IT is often said that managers sink or swim by their substitutions. In the game against Zenit St Petersburg, which seems to be a game I frequently return to during these articles, Brendan Rodgers was widely criticised for the substitutions he made throughout the game. Particularly the double substitution made within a few seconds of us going 3-1 up. These changes didn’t have the desired impact and if anything they stymied what was at that moment in time a very threatening momentum.
However, as much as we can question the changes, I don’t think anyone would question the reasoning behind the subs. They were bold and attacking, designed to try and kick on and win us the game. Ultimately, they didn’t work.
However, I’d like to take this opportunity to praise Rodgers for the substitution he made against Tottenham on Sunday. A lot of eyebrows were raised when Joe Allen’s number appeared on the board. Not so much a surprise to see Coutinho leave the pitch, as the little Brazilian looked tired and had quietened down in the second half after an industrious first 45 minutes.
It wasn’t the change that I had envisaged either. Whilst we were clearly in need of a central midfielder to get on the pitch, I thought it would be the harassing presence of Jordan Henderson who would get the nod. His form has been good and he would give the Spurs central midfield something to think about.
I personally thought that change was key to the slow burning shift in momentum that eventually saw us go on to win the game. Whilst we were on the grateful recipients of two enormously poor pieces of defending from Spurs (the penalty tackle was particularly hilarious) we had started to shift ourselves onto the front foot.
Spurs’ plan had worked really well actually. After going 1-0 down they dropped Bale deeper into midfield (which worked out well for him as he was able to launch attacks and get on the ball deeper, that is if he didn’t choose to fall to the floor clutching his face) and began to outnumber our two deeper lying players. Additionally, they used the fact that Verthongen is very comfortable on the ball and he was coming into midfield regularly as well, meaning that we were getting overrun frequently.
After his introduction on Sunday, I honestly lost count of the number of times Allen dispossessed Spurs in midfield. We obviously needed the extra man in there and Allen was superb when he came on. He broke up attacks, he kept the composure and the tempo calm once we were gifted our equaliser and he linked up well with the three forwards until we went into our shell and decided to defend our lead – and who can blame us?
This isn’t about analysing Allen, who as I say I thought was excellent, it’s about the substitution. Most people wanted Henderson (that was the change I would have made) but Rodgers went with Allen and is totally justified in doing so. I’m not saying it exonerates the mistakes made against Zenit, but it just goes to address the balance.
And what a win again – we owed Spurs a result after some appalling fortune against them in recent years and it’s 3 points we must now use to continue our recent momentum into the latter weeks of the season.