Caught up on the preseason games the other day and watched Gomel and a few things have jumped out at me as Brendan is still implementing his ideas.
You cannot usually gauge much from preseason as it’s simply a fitness exercise. However we are at a stage where we, as a team have to undertake a massive transition. Whilst in the past this has centred mainly on the midfield area and higher we are now going right back to basics of defending. Using it as the building block for an entirely new way of playing.
Gomel was our first competitive game as the Europa League Qualifier and truth be told we didn’t look an impressive outfit in terms of finished product or a cohesive team. Having said that there are mitigating circumstances and signs of the transition that is being implemented.
The first major transition is the dissolving of the ‘flat’ back four. We are now seeing a more continental coached back unit as the basis of the back line – what is widely referred to as ‘the smiley face’ (not just because it resembles one but because it also puts one on the coach’s face!!).
This is in contrast to the ‘ambivalent face’ and ‘sad face’. The ambivalent face is basically a flat back four. You know it’s not great but it’s simple and you sort of accept the risks the system carries – a trade-off in other words. The sad face is something you don’t ever want to see as you are susceptible to balls through the centre backs leading straight through on goal.
Of course none of this is groundbreaking in terms of high level football but it is a shift from the last two seasons of tinkering with a flat back four. We can also see some of Brendan’s ideas already firmly established with the ‘W’ formation and the splitting centre backs with deep lying midfielder.
One other thing which I’ve noticed (and it may just be experimental) at this stage is swapping out offside as plan ‘A’ for support and contain tactics. There are subtle hints that this is the way we are going to be heading. Again this is a relatively continental idea that is just starting to gain traction in the grass roots coaching circles over here.
It requires a modern approach to the game. The tell tale signs of this are diagonal lines when the ball is out wide (usually the fullback looks slightly out of position as he has to be out of line to see past the other players)
Now to me this represents a completely different way to how we will defend. The diagonal line is a shift away from the straight line where the defender is constantly checking his shoulder and more concerned with stepping up at the right time. Using this line opens up the field and allows the defender to watch any runs being made at them especially on the far side.
So to sum up the Gomel game from a defensive point of view, I’d say the ideas were there, shape was generally fine with the ‘W’ and ‘triangle’, individual actions were OK but as a unit we struggled to back each other up.
Attacking wise we were a lot more disappointing, partly because of the lack of control in midfield, but we can dig a little deeper and find out why that is. We started with a triangle of Spearing with Henderson and Gerrard. Although the data is limited for this season we can have a look back at some games last season to see the trends in their passing.
Now you can argue nothing really jumps out at you from these stats and I would be inclined to agree. However picking up trends we can see a lot of the passes are lateral and down the line, pretty flat in other words. But to put this into context we can compare this to similar data for Swansea who were playing the type of football Brendan wanted.
There seems to be a lot more simple angled balls in the Swansea stats. Of course there is still flat angled balls as well but these appear less so. If we look at Henderson we can see most of his passes travel laterally rather than have much of an angle on (much more of his passes travel between 0-15 degrees rather than 30-60 degrees). And this was the thing that stood out most for me in the attacking third against Gomel (not just Henderson). Take a look at Gerrard here in this shot, he has a pass square and a pass down the line. Worse than this though, every other option bar one is sitting along the same line unsighted and obscured. They’ve effectively positioned themselves out of the play. I saw this numerous times during the play and it was really frustrating.
Rodgers system is specifically built around preventing situation like this, it is about creating (tri)angles for short sharp incisive passing. The ‘flat’ angle ball is only a get-out option. This is because a square pass allows the opponents to push out (support and contain) and force you back. Another example of this was seeing four attackers all in a straight line on multiple occasions.
This meant that basically there was no retention up front and no measured control or progressive possession in midfield. Surrendering possession here led to the defence being put under pressure whilst trying to adapt to a new system. Not to mention that we were already at a disadvantage regarding physical conditioning courtesy of Gomel being fifteen games into their season.
I feel we have a core of players that need to find new identities in this system. I also feel this system will ask a lot of players to make a step up in terms of quality and show their maximum potential.Abridged article
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