WE woke this morning to headlines alternately heralding a tactical masterclass from Mourinho, alongside claims that Brendan Rodgers had thrown bitter barbs in Mourinho’s direction, highlighting his ‘two buses parked’ comment. The reality is different – here’s his post-match press conference. Is this a bitter comment?
His demeanour is significant. In the face of a room full of journalists looking for the post-match spat (“Did he shake your hand?”, “Would you set your team up that way?”), he was calm, made a point of congratulating Chelsea for the win, and took responsibility for his own side having been unable to break them down. That he’s calm betrays where he is in his mind. He has a vision – a team that breaks down whatever’s in front of it – even European Cup semi finalists playing 11 men within 25 yards of their goal.
He only briefly expanded on what it might take to break teams down in those circumstances – “a wee bit of combination play”. But the Manchester City game a few weeks back told us everything we needed to know. That second-half spell after Milner’s introduction, where this Liverpool team was calmly squeezed into its own goal.
High tempo one-touch football. Intelligent movement in tight spaces. Patience. Calm. Good decision making. Provocative angles of running that ask serious questions in close contact. Now the hard part – combine all that for several minutes, and even the best sides in Europe will struggle to hold you at bay. It’s not easy – there’s nothing harder to master, in fact. But the rewards when you get there are gold and shimmery.
Yesterday it was interesting to note that Raheem Sterling was our calmest player. The one playing high tempo one-touch football. The one boasting intelligent movment in tight spaces. The kind of patience and calm that was lacking in his seniors for most of the game. Rolling players, running in behind, committing them to positions and places they didn’t want to find themselves in, parked bus or no parked bus. Joe Allen showed signs of it. Flanagan showed signs of it. And that’s the point. This is a young side that needs to learn the lessons that go with its belief in its right to win things. This is a manager who takes responsibility for his team not having broken the other side down, and turns down the chance to make cheap excuses when fed them by the media throng.
To complain about anti-football in that context is to deny that winning mentality – the silver lining to this particular cloud. Rodgers said the game would prepare them for Crystal Palace, but the truth is that yesterday’s lesson, if harnessed, will arm the team in its pursuit of that next level.
Rodgers talks about a side with tactical discipline, and this season has proven it more than just empty rhetoric. He doesn’t complain, and he doesn’t explain. The focus is internal, and on the next game. But that focus is founded on a footballing vision, and it’s the hard lessons that will allow that vision to manifest fully.
Exciting times, folks. It’s just one game.
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo.