THE news Liverpool are potentially seeking a loan move for Mamadou Sakho has caused much debate, particularly on social media. It opens up questions about the centre-half position, and the other options we have in the squad.
The Centre-Half Debate
At the end of last season we did a transfer committee show, in which I said improving the centre-backs and goalkeeper would be my main focus. They are both positions which are undervalued and give the most potential for a “Moneyball” situation, something that is central to FSG’s strategy.
To use Liverpool as an example, you only have to look at some of our most successful centre-halves in recent years, and the amount we paid for them. Daniel Agger cost £5.8million. Martin Skrtel, for all his faults, was £6.5m. Sami Hyypia was £2.5m, and even Stephane Henchoz was £3.5m. In terms of keepers, Pepe Reina was £6m.
The priority should be to be amazing in both penalty areas, and then sort the other areas of the pitch last. That is a wider problem in the market, in that not enough clubs nail signing goalkeepers and centre-backs.
You could have made an argument for us to get four new centre-halves and a goalkeeper. Getting back-up – or even a replacement – for Alberto Moreno shouldn’t have been a priority (and hasn’t been by the looks of it).
The issue was that Kolo Toure wasn’t being offered a new deal. Martin Skrtel had run his course – the time was right to let him go. Sakho has various issues, and that left you with Dejan Lovren – and you could still make a case for buying better than him.
The summer saw Joel Matip (free) and Ragnar Klavan (£4.2m) arrive, and I do think there is value there. That said, we’re still crying out for proven quality – and that’s where we have made a mistake in the market.
Jonathan Tah is a player that I expected to move to a massive club this summer. That’s a team-of-the-year centre-half for the next five or six years, before one of the massive clubs comes and takes him off your hands. He’s one of those players that hasn’t quite done enough and has a couple of rough edges, which is putting those clubs off. That’s exactly the kind of signing we need. I also really like Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.
Klavan, as I mentioned on this week’s Tuesday Review, is a signing similar to Bjorn Tore Kvarme, Glenn Hysen or Toure. For those players, signing for Liverpool is such a big deal to a player coming towards the end of his career, that naturally you’ll get a honeymoon period.
For the first few months or so you’ll look at Klavan and think what a great deal. After that time being at Liverpool will start to become the norm for them, and the weaknesses in his game – which have prevented him from making a big move in the past – will come out. We have seen glimpses of both sides of the player already.
The signing of Matip was considered by some as being the answer to all of our problems, and there seems to be a huge buzz about him after Tuesday night’s game. A couple of years ago he was considered to be the next big thing, and Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich could have snapped him up, had they seen fit to do so. But it is widely considered that, while he can look classy and cultured, he has a calamitous error in him.
On a free, he is a good gamble for Liverpool. The German media seemed to believe that once we had opened negotiations to sign him, his performances began to improve – and it may be the case that getting a move to a club like Liverpool, and working with Jurgen Klopp day in, day out will help him take that step up to the next level. But it may be that we have to bear with him until at least next season to get that out of him.
Looking at Sakho, I guess there are a number of issues. Our major advantage this year over our main rivals is two fold:
1) Due to no European football we can train more regularly and be tactically at our peak;
2) For the same reasons as above, we can be one of, if not THE, fittest teams in the league.
Sakho, and Daniel Sturridge for that matter, pose the manager an issue. With their injury records expecting them to train at full intensity, and be available for selection regularly, for long periods is questionable. Select too many players that fit that criteria and we risk losing two of our main advantages.
Another issue with Sakho is that – as Gibbo referenced in his piece the other day – people aren’t considering the ill-discipline enough. Look at it this way, Liverpool are an employer. Therefore, if these players are, allegedly, taking their own drugs, not only is that ill-discipline of the highest level, it also means that the club have wasted their time and money on sports science at Melwood if players are just going to ignore it.
There could be insurance issues with that and, if there aren’t insurance issues, there will certainly be contractual issues. That is massive, and I can totally understand moving him on.
I got this question on Twitter, this week:
@TheAnfieldWrap @Knox_Harrington have you ever done a zonal v man marking piece with @Sean_Rogers? Just don't get it. Mark a shirt surely?
— Wayne Ellis (@wayneellis1974) August 23, 2016
You’re going to concede goals from set pieces no matter what you do, and most teams believe that they don’t score enough from set pieces and concede too many from them.
But if you’re choosing between man marking and zonal marking, some managers will do it based on what suits their players. Others will have a system, and a set way of playing, and that’s it.
If you’re going to man mark, there are two key considerations. One of those is that you need to have a very big team. The other is that they need to actually be good at marking. It’s alright if you’ve got a few players who are good at heading and marking, but it’s more common that most players won’t be able to do both well.
You might have a few good headers of the ball, but the other team might have one or two more, or somebody ends up marking somebody they don’t want to be marking. What’s the point in man marking if your defender is coming up against somebody that they know is going to beat them in the air? In addition, your best headers of the ball may be dragged into areas where they can not positively affect critical areas.
I’m not sure if this Liverpool team is big enough or good enough at heading and marking to implement man marking successfully.
Most teams now work incredibly hard to analyse the opposition and that forms the way they take set pieces. Football has advanced so much that set pieces and marking aren’t the same prospect that they used to be. It’s no longer a case of just drifting the ball in and seeing who gets their head on it. These days players can zip the ball into the box with so much pace and teams now employ blockers, so if you’re man marking you can only be reactive. You’ve also got to factor in that the new rules make it harder to pull and grapple in the box, making an Italian style of man marking nigh on impossible.
The beauty of a zonal-marking system is that you can put your best headers of the ball in key areas, to allow them to win the ball.
On another point, I think having men on the posts is a waste. On a very rare occasion they may clear it off the line, but I’d rather that player be there to win the header. All too often you see goals scored when players come off their posts, or the ball goes over their head anyway. Again, it’s reactive – I would rather be proactive.
Also I would bring every player back to defend set pieces. People will argue that there should be a few players forward, but they’re going to have players back. If everybody is back and your ‘keeper catches it, or it’s cleared, they might have only left one player back, then you’ve got a real counter-attacking situation. In my experience you’re actually more dangerous on the counter with nobody up there, than you are with two or three.
Ideally I prefer a hybrid. If you have your best headers zonally marking in the six-yard area, and about four guys marking their biggest players, you get the best of both worlds.
System v Spurs
I suspect that against Burton Klopp was testing out his team selection. He would have been looking at that game as a confidence booster, which is why he didn’t make a load of changes. I don’t think he actually cares that much about the League Cup, it was more a chance to correct the wrongs of Saturday and get a few goals.
I’m really intrigued to see what our shape with the ball is, and whether we attempt high risk possession from deep in our own half in the first 20 minutes.
Spurs are a very high pressing and aggressive team – much more so than Arsenal and Burnley. He may need to go more direct in the first 20 minutes, in order to beat the press, rather than continue to play the ball out from the back, regardless of the amount of pressure we’re under.
If we do stick with that system of playing out from the back, then it will be interesting to see if he looks to change the system. The defensive midfielder could drop in between the centre-halves to make it a three.
If we continue playing out from the back during that early period, then it will be interesting to see if he looks to change the shape. The defensive midfielder could drop in between the centre-halves to make it a three. The wingers have been quite narrow so far, they could play wider in the first 20 or so minutes to stretch the play, or the full backs could give us more width and push up higher than they have.
I’d be really frustrated if, early in the game, we’re conceding possession to Spurs in our own half, because we’re trying to play out from the back in high risk situations. We don’t have the players to be able to consistently play through teams like that, in my opinion. Instead, we should be looking to play long, diagonal balls to force their defensive line to back off, and allow us the space to play our football from there. I would be delighted if it was 0-0 after 20 minutes, away from home.
Really good article, thank you.
On the point about corners, one of the issues with having everyone back is that it makes for a very crowded box with potential for players to pass responsibility on, deflections and confusion amongst defenders. It also leaves less room for a pro-active keeper to come and claim the high ball. But I hadn’t considered the point made about it presenting a quick counter opportunity. I suppose that depends on the keeper getting his hands on the ball quickly and rapid (wide) men ready to receive his accurate clearance. Maybe it’ll happen more with Karius because I can’t recall too many times when it’s happened with Mig!
Another problem with having everyone back in and around the box means the opposition can push more men up too.
If we leave one man in the centre circle at corners, usually someone fast, that means the opposition will leave at least 2 men back. We leave 2 out they have to leave 3/4. They can only attack the corner with 7 men then (with 1 being the corner taker) v our 9.
I couldn’t understand for the life of me why we pulled Sterling back for corners. I mean what’s he gonna do to defend a corner. He’d have been much better pushed out ready for the clearance and able to get on the “out” ball and take pressure off the defence. Too many times you’d see us header the ball out only for it to come straight back at us because we’d have no one outfield to get on the end if it is at least pressurise the opposition if they did.
I have always been intrigued by the idea of having our two quickest attacking players stationed towards the half way line on opposite touch lines when defending a corner. Say Mane and Origi now, would the defending team go one on one in marking them with cover around the center circle, or would they be forced to keep four back to mark two? Given our problems with set pieces, I think the fewer attackers they have in our box, the better chance we would have of not conceding – especially if we had a pro-active keeper. Even if they kept just 3 back, plus the taker, plus their keeper, that leaves a maximum of 6 players that they have in attacking position. Rather than inviting pressure and keeping every one in to mark – when some of them haven’t a clue what to do defensively and end up just getting in the way.
Only just reading this after what I posted above.
Couldn’t agree more.
What has always puzzled me is that when defending a corner, we always have all 10 players back defending and no-one up top to receive the ball, if a break could be made.
By having 1 player on the half way line at corners it means the defending team has to have a spare man which means they need to keep 2 men back to cover.
The attacking team has to have a player taking the corner.
So if you add the corner taker to the players who have to stay back with our attacker that’s 3 players who are not a threat.
Leaving 7 players to mark,
With your 9 players.
Not having someone up front means that 9 opposition players need to be marked.
Surely its easier to mark 7 rather than 9?
” no-one up top to receive the ball, if a break could be made.”
That’s usually where you expect your full backs to be looking to break out, bomb up the pitch and provide width….although that can lead to a whole separate discussion…..
Isn’t it easier to break when you can knock it up to someone and have him lay it off to the oncoming runners?
Great piece, although I’m confused by the following line:
“and that left you with Dejan Lovren – and you could still make a case for buying better than him”
Do you even need to make a case for this? He’s one of the worst central defenders in the league, has been utterly hopeless since the day we signed him – and for almost the entirety of his pre-LFC career too, and should have been out the door this summer. Our summer business should have began with removing our biggest weaklink, that would be Lovren.
More to the point, always great to read and listen to Sean – the Sadio Mane of the TAW team.
What about man-marking from general play, Sean. Greece did it to great effect all those years ago against some very good players who simply weren’t used to it. Any reason why a team that is relegation-fodder shouldn’t give it a go?
“THE news Liverpool are potentially seeking a loan move for Mamadou Sakho”
In an otherwise excellent and very ‘learned’ piece, the above stood out negatively.
What is the evidence to support the claim that Liverpool FC “are potentially **seeking** a loan move for Mamadou Sakho”?
Melissa R. has reported that LFC are “open to”, i.e. will consider, will not reject outright offers for Sakho to go out on a short-term loan.
On a different note, if we do choose not to bring all 10 outfield players back for corner kicks, I would have Albia Moreno and Sadio Mane’ upfield (if we go with two).
To the people who go on about man-marking and putting men on the posts, the simplest answer (much less polite and balanced than Sean’s) ought to be this:
Take up another sport to follow. Badminton or archery may be more to your liking.
Finally, a suggestion for all football coaches and managers: bring in a competent basketball coach to work with defenders and attackers on movement in the box on set pieces, especially corner kicks. Anyone who’s ever played or coached competitive basketball looks on with amazement at the utter incompetence of even the most athletic and gifted footballers in avoiding or reacting properly to an attempted at being ‘blocked’ (i.e. screened) by opponents and in “shielding” the ball from opponents (i.e. blocking or boxing out). Sakho, a physical specimen himself and a great athlete is notoriously terrible at it compared to even a moderately athletic but well-drilled basketball player.
properly to an attempt*
Good thoughts Sean- personally I’d let Sakho go and leave a slot open for a decent, no nonsense Defender. On corners- Totally agree with Robert- Mane and Origi/Stur would keep at least 4 plus taker plus keeper out of the danger area, leaving 5 to watch and beat by 9 of ours
Great reference to Basketball fella.
They are both invasion games so the zonal marking aspect of defending is the same principle in both games.
So many aspects are similar to be fair.
Klopp’s heavy press is called a full court press in Basketball.
When the opposition come in to your half and then you press its called a half court press in Basketball and that method is coached in Football as well.
You also play zones (2-3 for example) which relate to the shape of your team when defending.
So when we talk about 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 its the same as a 2-3 zone in Basketball.
The best way to coach zonal marking at a corner in my humble opinion( thats all ive got) is that all of your defensive players should be looking at the ball when a corner is delivered.
They dont need to be looking at the man and the ball.
Only the ball.
This is one the best reasons for using zonal marking.
It’s easier to concentrate on one thing rather than 2.
And if you imagine that every defensive player is in charge of a square area about 2-3m square (for arguments sake)…. That is their area….
If the ball comes into that area then they are first to it because they are looking at the ball from the off.
They should position themselves in that square so that they can at least jump without being impeded and attack the ball.
Ive lost count of the amount of times we are marking zonally and there are still Liverpool players concentrating on an opposing player not even looking at the ball, this is a criminal offence in a zonal marking system.
The idea of the square is so that wherever the ball arrives, you as a defensive player are as close to the ball as you can be in your square.
So if it goes near post everyone should shift near post to cover that area of the square …. If it goes far post then everyone shifts far post as so on.
The principle is to close the space on wherever the ball lands.
Priority A is to win the ball if it arrives in your sqaure.
Priority B is that if you dont win it then you provide a challenge to the attacking player so its not an easy header.
The more bodies that converge on that area, the less likely a goal is scored.
Obviously this is made harder by opposition plans, stupidity, etc etc
And you want no hesitation between two players who both decide “its not in their zone” so it needs to be worked on ( you both go for it and argue later…)
And modern coaches use a bit of man and a bit of zonal marking nowadays anyway,trying to find the perfect blend but thanks for the reply fella Nice one…..
I hope I haven’t come across as the big I am…. Just trying to articulate what I was taught.
P.s really enjoyed reading this article @theanfieldwrap.
The problem is that if you employ a zonal or hybrid system you run out of players if you leave players up. In my experience if you’re going to leave 2 or more up you probably need to man to man mark – which is fine if that is what you’re doing
It’s easier with a diagram but I prefer
2 in the front zone in 6 yard box (both nominated for shorts)
3 stationed along 6 yard line
4 marking their biggest 4
1 on edge
They have a taker and will leave at least 1 if not 2 back therefore you are 10 v 8 possibly 10 v 7
Thanks for the reply Sean.
Makes sense to me.
I remember under Rafa, when the press criticised our zonal marking, Gordon Strachan was covering one of our champions league games. He was asked about zonal marking & said something like man marking defences also concede goals but as it used to be the norm & seems the more traditional British style of defending it’s never analysed or criticised in the same way as zonal marking is. Spot on.