Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers Can Go the Spanish Way and Test the 'False Nines'
One particular thing that caught my eye at Euro 2012 was Spain playing without any strikers. Spain thrashed Ireland last night 4-0 and sent Giovanni Trapattoni's men home early when Fernando Torres was up front. However, the Spanish were not poor by any sense of imagination in their game against the Italians that ended in a 1-1 draw.
Spain played with six midfielders on the pitch against Italy and created plenty of chances. The jury is out on whether Spain played better against Italy or Ireland, and there are no criteria to judge. The oppositions were very different, and a call cannot be taken with certainty on that particular question.
Having said that, I don't think Vicente Del Bosque will refrain from using that lineup again in the knockout stages of the tournament, as it was frankly that good on the eye and effective on the pitch.
The conventional false nine employs a lone striker that drops in deep to bring defenders out of position to make space. This space is utilized by the attacking midfielders to create scoring opportunities. In a conventional 4-4-2, the two centre-backs mark both of them and it does not invite confusion.
Even in case of a support striker in a 4-4-1-1, one defender can mark the support striker and the other can sweep in behind and cover the other striker. What happens in a false nine is that one defender is drawn out of position and the other one is left alone. He has virtually three marauding midfield attackers whom he will have to keep an eye on simultaneously.
What Spain used the other day was another version of the false nine, so I have it termed it "false nines." In this, there were three midfielders who could play the role of the false nine, and the others could bomb forward. As a result, Spain created more and more space with ease and fashioned a good amount of chances.
Now, Liverpool are not Spain. Brendan Rodgers does intend to play the Barcelona-esque tiki-taka, but Liverpool do not have the personnel that could be compared to either the Blaugrana or Spain.
So can the Reds emulate Vicente Del Bosque's unique tactic?
Liverpool may not have the players of that quality, but I believe that this squad can be accommodated into an efficient unit executing the "false nines" to a good degree of success. In a season where Champions League qualification is a must, "resourcefulness" will be the mantra for new Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers amidst Europa League distractions.
Jordan Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey, Steven Gerrard, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Lucas Leiva, Maxi Rodriguez, Stewart Downing and Joe Cole will make up the midfield for the majority of next season for Liverpool. I am not considering the outbound Alberto Aquilani, while Luis Suarez fits this system like hand in glove, so I shall consider him in various permutations.
Considering that the back four of Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson and Luis Enrique picks itself, let us look at the other positions.
For the withdrawn midfield, Lucas will be ever-present. The other two spots can be filled by two out of Henderson, Spearing and Shelvey. Most fans want Spearing sold, but I think he works well with Lucas, and football is a team game. Henderson and Shelvey have the potential to pick out a pass and can help connect with the front three. They will also be able to concentrate primarily on offense, with Lucas and Spearing protecting the centre-backs.
For the advanced midfield, Liverpool have talent galore to fill in the three spots. Luis Suarez will feature almost every time, but I wouldn't mind if he is not considered as a necessary starter. Besides Suarez, Gerrard, Maxi and Cole will flourish in any spot through the advanced midfield. Adam is also someone I think will do very well without defensive responsibility to cripple his attacking play.
Downing is the only player about whom I have doubts in this system. Furthermore, if Rodgers does bring in another specialist defensive midfielder, I would love to see Lucas, Shelvey and Henderson given chances in the advanced midfield, too.
All this spells doomsday for Andy Carroll, which is very unfortunate. But if Rodgers is to be given freedom to execute his plans, then it is only fair that he get his part of the bargain in choosing personnel fitting his system, rather than getting a style of play to suit specific personnel. This was one of the areas where Kenny Dalglish got it horribly wrong and became confused by the time that Liverpool started amassing defeats.
Thus, I believe that Brendan Rodgers has a great option in trying out a tactic that Vicente Del Bosque used for Spain against Italy. This strategy is still to be named, but for the time being, it shall be called "false nines."
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