pretty damn talented understudies, ready to come in as-and-when and eventually replace the old guard as they age and tail off… which hopefully won’t be for nearer 10 years for the bulk of those lads!

    I believe Suarez and Carroll will create and score enough if the guys behind them are on the same song sheet – In fairness to the decent performances put in by Henderson and Spearing though, they should be in that 2nd XI and we still haven’t filled the void in our midfield that was created when Alonso and Mascherano left – Lucas looks like he’s coming in to his own, but he can’t do it alone, so I feel (as was said on the latest City Talk Wrap, I think) that a real monster of a CM is required this summer, along with a ‘ready now Raheem Sterling’ for the 1st XI while the youngster gets used to playing with the big boys – I guess Maxi’s gonna go (sadly) and Dirk’s becoming a backup forward these days, so for me a versatile left sider, a proper right winger and a monster of a centre mid should be enough this year.

    Long term, I have high-hopes for Shelvey in ‘the Gerrard role’, the all over the front line, tackling, shooting, spraying passes sort… but when Gerrard finally does hang up his boots, that’s going to leave one helluva vacuum in the hero position for a while – hopefully Jon-Jo can step up.

  8. Agree that much is good about this team, especially defensively and with Lucas fit. I am not entirely sure that finishing is our biggest issue, and I wonder whether the poor goals/chances created ratio stems from our build-up play.

    We certainly create a huge number of chances, but how many of our misses are due to poor finishing? On Sunday we had 28 goal attempts, but only Kuyt’s miss could be counted as a bad miss. Throughout the season, most of our misses fall into the following categories:

    - Suarez narrowly misses after creating his own chance after long mazy run / often off balance
    - Carroll headed chance from static position
    - shots from midfielder blocked by defender in congested penalty area
    - speculative shots from players with limited passing options

    It seems to me that its the sort of chances we are creating that are the problem, not the finishing itself.

    What is also interesting is that we score freely in the cups, and tend to play better in faster-paced, more evenly contested games. Finishing seems not to be an issue in these games.

    It seems to me that the problems stem from our build up play. We are composed and patient until we reach the final third, allowing the opposition to organise itself. Then we hit a brick wall and lose our composure rather than continue the patient approach of teasing the opponent out of position, we snatch at a chance, or cross to Carroll (who is either standing still in the penalty area and heavily marked, or not there at all), or we pin our hopes on some single-handed Suarez magic. Effectively we have the worst of all worlds – slow build-up in the middle of the pitch comfort zone, flustered and direct in a congested final third. All of this far more likely to happen in one-sided league game at Anfield against teams outside the top 10.

    The problem stems from the 2011 summer recruitment. Individually not bad signings at all, but collectively poor. Enrique, Henderson, Adam, and Downing – the common theme is that they are all sourced from the lower half of the PL table, from teams who do not play patient build-up football against teams who “park the bus”. We should probably not be surprised that these players, when put in the same team together, struggle to find the killer ball, or prefer to pass backwards rather than lose the ball.

    Maybe the answer then is to invest in an intelligent midfielder who can sit alongside Lucas, and organise our build-up play. Someone who can spot gaps appearing, dictate the tempo, decide when to be direct, and when to swith the play, and help drag opponents out of position. With a limited transfer budget, perhaps this is the place to invest and invest heavily. I still think that the Carroll/Suarez partnership has a lot to offer, and they have suffered a great deal as a result of our “easy-on-the-eye / easy-on-the-opponents” build-up play.

    One of our greatest strengths could be that we can combine the pass and move short passing game with a more direct physical approach. We are a long way off a successful combination here, but we need a brain in the middle of the pitch to combine these approaches effectively, and I suspect that then the finishing would take care of itself.

  9. Alex J.. That’s a fantastic analysis of what is going wrong, and I agree 100%.

    Please can you put it on a postcard and address to Mr. K Dalglish.

  10. Excellent stuff, Hendo. Pretty much everything I was arguing (attempting to argue) on Twitter without being nearly as concise and clear as you have been. To me it’s very simple to see there is so much at the core that is great and it is only peripheral things that need adjusting. The fact Kenny has got this team playing the way it is in one season and with 9 new players is pretty impressive. Sadly, most people think that should be done instantly and we should already be challenging for the title. I for one am happy with where we are because we can see that we need to “prune and add quality” and those adjustments should make all the difference.

    Of course the result was terrible yesterday and I was as gutted as anyone, but it was also terribly undeserved, as has been the case most of the season. Had that been Hodgson in charge and the team playing the way it did in October last year, we’d have created nothing, sat static, looked headless, Agger would have been on the bench, and we probably would have lost 3-0. But the Hodge would have also claimed it was a famous victory because we were playing the mighty WBA.

    I wish people, including our new owners, would show some patience in light of some terrible results (but not terrible performances). It’s those few games this season (Bolton, Sunderland, Wigan) where we’ve just not shown up and lost that I don’t like. But when we play like we did yesterday and there’s plenty of evidence to show it’s just about there, I’m not worried.

    We can do this. Don’t give up just yet.

  11. Great to see such a positive article and generally postive response from the comments thus far as I feel completely dejected about this team and the way it is being run and the way it is playing. The fact of the matter is that we should not have only 5 league wins at home this season and that our form in the league is getting worse….not better (surely with the amount of games the team has played we would expect improvement?).

    Is it ability?; composure?; the types of players we have purchased?; the lack of ownership? I dont know. What I do know is that we have lost and drawn alot of games at home against teams that have no where near our squad on paper and that these are games which we should just not be losing. We are setting all kinds of records this season and for all the wrong reasons.

    I read Neil’s article on Roy last week which was hilarious. But Roy wasn’t given the opportunity or resources of Kenny and effectively delivered better league results (yes, we died in the cups…). I can’t help but think that maybe the best thing Kenny could do is win the FA Cup and retire – thereby protecting his status but allowing us to progress.

    This season has been a disaster. Are the cups great? Yep, absolutely. But Liverpool is not a cup team, Liverpool are meant to be one of the powers of Europe.

  12. “Maybe the answer then is to invest in an intelligent midfielder who can sit alongside Lucas, and organise our build-up play. Someone who can spot gaps appearing, dictate the tempo, decide when to be direct, and when to swith the play, and help drag opponents out of position. ”

    Didn’t we have one in Aquilani? But according to Commolli, Kenny couldn’t “get him into the team…” Aqua had more assists than Modric in the few games he played when with us. Do we really think Adam and a young Hendo are better players? We need players for the here and now as well as the future.

  13. Wise words once again

    Add players the likes of Torres and Alonso to our squad and we are not far away; with this in mind perhaps this is why Comolli went, maybe the players he had identified were second string and not world class, without CL football it is difficult to attract the best. A director of football that has experience of bringing world class talent to a club and bringing through academy players is what LFC require

    As for the Hodge, I hope he gets the England job and then when they turn in turgid, defensive and negative performances (as they will) the Hodge will receive the rath of a nation (which I feel after 35 years of turgid football he will deserve); when England are humiliated by world class teams like Belgium, I expect the Hodge to declare that the result was above expectations, and that all is well, and that you have to respect the quality of every team in world football and that there are no easy games

  14. The Napoleon Principle. He would only surrounded himself with lucky generals. I dont buy that we are unlucky. The woodwork is not a shot on target it is part of the goalkeeper’s defence.

    We now have a team contaminated by the bitter taste of defeat. This season they have grown to accept it and indeed expect it. Its Ok we were just unlucky. Well failure breeds failure.

    What we have breed is a culture that tolerates defeat. If the club wants to move forward it is unacceptable. It is also unavoidable that to move forward we will now have to shift at least 4 or 5 players out of the team. It will require something of scale to break the curse.

  15. You can rationalise the problem a million ways,it still boils down to one thing. i.e our head coach/manager.The teams everyone is admiring are Newcastle,Swansea and Norwich
    and you can see why.Simply with much smaller budgets than LFC they are playing a distinct brand of football and producing results.
    And whats obvious is the their coaches ethos is
    clear in their style of play.
    When you watch Liverpool you cannot discern a style of play,everything seems frenetic and what ensues happens by chance rather than design.
    As mentioned earlier the type of chances that we create are generally snatched efforts i.e the player who gets the chance seems surprised that the ball arrived at him.
    In summary the table doesn’t lie and the buck stops at Kenny’s desk.

  16. The Kloofster is bang on the money among all the ‘Jam tomorrow’ blind optimism. LFC’s season reminds me of Richard and Linda Thompsons ‘ Hard Luck Stories’ google it if its not in your record collection

    • The reasons for optimism have been stated in the article.

      Dominant displays against all of those above us in the league also suggests being on the right track, as do the two cup final visits.

      What is blind about that?

  17. Newcastle = playing with utmost freedom – no pressure from media nor fans this season other than to consolidate top tier status.

    Norwich = manager and squad finishing their third full season together.

    Swansea = a manager and squad finishing their second full season, continuing a style put in place since 2007.

    The frenetic nature of some of our play this season has often been precisely because after 70 minutes, no-one in the ground can believe we aren’t 3 up. That builds pressure. Add to that the NINE new additions and it being Kenny’s FIRST full season back, it is unsurprising that things haven’t quite clicked.

    I also think the embarrassingly shite atmosphere against mid-low teams at Anfield, and internet whiners constantly ready tp have a pop at club, manager and new additions is detrimental.

    Fucking SUPPORT, will ya?!

  18. Thanks for the comments guys, as always.

    Craig in particular, cos he’s my nephew, and he’s a neutral!

    One thing that’s maybe not immediately obvious Craig is the impending emergence of Rahim Sterling into the first team mix at Liverpool. He’ll change things, and if they can introduce another player with that kind of directness, then we’re looking at a whole different setup potentially. But it needs to be founded on a platform, and that’s what Liverpool have lacked.

    Newcastle have done well, taking calculated risks on players that have paid off. The injury risks alone (Ba, Ben Arfa, Marveaux) have paid off big time, when for other clubs they might not have. Was that down to insight on their part? Or was it luck, pure and simple? I always liked the Cabaye signing though, and the added quality has brought out something extra in journeyman players like Guthrie. Pardew isn’t some hot shot genius of a manager – just ask Mascherano – but they’ve a good spine. That’s what Liverpool lack – that one element of their spine working correctly. If we can get it right, then things click into place a little more. And if we can add more quality, then more the better.

    Whoever is manager in the autumn will look like a revelation solely on the strength of Lucas returning to the side, after all.

  19. I agree with much of the above, from both Hendo & contributors – particularly Alex Johnson.

    Starting at the back, we have for the most part been excellent in defence this season, particularly when compared to last year. Agger managing to stay fit for longer has been a big part of it, although Skrtel has been the key man. His seamless substitution of the fading Carra at the heart of the back line has been exceptional. Indeed, the fact that Carra is no longer in the starting XI is in itself progress – it shows that players are being picked or dropped on merit. At RB we have two excellent operators and, on the other side, Enrique has been very good overall, despite having suffered from not having a competent understudy to replace him when he has needed it. Aurelio will surely not see his contract renewed, and with Robinson not yet ready to step up, a second LB is needed. Reina has had some criticism this season – his standards have slipped slightly – but he remains one of the world’s best goalkeepers & a real leader in the dressing room. It remains to be seen whether Carra has another season in him – i have my doubts, although there will surely be a role at the club – but there is lots of young talent there in Coates, Wilson, Kelly, Flanagan, Robinson. We need to keep this unit intact.

    Lucas’ injury was effectively the end of our league campaign, so good a player has he become. Spearing has developed into a competent backup, although nothing more at this stage. A critical piece of summer recruitment is finding a “cerebro” to play alongside Lucas next season. Adam is clearly not of the required standard & it seems doubtful that he has the mental strength required to be a squad player – i believe he should be sold in the summer. There are lots of talented creative central midfielders in the European (but saliently not British) market, but the question for Liverpool is fast becoming whether or not we are still a draw for these guys. Heading into our third season outside the CL, can we attract the next Alonso when he is sure to have good offers elsewhere? Certainly we cannot currently compete for the cream of the crop – Eden Hazzard will not be considering an Anfield move, nor will the likes of Leandro Damiao, widely seen as Brazil’s next great No. 9 & a player likely to move to Europe this year.

    One player I would love to see at Anfield is Nuri Sahin. He has been virtually unused this season at Real Madrid, & is one of the finest young players around in that key central midfield position. He is allegedly deeply unhappy at Madrid, although Mourinho’s impending departure may alter that.

    Elsewhere we patently need pace & width on both flanks, as well as another finisher (Adebayor, anyone?). I do, however, believe that a “new Alonso” would solve a lot of our problems. Aquilani was mentioned by a previous commenter, and it seems that Milan may not exercise their option on him. He is a classy player who was far better than was generally recognised during his spell at Liverpool. That said, he does tend to play higher up the field and may not suit the deeper lying role which we desperately need to fill.

  20. So,there you have it Roy,

    It’s never inscribed on any trophy or cup “Winners 19?? or 20?? (But they were Lucky!)

    Luck plays a part in virtually every sporting event;that volley that was over the base-line;that red that kissed off the blue;that engine failure in the last lap;that goal that should have been off-side!

    In the end the best competitor wins! And it’s as simple as that!

    So we won the Carling Cup.We’ve got a great chance in the F.A. Cup.

    We’ve had a nightmare season in the League.But in the Grand Scheme of things it’s a minor blip.We could just as easily have a season where everything we hit goes in.

    It’s called Karma! And I, for one, am not that worried just now!

  21. My problem is, it seems clear to me we need an out and out striker (it’s not just about bad luck). I’ve watched the videos of Jackson Martinez and feel confident about him (if he’s the one we’re going for). It’s pointless hoping we get Edinson Cavani or the like. We need to ‘do a Newcastle’ and find someone like Cisse, but how would we fit in Suarez and Carroll. I believe we’re much better with both of those on the field. I think i’d be more inclined to put Suarez on the left.
    With Dirk going, I pray we look for a decent right winger rather than playing Henderson there. Obviously, in an ideal world it would be nice to have the midfielder everyone above has mentioned but I’m convinced that if we add to the 2 positions I’ve mentioned and with Lucas back I feel both the squad and the first 11 would be strong enough to at least make the top 4 with even more to come in the following seasons. We’ve done very well this season in 80% of the ‘big games’. A few more goals in the side against the ‘lesser’ teams and it’s game on.
    I’m completely optimistic about next season and for the record, about Jordan henderson, providing he’s not on the right.

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