Author Topic: This season’s Defence – an Attack  (Read 56123 times)

Offline Yorkykopite

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This season’s Defence – an Attack
« on: July 23, 2008, 12:19:47 am »
Liverpool have started every season under Rafa with a worse defence than their main rivals. There are several reasons why we haven’t put in a serious title bid in the last four seasons and most of them fall easily off the tongue – lack of money, injuries, lack of depth in the squad, off the field public suicide. But the main reason has been our defence. 

I say this in full knowledge that Rafa’s teams have conceded fewer goals than Arsenal (three times) and Man Utd (once). I also know that Pepe Reina (deservedly) has won the Golden Gloves in his first two seasons here. But I’m not talking about blocking attacks, which we’ve been supremely good at. I’m talking about our relative inability to attack from the back. Unlike the other three we have been poor at creating plays from the defence. This season, hopefully, things will be very different. This season our defence might become an effective first line of attack.

The theory
There is, of course,  an old-fashioned view in football that the prime job of the back-4 is to defend. If there’s anything left over after the opposition striker has been shimmied off the ball or the winger bundled into touch, then that’s very nice. But only in the sense that the packaging on a birthday present is very nice. You can do without it. Well, this idea may have been valid a few years ago in English football when a centre-back was judged purely on his ability to clear his lines and marshal the offside plan (Eye-Ore!), but not anymore. Today the job of the back-4 is to do both – to defend and attack. A successful back-4 has to be able defend and attack equally well and to switch between the two without pausing, taking a mental breather, or acquiring an alien mind-set. This means everybody. If a single part of the unit is not happy on the ball that simply increases the burden on the others and reduces the potency of the whole.

In the modern game defenders spend a longer time with the ball at their feet than anyone else in the team. It’s a crime if they can’t use that time to cause the opposition problems. A back-4 of Finnan-Carragher-Hyypia-Riise could be heroic in defence. It often was. But ask it to attack and you could almost see the thought-bubbles full of agonised question marks floating free from the players’ skulls. 

The tradition
We know what it takes at Liverpool because we’ve had what it takes. We developed creative defences far earlier than anyone else in England. Cloughie’s teams – especially the Derby one – could be creative at the back but it was Liverpool who possessed a near-monopoly of defenders who took their offensive duties seriously. Thompson, Smith, Hughes, Lawrenson, Gillespie and – of course – the great Alan Hansen. Hansen often jokes today that he never crossed the half-way line. First of all that’s not true. Jocky sometimes carried the ball at high speed into the opposition penalty area where more often than not he’d bump into four or five unmarked attackers queuing up to shoot. But even in his later years, when the knees had gone, Hansen could still attack from the back. A skilful centre back, as Agger has repeatedly shown, doesn’t have to move a great distance with the ball to delete two opponents from the game and set up an attack. He just has to do it quickly.

On the wings, too, we’ve had entrepreneurial full-backs. Lawler, Nicol, Neal, the criminally underrated Lindsay and the long-lamented Rob Jones. Rolls-Royce footballers in unglamorous positions, they were key to whatever success the teams they played in enjoyed. What other right-back has turned up in open play in an inside-left position to put a team 1-0 ahead in the European Cup final? For that matter what other left-back has blasted his way into the penalty box to fire his team 1-0 ahead in a European Cup final? The answer to both, of course, is our full-backs, Zico and Barney – players of varying talent, I think, but both holding a similar belief that the team they played for was flexible and ingenious enough to cover for an inspired moment’s walkabout.

The inheritance
I admire what Rafa has achieved with our defence since 2004. Under Houllier the back-4 was valiant but it was not equipped for the modern game – especially in Europe. Even when Liverpool had the ball the defence was square! I mean, what better way than a square defence for saying to a colleague “for Christ’s sake don’t pass the thing to me”? Rafa changed all that. He staggered the defence when we had possession. He took an inadequate full-back and made the best centre-back stopper in the world out of Carragher. He freed up big Sam’s game and allowed him to try and work his way out of a problem rather than just whack the ball up the field all the time (something that Houllier seemed to have red-lined ever since Henchoz once screwed up at White Hart Lane). He made a European-Cup winner out of the lamentable Riise and he turned Finnan into the marauding right-back he’d once been at Fulham.

But it was still not enough. Not enough to win the league anyway. That back-4 made a great defence, but it was not an attack. Not by a long way.

The competition
I don’t want to dwell too much on the others. We can briefly admire them, especially the full backs. Evra, Clichy, Sagna, Ashley Cole (Christ, I said it) – all of them add such attacking dynamism to their teams. The centre backs too are, on the whole, quick with the ball and happy to have it at their feet. Carvalho, in particular, is a master at turning defensive play into an attacking play in a blink of an eye.

We saw in the Euros how some of the most eye-catching players were positioned at full-back. Boswinga, Zhirkov, Lahm, Ramos, even van Bronckhurst – all of them (apart from maybe Lahm) did well at the back. But mainly they did well in attack, stretching play, frequently getting beyond their own ‘wingers’, always looking to drive into the opposition half. I don’t know if it was Guus Hidddink who pioneered this style of full-back play but he certainly perfected it – at South Korea, PSV, and now Russia. And not one of his full backs, at any of these teams, was an established star.

The future
Clearly Rafa has made the full-back positions his priority over the summer. Both Degen and Dossena are meant to be attacking full backs with plenty of pace – men who think about the offensive side of their game as much as the defensive. Degen, it’s even been said by Dortmund fans, isn’t that much of a defender (something he seemed a bit too keen to prove against Lucerne) – a fact that Rafa seems uncharacteristically blasé about at the moment. It’s possible, of course, that Degen will end up being Kuyt’s understudy on the right of midfield rather than a proper right-back, but I doubt it. It’s more likely that he and Arbeloa will be vying for the number 2 spot.  Spain’s squad player versus Switzerland’s squad player. It ought to be no contest. We’ll see.

Dossena looks a safer bet and comes with a reputation for having elite pace. I like the sound of that. If Babel continues on the left hand side then we shall need a left full-back who can attack that area on the wing that Babel always vacates when he’s running with the ball. This is a great opportunity for the Italian lad. My guess is that a lot of opposition right-backs will have a wretched time against the Babel-Dossena combo this year. I’m a Fabio Aurelio fan. He sees passes, especially infield passes, that other full-backs fail to spot. But, as always with Fabio, he’s likely to prove more of a handful for the physicians than the footballers.

And then the centre backs. I think Rafa will soon have to make the hardest decision of his coaching career. We now have four excellent centre-backs – all of them with proven ability, all of them keen to play. No one likes to rotate centre-halves. It’s not done. Barring injuries, therefore, Rafa will probably end up with a consistent centre-back pairing for the league. Who will be in it?

I said earlier that “if a single part of the unit is not happy on the ball that simply increases the burden on the others and reduces the potency of the whole”. For that reason I would look to play Agger and Skrtel. For me they are the best centre backs we possess. They are both quick, decisive and positionally aware. They both recycle the ball quickly when they get it. They are the most attack-minded centre-back pairing we have and may quite easily turn out to be the best in the Premier League. They are also both at a stage in their careers where they will be wanting regular first-team football. Treading water at this point in their careers is no good at all – especially for Agger who’s already missed out on a whole season of football.

Agger’s ability to attack space with the ball is already famous. He knows it’s a crime to dawdle even if there’s bags of time, and he has the pace to make for a gap in the opposition’s front line if he’s invited in. He’s also the consummate ‘picture-changer’. If nothing appears on in front of him, Agger is happy to move a few yards with the ball (rapidly) to see whether the picture is different from somewhere else. That’s when gaps open up and that’s why Liverpool are able to build quickly from the back when Agger plays. Of course Agger and Skrtel have yet to play together. It’s possible that there’ll be absolutely no rapport between them. But that’s highly unlikely. My own guess is that Skrtel, because of his similar ability to move with the ball at his feet, will actually make things a lot easier for Agger – pretty much as Lawrenson made things easier for Hansen. When you get two centre backs who have the ability to carry the ball it doesn’t half make things difficult for the opposition attack. You can’t sit back and let them come on to you – as teams do with Carragher and Hyypia – because they’ll just keep coming forward at pace. Instead of the floated nothing-ball into a crowded forward area you’ll probably end up with an extra, unmarked, man joining the attack at high speed. That’s usually fatal.

Of course I feel like a regicide in relegating Carragher. Carragher is the King of the Kop. The player who has most defined Rafa’s first age at Anfield. But there are two reasons why he might not play such a prominent role in the second age. Firstly, he’s already playing to the maximum of his ability. He has been for several years. But with wear and tear – and let’s face it Carra has acquired a hell of a lot of it over the years – he’s now straining to keep in touch with the standards he’s set himself. Jamie is the sort of defender who, even at the peak of his powers, was all about stretching that extra impossible yard to nick the ball away or block a shot. Some of the blocks he produced echoed round the football world. Like the one against Robben in the first Semi at Anfield or the cramp-defying block in extra time in the Final. They were miraculous. But Jamie is all about driving the machine to the extreme – he was so good, at his peak, because he left nothing in reserve. So the question is ‘what happens when Carragher can no longer push himself to these physical limits?’ A long time ago a similar all-action defender, Emlyn Hughes, held the European Cup aloft twice in two years. Twelve months later a kid called Hansen had nicked his place. It happens.

The second reason why Jamie might lose his automatic spot is to do with the back-4 as an attacking unit. Jamie does dawdle on the ball when he gets it. He cannot run into the gaps and once he’s stopped he finds it difficult to start again. Rather than attack open space and dishevel the  opposition Carra prefers to wait for Alonso or Mascherano to come back and start the attack themselves. This means we often start moves with 5 or 6 men already behind the ball. No wonder our wingers have such a thin time of it. No defender is better suited to a siege than Carragher. No question about that. When Liverpool are under the cosh for most of the match, defending deep, you want him in your side. But with the team – hopefully – playing more in the opponent’s half this season, and with a high line, his qualities are a bit less important. 

And what of Sami? Until Skrtel found his groove I thought he was our best defender last season. But I don’t think Hyypia responds well to rotation either. He can take an age – sometimes 4 or 5 games – to get up to speed once he’s a missed a few. That’s no good for a centre back. You either give Sam the lion’s share of the games or you use him in an emergency.

So
I’m excited by what lies ahead. I honestly don’t think that any of our other main rivals have such an obvious way of improving as we do. If the boys can inject more pace and adventure into our defensive unit then the whole team will begin to change character. If the ball gets recycled quicker then there will be more space and time for players like Babel and…..whoever ends up on the right-wing.  But I don't want to fly that kuyt. 
 
« Last Edit: July 23, 2008, 08:31:32 am by Veinticinco de Mayo »
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Offline red_in_my_veins

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2008, 12:34:38 am »
Exactly what I've been thinking but written so much better than I possibly could. Excellent post!!

Offline choi

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2008, 12:55:16 am »
great post, although it took me a while to read lol

Offline PhilAnderer

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2008, 01:09:19 am »
Superb.
 And I'm with you on the Agger / Skrtel combo. I really do hope this is Rafa's intention as this can transform the way we play.
Last season, we lost a dimension when we lost Agger. Now we have him back, and with the addition of Skrtel as another better ball player, I am licking my lips.
Sorry Carrra, future legend though you are, I am totally with Yorkykopite. Great last ditch defender, but I prefer us becoming more potent further up the pitch. A change of style is what we need to overhaul the Manc bastards.

Top post mate, something that's been on my mind, but well put.

Offline Cob from TIA

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2008, 01:18:26 am »
Absolutely outstanding post that.
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Offline minusone

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2008, 01:23:43 am »
Great post.
Excellent in fact.

If only some journo's had half the thought put into their work.
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Offline Kahuna{=}Berger

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2008, 01:28:00 am »
Top notch writing there yorky.

Top notch reading there too!

Offline davidg

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2008, 01:31:08 am »
too tired to read that, but will tomorrow as Yorky is one of the very few posters on here who are worth reading..
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Offline El Campeador

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2008, 01:50:28 am »
You were bang on last season about Riise, Yorky, fatally right. As a matter of fact, I might take to blaming you for his Original Gangster move against himself in the 94th. So I've much respect for your calls about our defence.

Regicide indeed, but it is the right move. Carra sits, and does a job off the bench as either a fullback or centreback. Everything you identify about the skills of the other two are spot on - especially the fact that at times last season, Carra looked to be struggling; one year later, one year slower at this age. He's not going to change now and start scoring, which by the way Yorky, I think Sami should get more credit for scoring some Massive goals over the years. Even last year, being drafted in off the bench, he made Sabu Pundit sit up and take notice against the Arse - no bigger stage really.

Back to Carra though - best we can expect is solid desperation defending, a will to die for the cause, and lots of appearances, the guy's tough as fucking nails. He won't go forward now. He won't score big goals this year, he never has. And being a year older, he will probably be a step slower, and the cramp tackle in Istanbul you refer to, this time, he may not make contact with.

Skrtel and Agger - yes.

Excellent post, had fun reading that.

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2008, 01:51:44 am »
Skrtel was imperious against Alfie Potter and co. ;)

Very good reading that, well done. :thumbup
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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #10 on: July 23, 2008, 02:09:57 am »
Some good points there mate, especially about Agger and Skrtel. but I honestly Believe Carra will still be first choice centre back next season, alongside Agger.

Also With these new adventurous full Backs, It places a lot of extra work on Masch who will be missing at a crucial time for us when the season kicks of, when Degen and Dossena are still bedding in. I think Masch is also a crucial part of Rafa's master plan.

I know its early doors yet like but unless our new full backs ally positional awareness to their attacking sense, we will get cut up by the other top 4 teams. FACT.


Iv'e never really been convinced by 3 at the back, Rafa's experimented with it pre-season again but I'd hope we don't see it too often this season.
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Offline kopindian

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #11 on: July 23, 2008, 02:41:53 am »
Good post.
The effect of playing Finnan-Carra-Sami-Riise together is analysed in the following thread:
http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=211567.0

If Agger was back by december,I sincerely believe we would have been better off by about 6-7 points last season.

Offline Billy Stevo

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #12 on: July 23, 2008, 02:47:45 am »
You were bang on last season about Riise, Yorky, fatally right. As a matter of fact, I might take to blaming you for his Original Gangster move against himself in the 94th. So I've much respect for your calls about our defence.

Regicide indeed, but it is the right move. Carra sits, and does a job off the bench as either a fullback or centreback. Everything you identify about the skills of the other two are spot on - especially the fact that at times last season, Carra looked to be struggling; one year later, one year slower at this age. He's not going to change now and start scoring, which by the way Yorky, I think Sami should get more credit for scoring some Massive goals over the years. Even last year, being drafted in off the bench, he made Sabu Pundit sit up and take notice against the Arse - no bigger stage really.

Back to Carra though - best we can expect is solid desperation defending, a will to die for the cause, and lots of appearances, the guy's tough as fucking nails. He won't go forward now. He won't score big goals this year, he never has. And being a year older, he will probably be a step slower, and the cramp tackle in Istanbul you refer to, this time, he may not make contact with.

Skrtel and Agger - yes.

Excellent post, had fun reading that.

Good point about Hyypias goals in big games. Ones that spring to mind are Chelsea Champions League place decider at Stamford Bridge in 2003, Leverkusen home 2002, Juventus 2005, Arsenal this year

Offline Billy Stevo

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #13 on: July 23, 2008, 02:59:24 am »
That late double at home to Charlton in 2004 as well

Offline RedRush

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #14 on: July 23, 2008, 04:39:37 am »
Good post, Yorkykopite.

Enjoyed reading it. However I have a feeling Carra will pull himself up once again and surprise us (I hope).

Offline brendanger

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #15 on: July 23, 2008, 05:15:04 am »
I think the return of Agger will greatly improve Carra's game. They had a fantastic partnership developing before Agger picked up his injury. With Carra's no-nonsense style and Agger's technique, they compliment each other perfectly. I also believe that Carra is essential in organising the team for defending set-pieces - at times he literally walks a player to their spot.

I don't see the appeal of Skrtl/Agger combination. Sure, Skrtl is younger and perhaps better on the ball than Carragher, but I don't believe he is as good defensively, and his partnership with Agger is untested. And besides, you only really need one 'footballer' to play the ball out of defence. Man Utd have Rio, Chelsea have Carvalho, Liverpool have Agger!

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #16 on: July 23, 2008, 06:00:37 am »
I been thinking the same, good post.
As i said before at the beginning we will see Carra-Agger and troughout the season will be more and more Agger-Skrtel.
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Offline niallers

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #17 on: July 23, 2008, 06:04:06 am »
That late double at home to Charlton in 2004 as well

wasn't that gerrard?
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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #18 on: July 23, 2008, 07:11:22 am »
excellent post and well written too. cheers!

I'm not sure if we invented the full back as an attacking force (it's seen as a Brazilian tradition isn't it?) but regardless, the 'walkabout' point is bang on.

one thing I often wonder about is why we don't look at using the likes of spearing in these roles - players who use the ball well and aren't able to push into the first team. rafa maybe sees it as a specialist position. I just feel midfielders are naturally more flexible in tactical terms - a massive generalization I know, but... anyway that's by the by.

I think San jose is about to come into the centre back equation by the way and save the club a massive amount of money in the process. he's another natural footballer in the same way agger is. it seems too early, but hopefully skrtl is the last big fee we'll need to invest in that area for a while.

anyway, blah blah - great post and it'd be nice to keep it in the main forum for a while - 'promoting' it to the opinion forum means fewer people will get to read it.

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #19 on: July 23, 2008, 08:30:06 am »
"Italy’s squad player versus Switzerland’s squad player."

Should read Spain’s squad player versus Switzerland’s squad player, when comparing Arbeloa and Degen, right?

Good article though and very true.


Offline Veinticinco de Mayo

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #20 on: July 23, 2008, 08:49:49 am »
anyway, blah blah - great post and it'd be nice to keep it in the main forum for a while - 'promoting' it to the opinion forum means fewer people will get to read it.

It's too long for the attention span of the main forum and the quality of debate on here is generally better  :P
 
It's an excellent post and I think it deserves to be on RAWK's front page, which it will be as an Opinion piece. If Yorky would like it moved back then that is no problem mind.
 
Laddo, don't know what you're on about ;)  Yer bugger, just beat me to my bit of sub-editing.
 
I've not really got anything to add to the post, it more or less somes up my position entirely.  It's no coincidence that any chance of a title challenge disappeared last season in the gap between Agger getting injured and Skrtel settling in.
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Offline Raul!

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #21 on: July 23, 2008, 08:57:30 am »
Excellent piece mate.  While other people have had similar thoughts and expressed them as well, the way you set up the proposition is both eloquent and analytical.  I particularly liked the image you created of a defender like Agger coming a couple steps forward to see if the picture in front of him changed, that is so true of what truly creative players, like our mutual pal Alonso, do well.

Incidentally, Sami is able to do that to, though his ability to do it more often and successfully has been blunted over the years by successive managers' instructions and dwindling (if he had any) pace.  Also Rafa has not been big on possession per se but on the quality of possession.  With Agger and Skrtel, that will change.  I am looking forward to seeing more of them together this season.

I think the pursuit of Barry and Keane illustrate that Rafa is looking to attack with the full backs.  He would otherwise have looked to improve on Kuyt on the right (and I say that even though I am a pro-Dirker).
« Last Edit: July 23, 2008, 08:59:48 am by Raul. »

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #22 on: July 23, 2008, 09:09:51 am »
It's too long for the attention span of the main forum and the quality of debate on here is generally better  :P
 
It's an excellent post and I think it deserves to be on RAWK's front page, which it will be as an Opinion piece. If Yorky would like it moved back then that is no problem mind.
 
Laddo, don't know what you're on about ;)  Yer bugger, just beat me to my bit of sub-editing.
 
I've not really got anything to add to the post, it more or less somes up my position entirely.  It's no coincidence that any chance of a title challenge disappeared last season in the gap between Agger getting injured and Skrtel settling in.

That's a good point re it being on the front page mate - sorry for second guessing you. That said, most reds should be forced to sit down and read a lot of the posts that end up in the Opinion thread - you get people months later posting 'just found this - great read' or whatever. Ah well.

Still, a seriously good post - and I guess it's good for seriously good posts to have a proper home.

Offline Millie

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #23 on: July 23, 2008, 09:16:52 am »
Sorry to be pedantic - but Pepe has won the golden gloves three times

Great piece by the way


It will be interesting to see how Skrtel and Agger pair up this season
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Offline suede lady

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #24 on: July 23, 2008, 09:23:36 am »
first of all - great piece. Regarding the center back combo, I would like to see Agger and Skrtel playing together. But so far during the preseason it has been always Agger - Carra or Skrtel - Hyppiä. Even though the fullbacks varied the centre constellation was either or. So for that reason I think Rafa will go for the Carra -Agger combination. What throws me off somewhat is that it would make sense to play Skrtel - Agger also, just to see how it works. Maybe he is trying to hide his best pairing and then unleash them on the PL....

Offline Veinticinco de Mayo

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #25 on: July 23, 2008, 09:42:09 am »
That's a good point re it being on the front page mate - sorry for second guessing you. That said, most reds should be forced to sit down and read a lot of the posts that end up in the Opinion thread - you get people months later posting 'just found this - great read' or whatever. Ah well.

Still, a seriously good post - and I guess it's good for seriously good posts to have a proper home.

No problem mate.  Your point was valid.  I think the problem we have, and it one which we are attempting to address, is how to lure people away from just looking at the main Liverpool board and get them using the other parts of the site.  We have the same problem with Off The Pitch in that people see it as a "lesser" board.

Interesting point by Suede Lady about the pre-season partnerships.  All I would say is that there is plenty of time left to try out the Agger - Skrtel combo in the friendlies nearer the start of the season so perhaps we shouldn't read too much into these early games which are primarily about fitness rather than tactics.
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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #26 on: July 23, 2008, 10:03:12 am »
Thanks for feedback folks.

Kopindian - I'd missed that thread. Top stuff. I'd realised the 'Ged-defence' wasn't up to scratch, but those stats are amazing.

Kingjari - Our full backs will be positionally aware. If they already aren't then Rafa's drills will make them so. Benitez must be the best coach in the world when it comes to preparing a team for contingencies. No doubt the full backs will be shown 6 ways to attack, pretty much as Valencia were once said to have 6 ways to defend.

Royhendo - I've never seen San Jose. Is he good? I hope he's better than Jack Hobbs who looked as nervous as a kitten on his one big chance and - worse - very slow.

Agree with Raul and El Campeador about Sami. But right now he just doesn't have the pace to cause problems with the ball. You can see him sometimes thinking to himself 'they've offered me a gap, I'm gonna go for it'. Usually he pulls out, comes back and puts the ball square. Shame. Especially a shame 'cause he's the best header of a ball we have at the back - and, as we know, a lump like Kevin Davies can ruin the best-laid plans. 

VdeM and others - yes, the loss of Agger was crippling to us last year. We might have absorbed it however if Xabi Alonso hadn't been crocked at the same time. With both of them out (and Skrtel not yet in) we suddenly played trash football. Real crap stuff. Some RAWKite (sorry, forgotten who) wrote a superb little post on the fiasco of the away match v Beşiktaş when the back-4 couldn't get the ball past the solitary Turkish forward. Soft little passes to each other across the back line, three touches to bring the ball under proper control, and then a double-check before releasing it. Result - stalemate.
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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #27 on: July 23, 2008, 11:14:50 am »
Fantastic piece and an interesting read.

Been thinking about this myself for a while, and came up with the same combination, for being the most potent attacking force.
I think Rafa will start the season with Carra and Agger, but i do beleive at some point in the early season we will see the Agger, Skrtel combo.
That said i don't see many other teams who's centre half's are as good as our's anyway, so which ever one's are chosen they will probably be better than our opponent's, in an attacking sense.

Once again brilliant piece of writing on an intresting subject.
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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #28 on: July 23, 2008, 11:26:07 am »
I honestly don’t think that any of our other main rivals have such an obvious way of improving as we do.

Good observation, and an excellent piece all round.

However, your analysis largely centres on our defence when they have the ball. I think we can improve defensively without the ball, too. Playing Sami so often last season meant we couldn't really play a high line, as he was too vulnerable to attacking pace, particularly on the turn, and Carra is not the quickest, either. Having pace back in our defence, with the Second Coming of Agger, means we will be able to play a higher line, which means being able to pin back the opposition more. This means being able to get attacking full backs into the game more, too.

Either way, all good.

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #29 on: July 23, 2008, 11:29:05 am »
Excellent piece mate.  While other people have had similar thoughts and expressed them as well, the way you set up the proposition is both eloquent and analytical.  I particularly liked the image you created of a defender like Agger coming a couple steps forward to see if the picture in front of him changed, that is so true of what truly creative players, like our mutual pal Alonso, do well.

Yes, a phenomenal article. I really, really enjoyed that. Well written but lively, long but not a point repeated or a word wasted. I also really enjoyed the image picked up on in the quote above...very true, and exactly what Agger can do so well. Yes, Skrtel has that ability too, but not at the same level as Agger where, as we all know, he can keep on coming right until he gets in range to unleash the type of thunderbolt that other centre backs can only dream about, for the most part.

One part where I would disagree is on Carra though. I totally understand what you mean about him in possession, but there are some vital aspects to defending that you neglect to mention: Leadership and Organisation. Now, Carra will never be the best in possession, but my god has he learned how to organise our defence. He reminds me enourmously of Baresi back in the day, in his ability to keep that line straight and compact, in knowing exactly when to bring the line forward. As a student of the game he's second to none, and because of that I think our defence would suffer if too much is expected of Agger/Skrtel too soon.

For me, much of Carra's problem last season was that when he played with Hyppia he had to take on the responsibility of closing down...of being the 'aggressive' defender. You could see that when Skrtel came in Carra also improved hugely, far fewer rash mistakes, and for me that's because he could concentrate on positioning and, especially, leading/organising the line...which for me is his best attribute.

As a result it needs one of Agger or Skrtel to take on that mantle of line-leader before Carra is dispensible, and I don't see that happening this season. However I would like, and actually expect to see Skrtel and Agger used against some of the 'minnows' and tougher packed defences. In those games their extra skill on the ball could be every bit as vital to us as more attacking fullbacks or better wide men.

Anyway, just to say again a really top, top article, thanks for that.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2008, 11:31:14 am by hesbighesred »

Offline hesbighesred

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #30 on: July 23, 2008, 11:35:48 am »
Good observation, and an excellent piece all round.

However, your analysis largely centres on our defence when they have the ball. I think we can improve defensively without the ball, too. Playing Sami so often last season meant we couldn't really play a high line, as he was too vulnerable to attacking pace, particularly on the turn, and Carra is not the quickest, either. Having pace back in our defence, with the Second Coming of Agger, means we will be able to play a higher line, which means being able to pin back the opposition more. This means being able to get attacking full backs into the game more, too.

Either way, all good.

In defence of Carra there are other attributes far more important than pace when it comes to keeping the line etc. The great Milan and Arsenal back 4's were actually pretty slow,  yet neither ever looked particularly vulnerable to pace, and while Carra isn't the quickest, he certainly isn't the slowest either.

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #31 on: July 23, 2008, 11:46:00 am »
In defence of Carra there are other attributes far more important than pace when it comes to keeping the line etc. The great Milan and Arsenal back 4's were actually pretty slow,  yet neither ever looked particularly vulnerable to pace, and while Carra isn't the quickest, he certainly isn't the slowest either.

I agree and disagree at the same time. Certainly, the other attributes are important, as you and other posters have highlighted. But as a team, we already have those attributes, and while Carra is non pareil in organisation, I'm sure Rafa and Pellegrino can batter the same mindset into all our central defenders.

I'm not dumping Carra. But I would certainly be happier with Agger/Skrtel or Agger/Carra, when faced with nippy little bastards like Owen, Kalou, Walcott et al, whereas Sami would just be racking up the yellows, and relying on his full back and Masch to rescue him.

Offline Veinticinco de Mayo

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #32 on: July 23, 2008, 11:50:40 am »
This is becoming not only an excellent post but an excellent thread.  An excellent response from HBHRHGTP above.  I think that is why this is going to be the most difficult decision that Rafa has to make.  Agger and Skrtel clearly look like the best players in terms of pace, tackling, use of the ball etc, but Carragher brings something else.  Not only the organisation that you mention but a certain character. The sort of character that has seen us bounce back from the dead in two cup finals. 

It's a lot to sacrifice, but I think that Yorky's Crazy Horse comparison was apposite. The great Liverpool sides were cruel, you were replaced when seemingly at your peak. There was no room for declining powers.
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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #33 on: July 23, 2008, 11:56:30 am »
Very good post that, enjoyed reading it and agree with the majority of it.

I still believe that Carra will be first choice along with Agger next season (so begin with at least).

Carra and Agger do compliment each other very well (as most successful CB partnerships do) Carras organisational/motivational attributes alongside Aggers technique and composure.

Aggers presence also takes a lot of the pressure from Carra in relation to playing the ball and starting attacks. Playing alongside Sami leaves Carra without anyone really to offer an easy outlet unless, as you say, a midfielder drops deep to collect, or he gives it the big lump.

Agger would allow him a first ball though. Skrtel might well end up being Aggers long term partner, i just dont think it will be just yet. Little early to right Carra off i think, he has never been particularly quick so its not as if he has pace to lose (much the same as Hyypia), he has relied on positional awareness and this will still be evident.

I personally will be suprised if Carra is not starting the majority of our games. Good position for the manager and club to be in though. To be even having this debate shows the progress.
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Offline Corkboy

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #34 on: July 23, 2008, 12:00:52 pm »
This is becoming not only an excellent post but an excellent thread. 

One leads to the other. Anyone who has the commitment to read through a post of that length will almost certainly not be the guy who posts a reply along the lines of "lol, gr8 post, come on you redmen". Perhaps this is what Armin was banging on about in the Feedback Forum about getting in more original writing, as it leads to more original posting.

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #35 on: July 23, 2008, 12:01:36 pm »
This is becoming not only an excellent post but an excellent thread.  An excellent response from HBHRHGTP above.  I think that is why this is going to be the most difficult decision that Rafa has to make.  Agger and Skrtel clearly look like the best players in terms of pace, tackling, use of the ball etc, but Carragher brings something else.  Not only the organisation that you mention but a certain character. The sort of character that has seen us bounce back from the dead in two cup finals. 

It's a lot to sacrifice, but I think that Yorky's Crazy Horse comparison was apposite. The great Liverpool sides were cruel, you were replaced when seemingly at your peak. There was no room for declining powers.
It is a good point on Carra - he does bring those attributes - but we will have to gamble a bit on this.  I think he will continue to play in some of the games in which we will need to be more defensive because the opposition will come at us more - Arsenal, Man U and Everton and perhaps even Chelsea away (yet to see how they will play this season) and in some Champions League games where we many not need to do as much of what the Agger-Skrtel defence will otherwise allow us to - play the high line and attack out of defence - after all it has worked in the CL in the past. 

But against most teams at home we will have to be more attacking if we want more points and that will potentially have to come at a cost of 2 things - Carra at the back and the second holding midfielder.  If we are going to attack a bit more using our back line and play further up the pitch, we arguably do not need 2 holding players in front of defence.  Mascherano will do, allowing us to use another attacking player. It is in these situations that the gamble of not playing Carra may have to be taken, if we want to be in with a shout in spring.

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #36 on: July 23, 2008, 12:04:00 pm »
But against most teams at home we will have to be more attacking if we want more points and that will potentially have to come at a cost of 2 things - Carra at the back and the second holding midfielder.  If we are going to attack a bit more using our back line and play further up the pitch, we arguably do not need 2 holding players in front of defence.  Mascherano will do, allowing us to use another attacking player. It is in these situations that the gamble of not playing Carra may have to be taken, if we want to be in with a shout in spring.

I was just thinking about that, whether two holding mids are always necessary. Perhaps Rafa has already hinted at this, as Lucas has said that Rafa wants him attacking more this season, (as an example).

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #37 on: July 23, 2008, 12:08:53 pm »
@Corkboy:

I see your point, but I would also say that coaching, in this aspect of play, doesn't seem to be a true substitute for time on the pitch. For example Pellegrino was brought in to play with Hyppia and Carra. Carra took over leadership from Hyppia, and one of Skrtel/Agger (and I'd bet actual real money on it being Agger) will take over from Carra. However I feel he would benefit from more time while Carra is still at his peak to really absorb all he can. If it's Skrtel who takes over that role, then that applies even more so. I see Hyppia being limited to cover, cups and possibly some very, very physical sides...Bolton perhaps, where his heading can still be such an asset, and their attackers have no more pace than Hyppia does.

I'd also point to the way Milan have handled this succession: Baresi to Costacurta to Nesta (with Maldini always there too), three generations of impeccable defenders who all learned and played alongside the last lot.

@ De Mayo:

I totally agree that there is not much room for sentiment in this game, absolutely. However, I still think Carra has a year or two of genuine peak performance left in him, and in that time I would like the others to learn as much as possible from him, so that they can pass it on it turn. I also agree it will be a difficult decision, just not this season is all. I don't think Rafa will be hesistating for a second about who to play in the bigger games this season...it will be Carra every time. A harder choice will be whether to go with Agger's greater skill or Skrtel's greater (to quote janitor in scubs) 'awesome fearitude'.

Next season, or perhaps the season after, however, I agree, a very difficult choice will have to be made because Carra will decline slightly, and one of Skrtel/Agger will need to be given that responsibility also so that the rest of the defence know who to look up to.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2008, 12:11:32 pm by hesbighesred »

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #38 on: July 23, 2008, 12:09:58 pm »
I was just thinking about that, whether two holding mids are always necessary. Perhaps Rafa has already hinted at this, as Lucas has said that Rafa wants him attacking more this season, (as an example).
Or 442 with Gerrard in the centre and having the licence to roam, a sort of 4-1-3-2, if you will.  Or, heaven forbid, Gerrard on the right...  I think the juicy aspect of the coming season generally is that we will attack more, as a team.

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Re: This season’s Defence – an Attack
« Reply #39 on: July 23, 2008, 12:21:08 pm »
It is a good point on Carra - he does bring those attributes - but we will have to gamble a bit on this.  I think he will continue to play in some of the games in which we will need to be more defensive because the opposition will come at us more - Arsenal, Man U and Everton and perhaps even Chelsea away (yet to see how they will play this season) and in some Champions League games where we many not need to do as much of what the Agger-Skrtel defence will otherwise allow us to - play the high line and attack out of defence - after all it has worked in the CL in the past. 

I think there is a perception that pace is the most vital attribute in the high defensive line. I honestly don't think it is. Positioning and timing of the lines' run is more important than the pace of the individuals. Think about it, all four of them could be Linford Christie but if they are all running forward to claim offside while one of them dawdles...that's it, trap sprung, disaster. The key to it is having the defenders moving as a unit of four, and Carra is still the man who handles that best...providing he has someone alongside him that he can delegate possession and closing down responsibilities to.

I strongly suspect that Skrtel/Agger will be rotated (to a degree) according to the opposition, and I don't think you'll see the pair starting the majority of games. I think you will see them in Prem games against really unambitious sides though.

Mind you, having said all that, all it would take is a few weeks injury to Carra over a period with a few big games and we would probably see Agger/Skrtel used. If we then played fantastically in those games looking very solid in defence then Carra may well find that he's no longer first choice in the same way that Hyppia did.