Balancing The System Scales

The Bib Theorists

“Attack, attack, attack!” Those words have often beamed around Anfield this year with supporters driving their team forward and showing no mercy to the opposition. Much like in the past at the Colosseum in Rome, the fans at Anfield have turned to Brendan Rodgers and signalled with their thumb down, ordering more attacking play and goals.

Rodgers has duly obliged and set out his team to press and hound the opposition in order to win the ball quickly and then with great fluidity, find a way to score goals from all areas.

Rodgers has certainly changed Liverpool’s style of play into an attacking machine – and recent score lines prove it. Over the past two months, we have seen Liverpool score four against Fulham, three against QPR and Sunderland, five against Norwich and two away to both Man City and Arsenal.

Liverpool Chairman, Tom Werner, stated on Rodgers’ arrival that he would bring “attacking, relentless football” to the club. Rodgers is now starting to carry out his brief with the fluidity and attacking play on display for everyone to see.

However, has this bold and attacking style of play come at a cost. This article looks at question in more detail.

After 25 games in the Premier League, Liverpool have conceded 32 goals (1.28 goals per game). In comparison, after 26 games, Arsenal have conceded 29 goals, Chelsea 28 goals, Manchester City 24 goals, Tottenham 30 goals and Manchester United 31 goals. Liverpool have therefore conceded more goals than all of their main rivals and played one less game.

Under Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool conceded only 40 goals in the entire 2011/12 season (1.05 goals per game). It is evident that Rodgers’ Liverpool are less defensively sound than his rivals and in comparison to his predecessor at the club.

One of the key reasons for the number of goals conceded are the number of mistakes made by Liverpool players. EPLIndex shows that Liverpool have made a whopping 33 defensive errors have been made this season. Again, in comparison, Chelsea have made 11 errors, Man City 16, Man United 18, Everton 15 and Tottenham 20. The story these statistics quickly paints is that the Liverpool are not defending well enough as a team, nor are they concentrating well enough or dealing with pressure.

It was no secret that under Kenny Dalglish, assistant manager, Steve Clarke handled the training sessions. In particular, Clarke managed the defensive aspects of training and adopted a deep defensive line which was hard to penetrate. Furthermore, he spent a lot of time with the defenders and midfielders on how to improve their defensive capability and dealing with set pieces.

There can be no argument that Rodgers does not have the defensive skills as Steve Clarke. Furthermore, it can be argued that Rodgers also spends a lot of time with the defence on attacking and ball possession rather than the art of defending. Our approach to defending set pieces this year has been poor this year and very uneasy to view. We do not seem to have a clear plan on how to defend the balls coming in which has often cost us dearly.

Rodgers is of course not completely at fault with our lack of defending this year and aiming for possession higher up the field will of course invite teams to break quickly when we lose the ball.

Rodgers is clearly building an attacking team to delight the Anfield faithful. Players such as Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho, Gerrard, Suso have great technical ability and skill to bring an attacking style to the team.

Currently, Rodgers is deploying Lucas and Gerrard as the two central midfielders with Gerrard ahead of Lucas who plays as the ‘controller.’ Ahead of those two players, Rodgers must pick four players who will press, hound and score goals.

Two of those players are Sturridge and Suarez. Both offer great fluidity and skill across the front line and of course goals. The third player is likely to be an inside forward, starting on the flank but coming inside to hurt defences and allowing the attacking full back to offer width. I imagine that player will either be Sterling, Coutinho or even Tom Ince if Liverpool finally secure his signature this summer.

It is the fourth player that is the most interesting in my opinion and possibly key to finding the balance between attack and defence. Reading many posts from fans, they would like another ‘number 10’ player with Christian Eriksen’s name the most mentioned. Liverpool has monitored Eriksen for a while now and would certainly be interested in him after he rejected Ajax’s most recent contract offer.

However, could another attacking player simply compound the defensive problems we are currently encountering? At present, I feel the key to the balance between attack and defence has been the introduction of Jordan Henderson.

Henderson is not the silky number 10 that many fans crave, nor does he have Eriksen’s technical ability or skill. However, he is a disciplined, intelligent midfielder who makes up for some of the deficiencies of an ageing Gerrard and a recovering Lucas. He carries out the ‘dirty work’ on their behalf and presses the opposition into a mistake allowing our newly formed S-A-S to create and score goals. At present, Henderson is therefore a must as the ‘fourth attacking player’ as he is helping to solve the balancing act.

Rodgers has done a great job in bringing an attacking style to Liverpool, however, he clearly has a decision to make in the summer around the defensive shape and set up of this team.

Bringing in a new number 10 would delight the fans and bring even more attacking flair to the team. However, it could be at the expense of the traits displayed by Jordan Henderson. If that does happen, Rodgers would certainly need to bring in another defensive midfielder (unless Lucas does get back to his very best) and a top class centre back to firm up his back line.

Brendan Rodgers is carrying out his brief set out by the Liverpool Chairman, it is now up to him to find the balance between attack and defence to see his system really kick on.

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