Liverpool Tactics: Inside Forwards, Penetration and 50 Shades of Red
Yes, I did that [employing a false nine] last year. I think it is all about penetration. We [Swansea City] used to defend with the ball and people in this country don't quite understand that—they think that you defend without the ball. We talked a lot and it is something I will look to bring [to Liverpool]: possession is no good on its own, it has to be with penetration.
So spoke Brendan Rodgers, the new Liverpool manager, in an interview with TalkSport earlier this week.
Possession is a key word which has been mentioned ad nauseum since Rodgers was appointed, and everyone is pretty much on board with that. But while it is all well and good having the ball, you have to actually do something with it to be effective—and that's where penetration comes in, regardless of tactics or formations.
What exactly is meant by penetration? In this sense, that is.
For Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers, perfecting penetration is going to be the act which makes up the subtle yet crucial difference between dominating games and actually finishing off the opposition.
Already, the former Swansea boss has spoken of making a trip to Anfield feel like the longest 90 minutes of an opposition player's life; to retain the ball, shift it about and impose the Reds' authority will become over time a staple of watching Liverpool in action.
But it is this final movement, the end to which the passing is merely the means, which will strip down that "home draws" column in the league table and bump up significantly the "home wins" one.
The number of times Liverpool were well on top in home matches last season, yet failed to take the three points, was at first beyond belief. In the end, it was not only believable but in danger of becoming predictable and accepted with nothing but resignation.
That will not do.
Aside from the crossbar, the post, visiting goalkeepers having a worldie or just plain old poor finishing, one of the biggest culprits of those in Red was a real failure to get into good areas in the penalty box at the right time—bringing us nicely back to penetration.
It's not just about getting people into the box and hoping for a decent cross. It's not just playing two up top, and having them wander about the 18-yard line until the midfielders get the ball into the final third. It's not even about playing attacking midfielders, false nines, a long ball style or any other kind of tangible tactical element in its purest sense.
More than anything it is about reading the game, taking up clever positions and making runs—or even standing still when the time is right—to allow a teammate to make the killer pass into the box to create a goalscoring opportunity.
By common consent, Rodgers is likely to adopt a tactical outline similar to that of his style at Swansea; ergo, we should see Liverpool play with a single recognised centre-forward, be it in a 4-3-3 system or a 4-2-3-1.
Taking into account work required for each position, where would you play Luis Suarez next season?
With that forward required to press quickly across the front line to defend, drop into channels to create space, interlink play in and around the edge of the penalty box—as well as do the old striker thing of looking to get on the end of chances—Liverpool will be looking to other areas of the pitch in a big way to provide the level of threat required to win tight Premier League matches.
Attacking midfielders will continue to be key, whether two from the centre in the former system or one playing just behind the striker in the latter—but arguably more important than those players will be the ones who initially operate from wider areas.
The wingers, inside forwards, wide attackers—call them what you want—will be instrumental to the success or otherwise of Liverpool this season.
There are certain attributes which can be portrayed as necessary for players in this position; pace, work-rate, passing or crossing ability, skill on the ball on the run and an eye for goal. Above all of these, though, must surely be great movement and a clear idea of when to break out of position.
Playing passes into the feet of a moving player and drifting centrally into the penalty area will be a key method for Liverpool to attack teams next season.
With the centre forward likely to be well-marked as often as possible and busy helping in the build-up, the wide forwards will be expected to make well-timed runs into the penalty area between full back and centre back, pass quickly to the striker—hopefully on the move when the initial pass was made to his wide teammate, Andy Carroll take note—or shape themselves to shoot.
A right-footed player on the left side and vice-versa is always a real threat in this type of build-up and for this reason alone, though plenty of other reasons would support the same idea, Liverpool need to invest in an attacker of this type for at least one of the flanks.
Of course, that is not to say that the Reds will only see players playing on their "opposite" side; the whole point of having options in the squad is to offer variance and unpredictability, to be able to shake things up and try something new when the original plan isn't working.
Luis Suarez cutting in from the left is not being rewarded with a goal? Perhaps Stewart Downing sticks to the touchline and delivers crosses from wide areas for 15 minutes. Movement into space for his crosses is still vital, and penetration of the penalty box—via accurate crosses and good striker movement—is still the route to goal.
Penetration doesn't only occur inside the 18-yard box, of course; Jordi Alba's lung-busting sprint from the halfway line in the European Championships final, culminating in Spain's second goal against Italy, is a prime—though extravagant—showing of this.
Attacking full-backs can and must provide another alternative for the Reds to ensure their passing game does not become mired in predictability instead of possibility.
Daniel Agger raging forward from the centre of defence, perhaps a burst from deep midfield from a box-to-box player or a run in behind the defence from the centre forward, previously out of position wide on the right wing, are all just other examples of the unexpected which can provide the Reds with a sight of goal.
Of course, then we just need the delivery to be accurate...
Strikers not scoring enough goals was pointed out as being a key reason of Liverpool's lack of Premier League success last season. While we all want the top men to show their talents in the best way possible, winning games is everybody's business. Ergo, everyone has to contribute to the common cause.
Liverpool might not be able to attack the box from quite as many as 50 areas of the pitch next season; perhaps that particular title is out of reach even with the Anfield turf divided up into Rodgers' infamous eight zones.
But the wide forwards in particular will be instrumental in ensuring that the passing approach of the Reds is complemented as well as possible, by the art and the act of penetration.
Article originally posted on TheLiverpoolWord.com
What is the duplicate article?
Why is this article offensive?
Where is this article plagiarized from?
Why is this article poorly edited?