ANDRE Villas Boas left England as something of a laughing stock. Given his record across Europe, that is harsh – and he hates the Daily Mail so you can only commend that. He is one of the most celebrated coaches to have done their badges in this country, and his scouting notes are frequently used as examples for young coaches (see here).
4-3-3: 4-1-2-3 or 4-2-1-3?
In an interview with the Telegraph, prior to his Premier League debut with Chelsea, he said: “What (Jose) Mourinho did with Chelsea (in his first spell) with his 4-3-3 was something never seen before: a dynamic structure, aggressive, with aggressive transitions…and then there is Barca’s 4-3-3, which wouldn’t work in England, because of the higher risk of losing the ball.”
I find that interesting, especially as Liverpool used that same 4-3-3 system, with one sat behind two in midfield, throughout pre-season and on Sunday.
AVB is right, to some extent, and that showed in the first half against Arsenal. Most teams in England set up with two sat behind the one in midfield or, even if they set up as 4-4-2 originally, one of the strikers will naturally drop off to mark the holding midfielder – which on Sunday was Jordan Henderson. That makes it very difficult to play through that one midfielder, and could be a huge problem, as the majority of teams Liverpool face will concede possession, allowing us to keep the ball at the back.
It can be argued that, when playing against a team who will dominate possession, playing a one behind the two will work – assuming they play with two midfielders behind one – because the players can squeeze them man-to-man, and give them less time on the ball in midfield.
However, the weaknesses of playing that 4-3-3 became apparent in the first half against Arsenal. Georginio Wijnaldum or Adam Lallana should have been dropping in to create more room for themselves and our front three. If the ball is lost in midfield, it allows the opposition to go straight at the holding midfielder, leaving a lot of gaps.
I am fascinated by Chelsea’s side between 2004-6. It’s such a shame a club like that had a side that good. But, it’s easily forgotten that Mourinho’s side often had Frank Lampard and Eidur Gudjohnsen playing in front of Claude Makelele.
In the 2004/5 season, Lampard got 13 goals and 16 assists in 38 league appearances, while Gudjohnsen got 12 goals and eight assists – 25 goals and 24 assists in 38 games. Incredible.
There are some strike partnerships that won’t hit that in the league. Lampard and Gudjohnsen aren’t an obvious natural midfield partnership, similar to Wijnaldum and Lallana.
It’s fair to say that neither have really excelled as part of a forward line, but against Arsenal Wijnaldum had chances to score and got an assist, while Lallana scores and has other good chances. On another day they could have had three goals between them, and that’s insane given that we were the away side at the Emirates.
If Jürgen Klopp is going to stick with that set up, some tweaking is needed. But, I’m excited and intrigued by the thought of seeing more of this system. Certain teams may double up on the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane, which will give Lallana and Wijnaldum the freedom to really go at teams, and hopefully emulate that Lampard-Gudjohnsen partnership. Numbers from midfield will be crucial in beating bottom half teams this year.
Based on the Tuesday Review and his recent article, I think it’s fair to say Neil Atkinson and I are both in the “full backs don’t really matter” club. Between the ages of seven and nine, I saw Liverpool get to two FA Cup finals and win two league titles with Barry Venison, David Burrows and Steve Staunton playing regularly as full backs.
So, to be 4-1 up at the Emirates and have social media exploding over Alberto Moreno was poor form. Unfortunately, sometimes, people just burn your head out. That sort of thing happens in dressing rooms, and it happens with managers, like in any workplace.
Seemingly we are now at the stage where Moreno has burnt many people’s heads out. The issue is once that line has been crossed, every little thing that player does will be criticised. That’s not to excuse him for Sunday, because I thought he had a pretty awful 20-minute spell. Gary Neville gave Moreno a real kicking on his commentary, although Moreno gave him plenty of ammunition.
But, let’s remember that we won the game, and celebrate that.
The most interesting thing is that some people have been trying to defend him on the basis that Klopp uses his full backs to give width, so when the ball is won back there is some sort of pressure on Moreno to bomb on, to give us that width. That is right, but only in certain circumstances.
To give an extreme example: let’s say it’s the last game of the season and we need a point to win the title. Simon Mignolet rolls the ball out in the 89th minute. Should Moreno be expected to bomb on and vacate his position? The obvious answer is no. But some people are acting as if Moreno can just get forward whenever he wants because he’s giving us width. The point being that there are certain circumstances when nobody, the manager included, wants Moreno to be pushing up.
As an example on Sunday, we’ve just conceded a penalty, at one of the top clubs in the country and we’re on the ropes. If we win the ball back on the edge of our own box, and they’ve got men flooded forward, that isn’t the time to be bombing on.
Lallana could be criticised for losing the ball, but I’d sooner praise Arsenal for their great pressing. However, if we lose the ball in that area, we shouldn’t be conceding from it – and part of that blame should fall to Moreno.
There is nothing wrong with saying he was partly at fault for the first goal, but it seems there are two sides to this issue – a pro-Moreno camp defending every single thing he does, which is mental, or they completely anti-Moreno who think he’s an absolutely awful player, which he isn’t – he’s actually got a lot of very good technical attributes.
The fallout from that performance has been a bit ridiculous – even though it is frustrating that his 20-minute poor spell came so quickly after the Europa League final, when he also had a dodgy period.
But you only have to look at his performances against Everton when he’s been put up against Romelu Lukaku to see that when he’s in a one v one battle he can be a very good player.
But, when he’s in a zonal defensive system he’s being asked to make very complicated tactical decisions – and it’s not just Moreno who has struggled with that in the last 12 months. With that in mind, I can understand why Liverpool want to persevere with him.
It could be argued that Moreno would have been better starting Saturday’s game at Burnley, as he can offer a lot going forward. However, with all the fallout that has come from the Arsenal game, it’s hard to know what his confidence is going to be like.
That is where managers earn their crust. Are you harming his confidence even more by not picking him? Or is it the right thing to take him out of the firing line, again? If he does start, there is the risk of it going wrong and there being another huge fallout from the fans. It’s a big call for Klopp but it’s interesting that he has already defended him in his press conference today.
Beating The Press
I don’t mean Jürgen literally beating the journalists here, although I’m sure at times he’s probably tempted.
Handling the way opposition sides change their selections, styles and pressing us could be one of Klopp’s biggest problems. When sides like Arsenal are tailoring their team selection and pressing us so aggressively – with large success in the first half – it is natural that other teams will copy the set up.
It’s hard to predict how Burnley will line up on Saturday. The last thing they need is a beating off Liverpool having lost their opening game to Swansea. So, they may set up for a draw and hope to nick a goal. Or, they might believe they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, and really have a go at us.
Whatever they decide to do, there are going to be a lot of teams like Burnley – particularly when we’re at home – that will try to limit our time on the ball in midfield, and Klopp will have to deal with that.
One way they could counteract the press is by asking Coutinho and Mane, injury permitting, to get right out to the flanks and stay high up the field, and ping long, diagonal balls to them. That would prevent teams – like Arsenal at the weekend – from winning the ball back on the edge of our own box.
Instead, teams will naturally start to drop their own defensive line, and the opposition midfielders and attackers that are pressing will naturally press with less intensity if the ball is constantly going over their heads, as they’re not being rewarded for their pressing.
Coutinho and Mane can be deadly when they play narrow, but for the first 15 minutes or so of certain games, particularly if it’s not going so well, Klopp may need to sacrifice that to allow us to start developing space for the midfielders to play into.
With the pace we’ve got, most teams won’t want to press too high, and they’ll be willing to let Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan have time on the ball, and prevent them feeding it into midfield.
How successful we are at creating the space to play in midfield may be one of the most critical factors in beating the teams we’re expected to beat this season.
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