WHEN Brendan Rodgers was brought in as manager of Liverpool Football Club, talk revolved mainly around Tiki-Taka football and the importation of Barcelona’s style to Anfield. Much was made of the 7 seconds to close down and regain possession and the idea that Liverpool would provide death by football through the means of a possession orientated strangulation of the opposition.
But this theory or ‘philosophy’, as the current media craze labels it, has not been so abundant this year and the team look all the better for it.
Instead of playing in the same way throughout the match, Rodgers charges have developed a dual approach to the game. There is a manner in which the reds start the game which alters in the second half.
The first half is reminiscent of much of what we saw last season. The players adopt a high tempo pressing game from the moment the first whistle is blown, with the midfield and strikers being encouraged to win possession as high up the field as possible. The idea is to score that first goal and score it quickly. This is why it would seem appropriate to describe it as Blitzkrieg football.
Blitzkrieg was the means by which the German army would attack in the Second World War; it was designed to be lightning quick and to overwhelm the opposition before they were ready for battle. Liverpool’s high pressure starts to matches are equally designed to put as much pressure on the opposition before they are prepared or settled into the game. The interesting part is that the team has continued to play in the same vein after a goal has been scored. It would seem that the idea is to not only get the first goal but also to score as many as possible in the opening 45 minutes.
The second half is where there has been the most change in Liverpool’s play. Rodgers has allowed Stoke, Aston Villa and Man Utd to have possession of the football for sustained periods in the next 45 knowing that they have to attack to gain parity. However, the team is as industrious as it was in the first half just in a different manner. Instead of pushing the team high up the pitch to win the ball, the players are asked to control the game off the ball, by containing the opposition and closing space. The squad is then tasked with winning the ball in their own half and launching counter attacks.
Again in a Blitzkrieg style, the team looks to take advantage when the opposition are at there weakest with speed of movement and thought the key to opening up the defence. This also ensures that Liverpool are less vulnerable to the counter-attacks that cut them open so easily last season.
This desire to relinquish possession seems contrary to the principles that we expected from Rodgers. However, the shift is one which looks to exploit the opposition as they have to go in search of a goal. Of course this switch in style may only come into play if our first half exploits do in fact yield a goal. We will need to see what happens if we are unable to break down the opposition or if we are behind going into the second half.
What it does illustrate though, is that Brendan Rodgers has learned from last season. Rather than leaving ourselves vulnerable to the counter attack, we have been more savvy and ultimately more ruthless in the business of winning matches. Rodgers has blended attacking brutality with defensive resilience creating two distinct systems of play for the team. This potentially makes Liverpool a more formidable foe with the team able to adopt different approaches without having to change personnel.
The development of this system has already improved with games. Stoke put Liverpool under enough pressure to concede a penalty and it was only the resultant save that prevented the Reds from dropping points. Against Villa, the system worked very well but there were a couple of opportunities for Benteke who was again denied by Mignolet. However against Man Utd, Liverpool appeared in control even at the end of the game and the Reds had a brilliant chance on the counter to make it 2-0 with Raheem Sterling forcing a smart save from David De Gea.
Perhaps what is more mouthwatering is that there is still the injection of Suarez and Moses to come which may well make the second half tactics more profitable. There may be less containing and more counter punching from the reds as they look to use the pace and guile of the attacking quartet to counteract their competitors and hit home their advantage.
Not only is it pleasing to see that Rodgers is malleable in his tactics and progressive in his thinking but also Liverpool keep winning – and long may that continue.
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