Which manager makes sense for Liverpool? (*)

Posted by lachesis on May 16, 2012, 09:13:02 pm

This is a discussion to debate the merits and failings of any coaches we are linked with or people like.

Andre Villas-Boas

"Souness made comments about it being easy to win at Porto - It was easy to win at Liverpool in the '90s and the '80s, wasn't it? But he was five years there and didn't win anything."
 - Andre Villas-Boas.

As we look to now replace our manager for the third time in two years there is a list of contenders for the vacant post, but one name stands out above others in Andre Villas-Boas as being the right managerial candidate.

Firstly we are left with an empty club devoid of any sort of senior staff it appears. The club is getting younger, more dynamic and clearly streamlined. As it stands now we have no manager, no director of communications, no director of football and no chief executive. We are clearing house - but for what purpose?

When Villas-Boas went to Chelsea he encountered a lot of problems with existing staff, not least some of the senior players who never really saw him as the successor to Mourinho. I think in all likelihood it was never appreciated how much work he did to support Mourinho. By introducing draconian measures like locking players out of training if they arrived late, making players report in on days off, handing out fines where necessary and making it clear he did not rate certain senior players he created an environment where it was always going to be difficult for him to succeed. Essentially it led to a team that did not want to play for the manager.

However beyond this he went as far to get rid of the clubs medical director (Bryan English)and sent two assistant coaches (Glen Driscoll - head of fitness & Paul Clement - first team coach) packing along with him.

He then took exception to Chelsea's CEO (Ron Gourlay) and requested club demands of the players were reigned in. He further antagonised the CEO by refusing to appear for a mandatory post-match interview after being disgusted with a refereeing display by Howard Webb at Old Trafford in the 3-3 draw in February. He was told if he did not appear he would be fined, to which Villa-Boas responded that he would he happy to have the fine deducted from his wages. Abramovich had to step in at this point and requested that he fulfil the contractual obligations of the club to the media and Villas-Boas eventually acquiesced.

Bearing all this in mind, there would be no such resistance from any messy political backdrops now. Indeed, if the move is swift enough then Boas might even be able to get involved with influencing the decisions on a proper structure including a CEO and DoF that will support his vision.

He spoke tellingly of a three year plan to perform at Chelsea that would change the structure and the culture of the club. To most Liverpool fans this sounds very much like a long overdue shot in the arm since the last foundations of Benitez's vision have fallen.

At this stage a lack of infrastructure might indicate exactly who we are looking at/for and make FSG appear in clam control. On the other hand it could just be hand wringing and sweating brows. However, from an internal corporate point of view, the role looks tailor made for someone like Villas-Boas to come in and build a real project around with full commitment and resources.

So onto the footballing aspect of the appointment. Villas-Boas did an interview with Daniel Sousa ( for Sousas' master thesis) and was so impressed with the questions that he emulated Bobby Robsons faith in him at a young age by making Sousa his scout.

ďWhen Mr. Bobby Robson came to Porto to be a coach in 1994, he moved into my building. I was a small boy, but because I was so interested in football I went to his flat to try to meet him.

He liked my passion, so he helped me to enroll at Lilleshall to take my FA coaching qualifications. He also arranged for me to do my Scottish qualifications in Largs and spend some time at Ipswich with George Burley to see the team train. I started very young in Lilleshall. In fact, I shouldnít really have been there, because the law doesnít allow a minor to take qualifications. But Bobby [Robson] smoothed the way with Mr. Charles Hughes [the former head of coaching at the Centre of Excellence] and I was allowed in to take my UEFA C badges. I was the youngest coach there by a mile, but I was so determined to make it that it didnít bother me.Ē

Here are the most interesting parts of that discussion (source taken from the Telegraph)

AVB: There are more spaces in football than people think. Even if you play against a deep lying team, you immediately get half of the pitch. And after that, in attacking midfield, you can provoke the opponent with the ball, provoke him to move forward or sideways and open up a space. But many players canít understand the game.

They canít think about or read the game. Things have become too easy for football players: high salaries, a good life, with a maximum of five hours work a day and so they canít concentrate, canít think about the game.

Barcelonaís players are completely the opposite. Their players are permanently thinking about the game, about their movement, about how to provoke their opponent with the position of the ball.

DS: Does a top team need to dominate possession to win a match?

AVB: Not necessarily, for a simple reason. In Portugal we have this idea of match control based on recycling possession. Thatís what we in Portugal, want to achieve in our football: top teams that dominate by ball possession, that push the opponent back to their area.

If you go find the top English teams pre-Arsene Wenger they tell you how to control a match in the opposite way without much ball possession, direct football, searching for the second ball.

Maybe now, controlling possession is the reference point for a top team, but that happens because they have much more quality players than the other teams, so it would be wrong not to take advantage of those individual skills.

DS: One thing Louis Van Gaal says is that you can control a match offensively and defensively but if you keep in control defensively you can also determine where your opponent will play on the pitch.

AVB: Yes, I agree. In that sense, yes. But the idea we now have in Portugal of match control is about having more ball possession than the opponent.

DS: Exactly, but match control has to result in scoring chances. Thatís the only way it makes sense. There are teams that have like 60 per cent ball possession and that results in nothing at all.

AVB: Thatís it. Match control always has to have a purpose, a main goal.

DS: And in that concept of match control, are there any sectors of the team more important than others?

AVB: Well, that depends on the mechanisms you want to use defensively and offensively. Let me give you an example:

Top teams nowadays donít look to forward penetration from their midfielders because the coach prefers them to stand laterally (horizontally) and then use the movement of the wingers as the main source to create chances.

So, you, as a coach, have to know exactly what kind of players you have and analyse the squad to decide how you want to organise your team offensively. And then, there are maybe some players more important than others.

For instance, many teams play with defensive pivots, small defensive midfielders. And, except Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso, and maybe Esteban Cambiasso and one or two more, they are players that are limited to the horizontal part of the game: they keep passing the ball from one side to another, left or right, without any kind of vertical penetration.

Canít you use your defensive midfielder to introduce a surprise factor in the match? Letís say, first he passes laterally and then, suddenly, forward?

DS: Whatís the difference between playing with three or four midfielders?

AVB: Rafa Benitez created a 4-4-2 much more dynamic than the usual English 4-4-2. Because he introduced speed in ball possession, he gave it variation between forward and lateral passes.

The usual classic English 4-4-2 is more basic: a penetrating midfielder and another one that stays in position; a winger who moves inside and another one who stays wide; a full back who overlaps and another one who covers the defence.

If you talk about a 4-4-2 diamond, thatís totally different. You play with two pivotal midfielders, one defensive and one offensive, so it creates many more problems for your opponent. Defensively, though, you take a great risk of conceding too much space because you are very central and you lack width. You have to create compensation mechanisms.

Me, Iím a 4-3-3 fan, not 4-4-2. I donít see how a classic 4-4-2 could work in the Spanish league, where every team plays 4-3-3 and the superiority of the midfield has become crucial. What Mourinho did with Chelsea with his 4-3-3 was something never seen before: a dynamic structure, aggressive, with aggressive transitions...and then there is Barcaís 4-3-3, which wouldnít work in England, because of the higher risk of losing the ball.

If you have midfielders like Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard you donít want your forwards to come and play between lines, because Lampard and Gerrard have a large field of action and very often move in to those spaces. Lampard was often irritated with Didier Drogba because Drogba wanted to receive the ball there but then, amazingly, his first touch was poor, so he lost the ball and we were exposed to a transition from the opponent. So we had to limit Drogba from going there and ask him to play deeper.

DS: Is recycling possession essential in the attacking organisation of a top team?

AVB: Well, itís essential to every team. Every team want to score. Thatís the purpose of the game. Barcelona play laterally only after a forward pass. See how the centre backs go out with ball, how they construct the play. They open up (moving wider), so that the right or left-back can join the midfield line. Guardiola has talked about it: the centre backs provoke the opponent, invite them forward then, if the opponent applies quick pressure the ball goes to the other central defender, and this one makes a vertical pass - Not to the midfielders, who have their back turned to the ball, but to those moving between lines, Andres Iniesta or Lionel Messi, or even directly to the striker.

Then they play the second ball with short lay-offs, either to the wingers who have cut inside or the midfielders, who now have the game in front of them. They have an enormous capacity not to lose the ball, to do things with an unbelievable precision.

Another thing about Barcelona, there is always a full-back who arrives earlier in the attack, the other stays in position initially but then progressively joins the attack, as the ball circulates on the other side of the pitch, so he can be a surprise element. When you least expect he arrives. He chooses the perfect timing for the overlap.

DS: Louis Van Gaal says a forward pass is not a risk, but a lateral pass is because when you make a horizontal pass you are much more open, more exposed in case you lose the ball.

AVB: Yes, thatís right. And there are differences between a lateral pass and a slightly diagonal pass.

Something that used to happen a lot in England, when teams played 4-4-2, was that the central midfielders exchanged the ball between them in parallel passes so what we did with Lampard, or Liverpool did with Gerrard, was to try to cut into that space between the two midfielders with fast movement from Lampard (or Gerrard). If they got the ball there, there were already two opponents eliminated in the attacking transition.

DS: How do you attack a team that plays with park-the-bus tactics?

AVB: Letís see. Juventus play with a very deep line, they donít put any pressure on you high up the field. Nowadays most teams donít. It can limit you because they control the space behind them with perfect offside timing.

They limit your forward passes as well because they are all grouped within 30 or 40 metres, completely closed in two lines of four plus the two forwards. So you start constructing ďshortĒ, begin the attacking process with your centre-backs of full-backs carrying the ball forward to the midfield area but then you want to pass the ball to the midfielders and you donít know how to do it, because there is an ultra-limited space, everything is completely closed.

DS: So what to do?

AVB: You have to provoke them with the ball, which is something most teams canít do. I cannot understand it. Itís an essential factor in the game. At this time of ultra defensive  teams, you will have to learn how to provoke them with the ball. Itís the ball they want, so you have to defy them using the ball as a carrot.
Louis Van Gaalís idea is one of continuous circulation, one side to the other, until the moment that, when you change direction, an space opens up inside and you go through it.

So, he provokes the opponent with lateral circulation of the ball, until the moment that the opponent will start to pressure out of despair. What I believe in is to challenge the rival by driving the ball into him. Thatís something Pep Guardiola believes is decisive. And thatís something that Henk ten Cate also took to Avram Grantís Chelsea. He took it with him from Frank Rijkaardís Barcelona. We did it differently at Chelsea under Mourinho.

Our attacking construction was different, with the ball going directly to the full-backs or midfielders. With Ten Cate, play was started with John Terry or Ricardo Carvalho, to invite the opponentís pressure. Then you had one less opponent in the next step of construction.

After the match against Newcastle in 2005, Andre Villas-Boas was sent to scout the opposition and produced a very thorough and detailed report about their formation, tactics, strengths and weaknesses. You can view the report here:


So he clearly has a good strong technical and tactical grasp of how to beat teams. The only question really relates to his role. Is he an excellent number two or can he replicate his fine performance at Porto in England were the jury is still out?

In terms of local adaptation and being able to fit in with our current setup, this is what he had to say when he was at Chelsea about his ideas:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/mwGOXJVKc_k?version=3&amp;amp;hl=en_GB" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/mwGOXJVKc_k?version=3&amp;amp;hl=en_GB</a>

He would be inheriting Skrtel, Agger, Johnson and Enrique to use as his footballing back line and would look to give Lucas the freedom to play more penetrating passes, supported by his interview above, specifically the line about the defensive midfielder not making lateral passes but forward ones.

And what of the encompassing academy and blending of the first team and youth players? Well it's clear that from above he favours the 4-3-3 formation but of a specific setup. And if we go back to royhendos excellent post about Segura then we meet this line here:

'The technical program of the Academy is based on a 4-2-3-1 system of play implemented by Rafa Benitez "although I would have preferred a 4-3-3, but England has historically used the 4-4-2 and we had to adapt." In the case of Liverpool, "using it as a key tool because our style is the passing game, where it has the greatest impact".

Taking into account all I've posted it does appear the position is screaming out for Villas-Boas or someone of the same cloth. There are still questions though, can 4-3-3 be used successfully by the players we have at our disposal? If not, what would be the cost of strengthening to such a degree? Finally, with player power taking its toll at Chelsea is he equipped enough to deal with the stronger personalities at Liverpool?

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