Friday, 25 March 2011

A few tactical points for the rest of the season

When I last arbitrarily predicted the results of all Liverpool's and Tottenham's remaining Premier League fixtures this season, I had us marginally pipping Spurs to the now significant fifth-place position on mere goal difference. This may seem like wishful thinking, but it isn't entirely implausible that we might record wins over WBA, Newcastle, Birmingham, Fulham, Villa and, crucially, Spurs. Also, Tottenham are likely to be mentally distracted and physically exhausted by their upcoming clashes with Mourinho's Madrid (something which I, as a Liverpool fan, am extremely jealous of). Spurs do have a huge squad, so intelligent rotation might well see them through games against Wigan and Stoke, but they must still worry about their visits to Stamford Bridge, Eastlands and Anfield, and they certainly won't be looking forward to entertaining Arsenal on April 20th.

It seems likely that, assuming the squad stays largely injury-free, Dalglish and Clarke will field something like the following team for most of the remainder of the season:

It is possible that Aurelio will regain enough fitness to play the odd game at left-back, in which case Johnson could be dropped or moved to right-back in place of Kelly. It also seems likely that Carragher will still be in and around the first-team, perhaps at the expense of a starting place for Skrtel. Also, the front three will continue to play fluidly, with Kuyt and Suarez swapping wings and taking turns at moving into more central, deep-lying-forward positions. Necessary rotation should also ensure games for Maxi Rodriguez, David Ngog and Jay Spearing. But this team is likely to be Dalglish's first-choice.

The first thing to note is that the right-wing looks more defensively solid than the left. Kuyt is a battling wide-player, renowned for his energy and effort in harrying opposing full-backs, denying them space and tracking back when necessary. Suarez, perhaps seen as more of a creative luxury-player, might at times leave Johnson (who has never been the best defensively) exposed to attacks down that flank, but there are a few important responses to this concern.

The first is to point out that Suarez is actually quite dilligent defensively, used to putting a shift in against marauding full-backs. This is starkly evidenced by Suarez's tackling statistics against Man United. He helped to keep Evra reasonably quiet, as his tackling chalkboard indicates:

by Guardian Chalkboards

Also, Glen Johnson has looked comfortable defensively at left-back, probably more so than at right back. He seems to have been told to position himself square-on to his opposing winger, showing them inside onto their left foot and, with auxiliary help from Lucas or Meireles, quelling danger down Liverpool's left. There's no doubt that our opponents might look to mount fast counter-attacks down that flank though, so Johnson will have to maintain his good form if we are to make a decent attempt at fifth place.

It should also be noted that lining up with Suarez ostensibly on the left is likely to be very effective in an attacking sense. He is very comfortable cutting in from the wide areas and the fact that he is naturally right-footed means he will always be looking for space on the inside, closer to Andy Carroll, where he can really do some damage. This will leave space for Glen Johnson to charge into, which will make the most of the full-back's attacking ability, allowing us to really overload teams and put them under pressure while retaining possession. Agger is comfortable pulling across to cover for Johnson, too.

We will also have to hope that Agger maintains his exceptional level of performance, especially considering that, of the last six games he has played, we have won six (in comparison with the last six games he has been absent for, of which we have won just one). Skrtel, too, has been impressive recently, and it may well be that these two have the opportunity to show that they ought to be Liverpool's long-term first-choice centre-back partnership. Lucas has made more tackles (125) than any other Premier League player this season, so it seems we can rely on him for defensive assurance. Meireles' tackling has been less impressive (although it should be pointed out that his defensive statistics are drawn mostly from games in which he has been the most advanced of the three midfielders) so we will need Gerrard to continue in the spirit of positional discipline and defensive solidity that has (to my surprise) defined his recent performances. And, although I have already taken Suarez's exuberant brilliance for granted, he will need to maintain his level of form for the rest of the season, especially until Carroll regains full fitness (see my blog-post on Sunderland 0 - 2 Liverpool from this weekend).

On the whole I am optimistic that we can make a strong push for fifth-place, especially as we are sadly unhampered by European or domestic cup fixtures. It would be nice if Gerrard could hit a few last-minute thirty-yeard screamers, just like the good ol' days, but fortunately we won't be relying on him quite as much as we used to.


  1. It seems likely that Martin Kelly well now be out for the remainder of the season, which is a big blow. (Mostly) solid as Carragher is, he's just not a modern right-back for a team looking to attack on the front-foot. Wilson or Agger at left-back would also not really be satisfactory, which just means we have to rely on Aurelio being able to play at least half, if not more, of this season's remaining games. If he can feature against the best teams at least (City, Spurs, Arsenal), that would be useful.

  2. Agree on Suarez, he's excellent on the diagonal. The problem then becomes width on the left; can we really see Johnson hitting the byline and delivering quality crosses? We desperately need a left back this summer who can do that if Suarez is to play in a largely left-sided role.