"What do you mean you've hurt 'your' knee, it's Liverpool's knee" - Bill Shankly.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Liverpool's use of pressing and forcing inspired by Sacchi

by hesbighesred

With regards to 'pressing' and 'forcing', is it possible that we have something of a middle ground, and degrees of it that vary according to the players? Because I'd say we perfrom it almost like it works effectively on football manager, like each player almost has a 'zone' in which they're allowed to press. Let me try and break it down.

Torres presses all along the back 4. Our wingers press the full back, possibly one centre back, and track the winger back. One of Mash/Alonso/Lucas presses all around the midfield, one keeps his position much more.  The Gerrard role seems to have less responsibility, perhaps doubling up when others are pressing, but he tends to hold his position, and indeed Rafa has indicated one thing Gerrard needed to improve on here was almost learning how to stay still. This would make sense to me as this role is the pivot for the attack.

Also, remember what the article said about 'pressing' making the team vulnerable to a counter if it fails? Now, while there is no doubt whatsoever that we commit numerous 'tactical' fouls per game, I think it's also fair to say that we rarely get outnumbered or pulled out of position while in open play...from our own set pieces, yes, that's one of our problems, but not from open play.

This leads me to conclude that we only 'double up' when zones overlap. For example, Kuyt and Torres are often seen harrying the full back or a centre back together. This also allows the players behind to get tight on their opposite number. Gerrard may not press much himself, but will help double up in midfield and further upfield. The right back will help out Kuyt once play reaches a certain point, or tuck in and help out the centre back, if that makes sense.

I would say this is also why Torres is often taken off for that last 10 minutes, and why the 'wingers' and full backs are the most rotated. These are the players who have the most pitch to cover, and are in almost perpetual motion. The need for squad depth is also absolutely vital to this. A certain level of pressing must be maintained, and while you can often see us easing off and simply plying deep and compact and countering against poorer teams when we have a decent lead, against top teams we press constantly.

Just briefly on Momo and Dirk. I think Rafa loves these kind of players because they are very rare in being able to maintain that pressing game almost 100% of the time, without losing their basic level of performance. Unfortunately for Momo, his basic level was never consistent enough in terms of keeping the ball, and giving the ball away is a big crime in our set up. Dirk, on the other hand, may not be the most spectacular, but he is by and large pretty neat and tidy, and rarely gives the ball away needlessly. He is also capable of tracking his winger, pressing the full back, and one of the centre backs all game long every game. His stamina is quite extraordinary in this respect, and hugely underappreciated in my opinion.

Hence the wide players get rotated the most, Gerrard can be rotated the least, Torres misses the last 10 mintes (I'm no expert but I would guess that this phase also proves to be the most tiring for players, and is also, along with the wide players, one where the player must almost always be able to close down). I think this also varies a little with the quality of the opposition, we can play some players 3 times a week for normal opponents, but 3 tough games and we need to give them a rest.

One that really summed this up for me was the three Arsenal games last year. Our midfield had a whole game off, Arsenal's played all three games.

Now, while they started the Anfield leg apparently full of energy, it became obvious after our first goal that Fab and Flam were running purely on adrenaline. They simply didn't have the energy to keep up with us after that. Their equaliser came from their one truly fresh player, expoiting our weakness on the break from set pieces (as did Man Utd for Brown's goal), but we could see in the last 20 minutes just how much more energy we had. We were able to recover from that equaliser, they were not able to recover from Gerrard's penalty. They simply didn't have the energy, as was shown by the 'ease' with Babel scored our fourth.

I'd also add that this freshness is one of the big reasons why a) we often score in the last 10 minutes and b) why Rafa often seems to hold back until the last 10-15 minutes.

I do feel sometimes he should gamble more, but on the other hand I can also see a strong argument for holding back until the opponent is at their most vulnerable. Kind of like middle distance runners who, by reigning in their natural instinct to go all out at the beginning, are able to seemingly sprint away in the last 100m or 200m, when in reality they are actually maintaining a steady pace throughout, wheras their opponents are starting out quick then slowing down.

I may be totally wrong of course, but that's what it generally looks like to me. Perhaps a reason for Barry over Alonso is also to share the pressing duties more evenly between the two 'holding' midfielders, which may also help preserve Mash and reduce the chances of him getting injured/the need for him to be rested before big games.

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Quote of the moment

Defying belief however, is a market Benitez has cornered quite well. The moment you think Benitez is clueless, he defies it by pulling off a result of majesty, like the one achieved in Madrid. The moment he is hailed a genius, he masterminds toothless surrender to a team going nowhere. In the ongoing Anfield power struggle, just when he was cornered by the firing squad, the Spaniard's demise at Liverpool looking practically assured with the ominous suspension of betting by the bookmakers, he squeezes out through a narrow trapdoor and eliminates Rick Parry. Rafa Benitez is Keyzer Soze.
- Just Football blog: The Curious Beast that is Football 28 Feb 2009