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How to beat Liverpool

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Normally, I wouldn’t feel compelled to circulate tactics on how to beat the team I support, but in formulating my analysis, avoiding the apparent espionage had become mission impossible.

But, as I did so, I took comfort in the fact that Alex Ferguson will likely not be lifting his opposition scouting from these pages, as insightful as they may well be.

My Leaking of intelligence to the enemy, to continue the spy theme, is not really the crime here, anyway. No, the real crime here, is the ease of which Liverpool can be bullied out of game by using such a simplistic principle:

Get in their faces.

rodgers liverpool How to beat Liverpool

What is Plan B when pass, pass, pass doesn’t work?

For 55 minutes at Old Trafford, Manchester United were in complete control against Liverpool and had deservedly raced ahead to a 2-nil advantage. This had been achieved by playing a high line, and relentlessly closing down the centre-halfs Agger and Skrtel, and keeper, Pepe Reina.

In doing so, this cut supply to the likes of Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard at the source and prevented Liverpool from playing their possession based passing game thats starts from the back. It nullified Liverpool’s attacking threat to such an extent, that they registered only one shot at goal for the entire first half.

The effectiveness of United’s harrying, was best typified by an under pressure Allen, when he played a blind back pass that the United forwards immediately pounced on and staged another attack. Allen was not the only guilty one. Reina too, was forced into rushing his kicks, and misplaced many on numerous occasions. Liverpool were trapped in a corner without an obvious escape route and they knew it.

On the odd occasion in the first half that liverpool did manage to circumnavigate the United pressure, if often resulted in Luis Suarez receiving the ball with a pack of defenders surrounding him, and very little, if any one for support.

Suarez has been in excellent form this season, but even so, such was his isolation, it almost felt as though Liverpool were hoping he would beat United single handedly. He’s good, but no one is that good.

Liverpool have found themselves floundering in such a predicament several times this season. Most notably against Stoke City who seemed to visibly intimidate Liverpool with the “in their faces” tactic. And, in the derby against Everton, who clawed back a two goal deficit.

For the most part Brendan Rodgers’ starting 11 at Old Trafford made sense. Much of the speculation before the game had been on whether he would start with Sturridge. But, given that Sturridge is still getting to full match fitness, starting him on the bench, I believe was the correct decision.

In hindsight, given his goal, many have come to the conclusion that he should have started Sturridge. But this – and it could well be Liverpool fans simply looking for a positive – conveniently ignores that he was guilty of missing a golden opportunity to level the match, and the many occasions he fired into the side netting, when a more intelligent option would have been to square the ball or at least hold up play.

In terms of selection, the bigger issue I believe was not with Rodgers omitting Sturridge, but Andre Wisdom’s inclusion. Specifically at right back.

Andre Wisdom, I hope, one day will mature into an excellent centre half. He is powerful, strong in the air and is quick across the ground. But at full back, (at least when defending) he struggles and has been a liability, due to his natural instinct to drift towards the centre.

During the Everton game earlier in the season he was deployed at right back and for me was culpable in Everton’s fight back, which went largely unnoticed at the time, especially after Rodgers switched to 3 centre backs at half time.

And, again this time, for Robin van Persie’s goal, most of the finger pointing has been directed towards Agger for conceding too much space to the leagues top scorer. And while it is hard to argue with such an assessment, it is in the build up where the goal was truly made.

After winning the ball back deep in Liverpool territory following more concerted United pressure, Wisdom was caught too narrow as the ball was played (as all United teams love to do) out to the wing where Evra was wide open and had plenty of time to take a touch, look up and pick out Van Persie with a crisp square pass who then steered the ball beyond Reina’s reach.

Rodgers has been forced to deploy the youngster Wisdom at full back with Enrique being out injured. However, if Liverpool are to rely on youth players, it would make more sense to keep Glen Johnson at right back where he is most comfortable, and give Jack Robinson a natural full back, who, coincidently is the same age as Wisdom, an opportunity in the left back starting berth.

Liverpool supporters will look to try and take positives and solitude in the marked improvement they made in the second half. And, while Sturridge had a positive impact on the game not least by his league debut goal, it would be false prophecy to believe he was the turning point in Liverpool’s improvement.

The turning point, was in United registering their second goal. At this point, psychologically or tactically, United sat deeper and thus finally, they relinquished some much needed space for Liverpool to play in. Liverpool drawing a goal back only further accentuated the shift in play.

Despite Liverpool losing to their bitter rivals, there are some real positives they can take from their last 35 minutes of play.

For me personally, seeing Liverpool pass, pass, pass, is thoroughly rewarding. Over the 90 minutes, Liverpool completed more successful passes (414) than United even attempted (404), and they enjoyed 54% of overall possession (stats from Opta).

It’s not often that a visitor to Old Trafford out passes and claims more possession than the opposition. However, as much of these positives numbers were accumulated after the damage had been done, Liverpool will need to find a way to force their still forming, passing and possession philosophy against the league’s better teams from the outset.

Only then will they begin to takes points from teams located above them, rather than those just those below.


Find more of my musings at SportBullet or follow me on Twitter @sportbullet.

Comments (11)

  1. Who was supposed to mark Evra? Isn’t it Downing? Where was Downing? Why was he infield in the box where a CM would normally be?

    Because Gerrard had moved out wide purportedly to close down Kagawa. Kagawa passed infield and moved infield himself. Downing who was outwide marking Evra had to moved infield to mark Cleverly and Kagawa because Gerrard had stayed wide and did not track his man. Downing then tracked his man into the box leaving Evra unmarked who received the ball. What was Gerrard doing through out all this? He stood and watched !!! Wisdom and Downing gets blamed yet it is Gerrard who does not do his job as a CM. People only notice what Gerrard does but not what he does not do which is equally important. If you have to blame somebody, it isn’t Wisdom, it’s GERRARD !!!

    Want to know why we have a soft midfield? Watch more closely and you will notice someone not doing his job. Example Vs Sunderland – 21st minute. Again 78th minute when he left Wisdom in a 2 on 1 situation against McFadden and Johnson. Again I read Wisodm was blamed not Gerrard who left McFadden unmarked. There are many such incidences in every game. Stop watching what he does. Start noticing what he doesn’t do.

  2. hi sportsbullet,
    I am a Malaysian and a kopite for the last 40 years. My weekends are consumed by watching my team struggle week in weekout. It pains me to see this club which i have loved as a boy hover mid table and listening to the likes of SAF say that he doesn’t really know or care where Liverpool is on the table!!!I often travel 12 hours to catch a game at Anfield once a year (as you can imagine the cost involved)with some of my mates all the way from Malaysia .
    I cannot agree with you more on your analysis on how to beat Liverpool. Thats right Get In Their Faces !!….an inevitably a stray back pass to the keeper will happen as it did a couple of times. My prediction on Wisdom was that he would prove to be a liability against the Mancs …and so it did pan out that way.

    On another note i have noticed that Sterling too gives the ball away too cheaply. I too subscribe to the belief in the young need to be blooded but do it against Mansfield.

    What has happened to Asaidi??He looked good from what i have seen of him . Sterling just isn’t ready . i feel better even Suso then him.

    Our following of Liverpool in Malaysia is Fanatical. During the summer tour we filled the stadium with 100,000 red fans against the malaysian team.

    Even at weddings we have LIverpool themes…..we are far away but no one can deny our passion for this team.if only Anfield was in our backyard .

    Having gone to Uni in the UK 30 years ago, i understand the Liverpool/ MU rivalry more than ever hence the pain of losing to SAF’s boys is even more severe especially since i find his mind games and comments revolting and irritating to say the least ..

    Keep up the comments and try to get BR to read your comments for i think your summary of the game is spot on!!

    • I have to disagree with some of your point here. Wisdom is not to blame in this case. the boy did everything he could. Wisdom is playing right back and not right wing. One has to ask who was playing right wing why is he not blamed the real Culprit here is our captain who wass left ball watching after being left by the opposition player! About Sterling he is losing it a bit. thats the managers job to see that.

    • Thanks Ahmad. I’ll let you know when Brendan Rodgers gives me a call!

  3. I have disagree with the writer at some point. We were able to take the game to manchester in the second half because of tactical changes which should have been taken in the first quarter of an hour. Carrick was pulling all the strings in the center of the field without being challenged at all. I dont remember any instance when he recieved a ball with a liverpool player close to him thus he was able to spread balls thus by passing Allen who was more or less clue less of his task. Pushing Gerard further up the pitch and pulling Allen to play along Lucas would have benefited the team by keeping Carrick bussy which is why we were able to play in the second half. Our manager just has to trust his instincts and make tactical changes quickly.

    • Mr Akhona Msibi, do you not find it coincidental that Liverpool got back into the game almost immediately after United had scored their second goal and had began to sit deeper??

      Liverpool benefited from the tactical change at half time, but United were still able to get a second goal in the mean time. If the tactical change had been so influential surely Liverpool would have gotten back into the game before it was too late.

  4. Me too a Reds supporter from Malaysia for over 30 years. My comment here is Brandon Rogers is not going to bring us going far!! The fact that Sturridge was not in the starting line-up and Allen lasted 80 minutes is enough to prove that BR is just a mid table manager…SAF spent 24 mil in the summer while BR spent 28 mil…see the difference? The very sad thing is we have yet to recover from the over 80 mil burnt by Kenny Dalglish!!!

  5. I have nothing but respect for Gerrard after all he’s done. But the reality of saturday cannot be ignored. Gerrard and Allen were shocking in the first half. Gerrard sulks as he always does when being outplayed and Allen looked out of his depth.
    Sterling is over-hyped and needs some bench time. Downing may have got involved a bit recently but typifies someone un-willing to get his hands dirty for the cause. Rogers does not have the balls to take Gerrard on….but sooner or later it must happen if we are to progress. He is not above a kick up the backside however special he thinks he is. Lots of good things potentially BUT we are a soft touch. Stoke was painful to watch……..saturday first half we should have been 3-0 down at HT. Rogers needs to stop telling everyone how unlucky/great/fantastic they are and have some difficult conversations. Is he up too it? Hope so.

  6. The only mistake we’re making is that we’re playing Gerrard in a very confined role. Remember the Benitez era,remember who assisted Sunday’s goal. Steven Gerrard is an excellent,perhaps the best attacking midfielder there is in England. Before blaming him for bad defending,we have to ask the manager what the hell is Gerrard doing defending in that area of the pitch. I rarely saw him venture out of our half in the last game and when he did we got the goal. He should be playing just behind Suarez and Sturridge.

  7. Guys lets not be too quick to condemn Gerrard after one or two bad games..he has been ,by and large , ..the toast of liverpool for the past 10 years.

    • Not 1 or 2 games. Have been like this for last 2-3 seasons, since he started insisting on playing in Center midfield. His attacking contribution is awesome as is his tackling. But marking and tracking back i.e. the ‘donkey work’ is poor.

      In 04-05, Rafa paired SG with Alonso in CM. On paper an awesome pairing. But in reality, SG was always too intent on attacking and neglected his defensive duties resulting in us conceding soft goals. Rafa moved him out of CM into attacking roles because he could not be relied on. Listen/ read some old Rafa interviews.

      After World Club Cup competition 20006(?), an opponent commented that Gerrard is a great player but not a central midfielder – his positioning was wrong.

      So it is not a new issue. People tend to notice the spectacular things he does and he gets a lot of praise and rightly so. Next time, watch also the things he doesn’t do.