MICHAEL T Nevin is away. Words which should strike fear into the heart of hoteliers around the world. Michael T Nevin is away. He is drinking your booze. Swimming in your sea. Wearing your slippers.
Instead you’ve got me, Neil Atkinson, writing more about the Reds (these Reds, those Reds, our Reds) and using the first person endlessly. If Mike was about he might write this about the fact that we suddenly haven’t got enough songs so we have to sing songs that are solely about lads who don’t play for us anymore, but he’s away so I can cut loose.
We all need a holiday. And while I was away Brendan Rodgers was still Liverpool manager. Remember those days? A lifetime ago that was. Before Liverpool had played Aston Villa. Before Liverpool had played Sion. Two games in which Liverpool each created more chances than they did against Kazan, but that’s a separate point in a sense.
Before those two games I was, as we all do, sitting off contemplating the Reds. Wondering about how they set up. This was back when there was a back three, remember that? A back three. Crazy days. I don’t particularly like back threes. So I was thinking about how else you could set this squad up.
Very few things are original in football. Most shapes are slight variations on others, there’s not always enormous difference and many are difficult to represent numerically now. Formations and shapes change and shift during games and are dictated by approach and attitude.
This Liverpool squad is spine heavy — a ton of lads who like to be in the centre of the pitch — but a fair few who can also function in wide areas. And I was thinking, pina colada in hand, of Ancelotti’s AC Milan team we vanquished in 2005 and who vanquished us in 2007. I was thinking, we can rip that off. We’ve got the lads to rip that off.
The forgotten man of that AC Milan side in 2005 is Crespo. Everyone remembers Kaka. Everyone remembers Shevchenko. But Crespo scores two goals in a European Cup final and loses and isn’t really part of any story. There are tons of reasons for this, but it is partially because Crespo was playing in a front two in an era when football tended to move more to a front man rather than a pair.
Crespo and Shevchenko weren’t really a pair either. Two nines running round, supplied by a pure 10, supported by a physical midfield three who shuttled across the pitch. If we must write it down — 4-3-1-2; not quite a diamond, not quite as defined as that.
While Crespo was the forgotten man of 2005 being a loanee from Chelsea in a front two, the forgotten man of AC Milan from the first half of the decade is Rui Costa. Sometimes played behind a two, sometimes alongside Kaka behind a one, Costa was a lovely footballer. Mean people would perhaps say he too often decorated a game rather than dominated it, but some football matches could do with more decoration.
By 2007 Costa was no longer there and in general Milan would often look to go a bit more solid — adding Ambrosini in, pushing Seedorf forward closer to Kaka and playing with only one up top. A centre midfield three with a bit more steel, more protection for Pirlo, built around Kaka’s exceptional quality.
Liverpool have, in two games under Klopp, probably played variants on all three of these shapes, which are slight variants of themselves. So I wish I’d written this piece back then when I was on holiday, because I’d look great, but we are where we are.
We pretty much went to the 4-3-1-2 shape after Benteke came on against Kazan for Coutinho. Benteke and Origi with Lallana behind. The key is the midfield three. It was flatter for the midfield three than the diamond Rodgers felt he had to get rid of after Sturridge got injured on England duty in 2014. Milner and Emre Can were, like Seedorf and Gattuso shifting from the centre into wide areas with the other making up a midfield two alongside Lucas.
That Milan side of 2003, 2005 and 2007 is crammed with all-time greats. We aren’t comparing personnel here, but positional use and positional comfort. That three suits Emre Can and Milner. It suits Lucas. It suits Lallana to be one behind two. It suits Benteke to be in a pair, but he can do a job alone. It should suit Sturridge and Henderson. It suits the full backs as well.
Coutinho is the question mark. And it is here, in the cold light of the comparisons I avoid for everyone else because they aren’t fair, we can see that the player isn’t Kaka. He’s a world away from Kaka, not in terms of quality, though it has been too easily forgotten how sumptuous a footballer Kaka was, but in terms of a list of proportional strengths and weaknesses, whether or not Coutinho measures up.
Kaka was a one in two-and-a-half games merchant. He was the top scorer in the 2006-07 Champions League campaign. He was devastating in opposition penalty areas, he was a pure final third player. His pace over five yards was remarkable — I remember Cristiano Ronaldo-esque running away from Manchester United in Old Trafford, leaving players for dead.
He did his work up the pitch. Kaka didn’t decorate, he didn’t dominate — he destroyed. Whereas Coutinho wants to dominate. He wants to be on the ball. Kaka didn’t win his battles as Coutinho does. He didn’t keep it ticking over or attack from deep, he didn’t go looking for the ball.
We talked about it on Monday and we will talk about it on CityTalk later; what Klopp does with Coutinho could well end up defining his Liverpool side until at least Christmas and probably until the start of next season.
There’s a bold move which can be made when almost everyone is fit; a move which sees the midfield three Liverpool have played in Klopp’s first two games include Coutinho. It may even be that Liverpool’s most important player of 14-15 finds himself impacting some games from the bench; Firmino or Lallana behind a quality front two with graft behind them and him getting 30 minutes to sprinkle some stardust.
When Klopp arrived there was plenty of talk about Liverpool going to the 4-2-3-1 he pushed at Dortmund. Instead, we can already see a manager looking at his squad and trying to get them to do what comes naturally to them.
It’s early days but this looks to suit the squad. This could, of course, be a short-term fix — until the manager can go into the market for the pace and quality from wide areas he may want. However he has had a holiday, too. Maybe he’s trying to protect legs, maybe he thinks he need to do things a little differently in this league now.
Time will tell, but with these Reds, perhaps there’s another reason to think of AC Milan 2005.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
Like The Anfield Wrap on Facebook
People have tended to talk about Coutinho in terms of adding to his game – namely goals but right now he needs to do less – currently he is attempting to find a passes in difficult crowded areas and score often when the chance may be marginal.
I’d be tempted to drop him back into the centre and use him as the transition player. Starting from deeper he will have more time and fewer decisions to make with the ball (also he won’t be wasting possession trying to shoot) – just find the pass to Clyne/Moreno going wide or which of Lallana/Firmino/Benteke/Sturridge (!) is playing.
Not sure I agree with your goal scoring assessment there.
Coutinho frequently finds himself at the edge of the box or D, in space, with the ball at his feet and more often than not manages to skew his shot wide.
He’s not gonna score every one but with an improvement in his shooting he will score a lot more.
He’s finding the space but it’s his shooting that’s letting him, and ultimately all of us, down.
Spot on. I’ve been making this argument for over a year now. He could and should be our Pirlo. Think of all the passes that stick in the memory: Newcastle away, Fulham, QPR, Arsenal: they all come from deep positions. Needs forwards and midfielders who can make runs, mind.
In a Klopp setup, he becomes our Gundogan, whether as one of a 2 or a 3. Lord knows we need some creativity from midfield right now.
agreed with all of you here. I have always thought Phil as number 10…or left side front 3 of 4-3-3.
But it makes sense to use Phil from a deeper role…to start attacking moves and direct precise accurate balls.
Stevie G, Suarez and majority of fans think so highly.of our little magician. Can’t be out of the team overnight…this boy has loads of creative talent in his young body…
As I walked to work this morning and reflected on last night, I found myself thinking about the squad we currently have and concluded as follows:
Can, Milner, Henderson, Allen, Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, Ibe (and even Markovic). I don’t know what any of their best positions are. Arguably, each of them should play in similar roles.
I also found myself thinking that, for all the talk of certain players in the game being Rolls Royces, it appears that we have a squad of Lexus’ (Lexi?). All very good at what they do, excellent at nothing, and a little boring.
In 2009, we had 3 real Rolls Royce players in midfield and we don’t have any right now. We also had a Ferrari up front. Our current Ferrari is in the workshop too often.
These analogies risk turning into Partridgeisms. I should point out I’m hungover.
Can = box to box cm
Milner = Attacking right wing in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3
Hendo = see Can
Allen = see Can
Coutinho = number 8, CAM from deep
Firmino = unsure but probably a 10
Lallana = 10
Ibe = see Milner
Markovic = 10
This shows what an imbalanced squad built in the last few years
One mans imbalancement is another mans squad of options..
I see a lot of versatile players for a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond. The problem last season was in the final third where we lacked the pace and movement to exploit the talents of Henderson and Coutinho and Sterling.
This season too we’ve created plenty but lacked the clinical edge. I’m becoming more and more convinced that Balotelli was the biggest single catastrophe since selling Xabi Alonso.
Lots of over analysis here. Coutinho has been shite most if not all of the season and should have lost his position by now, as he has with the Brazil set up. What happened to the talk about competing for spots? Give Firmino a chance in the side.
Lost his Brazil place to Kaka of all people funnily enough, who at 53 is only one year younger than Kolo Toure.
Interesting on the Milan 442 diamond comparisons because I thought we had a similar thing going the other year (with the notable exception of Gerrard doing the Guardiola-Barca dropping between the center halves thing) so that shows what I know.
The thing with that Milan side is that they had some of the best width from Cafu imaginable whereas we had the steady Flanagan and the quite possibly drunk Glen Johnson. Think Clyne and Moreno are much more suited to opening the pitch up so that’s a positive.
Whoever’s been doing the transfer business over the years needs shooting. We have far too many players of similar qualities competing for places in midfield and attack and far too few players of similar poor quality out wide and in defence. How many no 10s and box to box midfielders does one team need? And how many one-footed left-backs and limited keepers? As much as a I love Sakho (and the love between him and the Kop was the best thing about last night) I couldn’t help thinking about the players we’ve sold as he rumbled up the pitch: Reina and Agger. I’m sure they could have been managed better.
Agger and Reina were both finished really, the former has hardly kicked a ball since he moved back to Bromby.
Reina and Agger? If ever proof was required that LFC fans do indeed live in the past, it is this.
Reina’s best was well behind him and Agger, bless him, was crocked at least a year before he was let go.
What next? Gerrard for playing-assistant manager?
Christ no! I’m very happy with our current manager and don’t want Stevie anywhere near the club right now.
You’re missing my point. I’d been watching highlights of 2008/9 and was struck again by how many goals came from moves started by Reina or Agger i.e. a player who can bring the ball out of defence with confidence and a player who knows how and when to release the ball. We haven’t adequately replaced our better players. As for them being finished, I’m not sure about that. Reina had a good season once Carra came back into the team and our stats were way better with Agger in the team: even towards the end. Either way, they’ve been replaced inadequately.
We may have inadequately replaced Agger and Reina, but they had to go.
Reina openly courted Barca, and would have left us in a moments notice. And Agger admitted his Premier League days was over as his body couldn’t cope. So at 29, he went to Brondby.
Didn’t you find the Agger story a tad unlikely? I did, particularly after the leaks that preceded it. All about the wages if you ask me, though I could be wrong.
Not really. He was quoted saying it.
If it’s nonsense, why play in the Danish league at 29, it can’t be about money.
FSG refused to sanction targets by Rodgers over 24. Which in defenders is complete madness.
Rodgers wanted a keeper and defenders who could start plays from the back, even if unspectacular – Vorm, Williams, Bertrand. Lovren was hardly first choice, but a rare young defender of seeming quality. And Papadapolous was young but deemed too pricey.
Rodgers us often pilloried for being unable to organize a defense but managed 18 games with 2 losses and 12 clean sheets…until Sakho was injured in April.
I only hope Klopp is allowed to fulfill his own vision, rather than a vision of resale value.
As I mentioned this morning on the site countinho has credit in the bank because of 4 goals . 2 against city , Southampton and Stoke away first game . He is turning into that annoying kid at school ( which was me ) known as a grabber . His decision making in the final third is woeful . He is a good player but he needs to look up and learn when they are better options . He twists and turns a lot and everyone stands around hands on hips … As harsh as this sounds if we cashed in on him for circa £30m it wouldn’t damage us at all… And it’s not that some of the players with us are better individually than countinho but football is about team work and decisions ..I struggle to see where he starts a game .
Be careful what you wish for. Coutinho is only 23 so is still relatively young. I would hate it to see him go to another team and flourish there, realising his potential. He’s just having a purple patch and needs an arm around his shoulder more than anything.
He struck me as a frustrated figure towards the end of BR’s tenure and didn’t trust his teammates, hence all the wayward shots. Probably didn’t help when the rest of his teammates was nowhere to be seen and he had nobody to pass the ball to. No runners etc.
There’s a reason why Barcelona are linked with him and he’s been touted as Iniesta’s replacement by his best mate Neymar – he can be that good in the right set up with the right coach. I believe our Jürgen can sort him and get him back on the right track though. I don’t want him to go. I want him to be our Iniesta. Our little Phil. Believe.
agreed fully. don’t forget recent super star Suarez told Stevie G to take care of Phil in his last breath before he left for Barca.
our biggest star (since King Kenny) Stevie G thinks team should be built around Phil.
football genius and our heart and soul Carra also reflected the same sentiment about building the team around Phil after Stevie G.
i believe the above 3 greats know more about the teammates and players probably more than we do…
and I don’t think Klopp is silly enough to just write off a super talent like this little magician after 2 games.
Absolutely mate. 3 great ex-players, 1 in their prime, all speak out highly about our little Phil, having trained with him previously, versus armchair fans playing Football Manager or FIFA, wanting our little magician to be sold just because he’s been off form for a couple of months. Patience is a rare trait among the so-called the best fans in the world these days.
Coutinho needs runners to ping or thread the ball, hence, he thrived when playing with Suarez, Sterling, Sturridge, and even Henderson who are all runners. His form will improve when we have all runners back in the squad and his understanding with his new team mates improves.
I for the first time in a good while feel a sense of positive anticipation. Coutinho will begin to gel with the likes of Firmino and Lallana, and should Sturridge ever get over his annoyances the team will once again tick. I doubt we will ever have to hear JK throwing players under the bus, as he seems to have the same approach with players as Wenger does. Can’t wait for Sunday!