Reverting the Pyramid
We know of Houllier’s one-dimensional counter attacking style. We know that Rafa prized balance and that Hodgson liked it in the air. But did Brendan believe Dalglish’s defence was solid enough not to need adjusting? With the perception that Rodgers is bringing in more attack minded players, is he attempting to revert the pyramid?
As Liverpool have been lacking a solid gold, copper bottomed source of goals for a few seasons now, it was an obvious place to start for our new manager. Ship Carroll out and replace him with a quality FSG approved signing. Easy. But it wasn’t.
In January Rodgers had a second chance to right those glaring wrongs from earlier. He introduced Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho. Include Borini and he has supplemented our all-scoring, all-dribbling, all-shooting El Pistolero with three players. As a Rodgers import, only Allen hasn’t been involved with goal action like the other signings, currently playing with us or otherwise.
With 14 different league scorers, 18 overall, Liverpool are shaping into a team with scorers from all over the park and our new forward thinking players all contribute to that.
But that’s nothing new from a Liverpool side. The Liverpools of golden eras had similarities to these modern day teams. The classic 87/88 team had three players with 17 or more goals, and a further three with at least six, over 40 games. This led to a nine point title-winning margin and a +63 goal difference, more than twice of any rivals. 82/83 had five in double figures, with Dalglish and Rush a combined 51, and with Souness (9) and Whelan (7) the other main contributors to a 42 game title winning season, yielding an 11 point margin and a +50 goal difference, a massive 32 more than the next best. Clearly a big contribution to our dominance of the time.
Looking at the top of the Premiership table, a number of teams are currently deploying similar tactics. Ferguson was playing with one up top for many years but is now filling the ranks slowly and getting goals from more positions, namely a good amount from defenders getting up the park. A 23-goal tally for Robin Van Persie is a personal success, but Ferguson will see the goals for total. He won’t care who gets them, but it does make £24 million for a 29 year old look good with another title seemingly in the bag, though having a Turkish referee – not to mention Real Madrid – rip the chance of a Paisley-equalling third European Cup from his grasp, has introduced an uncharacteristic sour note for Britain’s most likeable manager!
I mentioned on tomkinstimes.com a few months ago, and Andrew Beasley, from basstunedtored.com, later agreed, that perhaps Ferguson had noted the Man United defence was becoming porous, so the signing of RVP was to fill in those chinks in the defensive armour by scoring goals and, in turn, weaken a rival. Double scoop.
A consistent defensive line up is important to keeping the goals against total down and defeats to a premium. De Gea has improved, but injuries to Jones and Vidic have left United’s defence unsettled, conceding 31. Man City have conceded 24 with the remaining top 8 conceding between 30-35, save West Brom with 38. United, with an overall difference of +37, are 10 goals better off than Manchester City who have the next best figure, giving evidence United’s goals at one end are keeping them at the top end.
General perception informs us that Manchester City possess a rich attack. But it is not as scoring as it may seem, their goal difference is propped up by a considerably less leaky defence, conceding seven goals fewer than United’s. Imagine if Mancini had captured the rampant Dutchman? Terrifying.
Chelsea, through various managers’ ideals, have a goal scoring midfield. Mostly fronted over the years by Lampard, but with the addition of Mata, Oscar and Hazard they are leading the way in the goals scored column with 14 league contributors. And Benitez has the second best defence too.
Spurs concede regularly and only score at a fair rate, but have more points than Liverpool. Yet, without Bale and Defoe Spurs would be scrapping for goals. So it is scoring when at 0-0 and not banging in five that gets points. Notching more than the number of fingers on your hand may only give you that extra point at the end of the season, rather than the seven Liverpool currently need for a top four place. But +16 shows Spurs have an area to improve if they want to challenge for the title.
Their North London neighbours have four players in double figures in all competitions. Yet they struggle to score away from the Emirates, they concede more at home than they have scored away which leads to a goal difference only one better than us at +21.
Rodgers’ Liverpool is offensive in its make up, as shown against Spurs this week. Ferguson has a couple of goal machines up front, as does Wenger, while Chelsea bombard the goals for column from midfield. But Liverpool seemed unbalanced in their last game; the replacing of Coutinho with Allen gave the formation some equilibrium.
I am sure we are not witnessing a move to nine up front but perhaps an interchangeable six up front with a consistent back five, hence what appears to be overloading the attacking side of the squad, but even our full backs are great at getting forward. Top class defenders often have similar qualities, midfielders and strikers have a wider range of skills to offer, which is the key to unlocking mean defences.
This is a real change from Terry Venables’ Christmas tree formation celebrated in the mid-nineties. International football is different, though not distant from club football. What worked for Ajax also worked for the Netherlands, and likewise for Barca and Spain.
Managers will work with the players they have, and those they bring in will suit a certain style. Rodgers has bought more forward-thinking players, but I feel Liverpool now are developing a group of players akin to Rinus Michels’ Total Football ideal, whereby any outfield player can take over the role of any other in the team. Tiki-taka has its roots within this, yet differs through having greater emphasis on ball circulation and passing as opposed to positional interchange.
Rodgers has players that can adapt mid-game and play various roles within the on pitch XI, but clearly prefers the Barcelona model overall. Where Rafa’s ideal was two top players for each position, Rodgers’ may be structured around attack-minded individual players who can play many positions and roles whilst keeping possession.
But while our play up front has been full of goals, with huge potential for more, the defence has looked weak this season. Our recent results have yielded 28 goals in 10 league games whilst conceding 10. Individual errors are still as much a concern as the general defensive play and vulnerability against crosses and set pieces. The restructuring of defensive personnel is a must this coming window, which, in turn, could lead us to Champions League football and further success beyond.
This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times 26March 2013, and figures stated reflect this.
With thanks to Johnathon Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics.