Stoke and Villa Show Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers How Far They've Got to Go

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterDecember 27, 2012

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Liverpool Mamager Brendan Rodgers looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium on December 26, 2012, in Stoke-on-Trent, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Liverpool have made some superb strides to progress under Brendan Rodgers this season, but a humbling 3-1 defeat by Stoke City on Boxing Day proves the Reds have a fair way to go.

That's certainly not a criticism of the boys from Anfield, merely an acknowledgment that history suggests Rodgers needs more time to achieve something special.


Against Aston Villa

You can almost guarantee Liverpool will dominate possession in a game.

The Reds average the joint-second most possession per league game with 58 percent, while they also average the most shots on goal with 19.

Teams have more or less adopted the mantra of "Fine, you can have the ball. Let's see if you can do anything with it though." That's exactly what Aston Villa did, and after accruing just 28 percent possession, they came out 3-1 victors at Anfield.

The approach Paul Lambert took wasn't the one Tony Pulis did—the former Norwich man stood off and allowed the Reds to take control of the game, but stacked his back line with five players willing to get in the way of anything.

The result was an outrageous 29 shots from Liverpool, yet their only goal was a consolatory one in dying minutes with the score at 3-0.

The lesson? World-class players are required to break down a Stakhanovite defence.


Against Stoke City

Pulis played it differently to Lambert, but the more expressive game he employed links mostly to the fact that he has a superior squad.

His bold high-pressing methods gave Rodgers a really tough time, and it became increasingly evident that his task to make Liverpool a free-flowing titan like Barcelona is a big one.

Rodgers likes his team to play their way out from the back, and it's very rare that you'll see a defender or a goalkeeper punt it clear from danger.

On Boxing Day, Jose Enrique managed to corner himself with the ball and no fewer than six Stoke players are in range of goal. The pressure saw the Spaniard attempt a hurried clearance, which quickly became a near-fatal maneuver as Stoke headed wide.

If it proves anything, it's that no matter how confident you are on the ball when a team concedes it, retaining it under pressure is a different matter altogether.


The Barcelona precedent

Graham Hunter quotes Charly Rexach in Barca by saying, "When [Johan] Cruyff and I arrived to take over at Barcelona, we decided to install the football which inspired us. The football of Rinus Michels. Make no mistake—it cost us to achieve."

It could not be truer, and Hunter goes on to suggest that the making of Pep Guardiola's world-beaters started in 1994 with Cruyff himself.

Now, when the opposition concede the ball to La Blaugrana, they have the ingenuity and creativity to outfox a well-drilled side. When the opposition pressure Lionel Messi and co., they relish the challenge and almost always overcome the numbers.

Fourteen years on from Cruyff's hard work and Pep had a wonderful team that smashes everything in its path. Was it by any stretch of the imagination easy? Not at all, but hard work has seen La Masia produce players with an innate ability that the relics from Kenny Dalglish's reign don't possess.