04 October 2010

Roy Hodgson = Robbie Keane?

Buying Robbie Keane was arguably one of Benitez' biggest mistakes. It was the last major purchase that wasn't financed with outgoing sales (as when Alonso paid for Aquilani and Johnson), and it turned out to be a massive bust.

However, Rafa realized it in short order, and shipped Keane out at the first opportunity. Having paid £19m for the player, Liverpool recouped somewhere between £12-16m, depending on unannounced add-ons that may or may not have been reached. Granted, £3-7m is still a loss, and that the manager wasn't allowed to use those funds to replace the player still frustrates, but Liverpool knew when to cut its losses, and still came the closest to winning the league since the trophy was last lifted in 1990. Since then, Keane's barely featured for Spurs, and was loaned to Celtic last spring, who refused to pony up whatever Tottenham demanded for the player. Now, the former captain is behind Defoe, Crouch, and Paylyuchenko in the pecking order, and Spurs couldn't give him away during the summer transfer window. Had Liverpool kept Keane for the entirety of '08-09, who knows if they would have reaped the same results, and I highly doubt they would have reaped as much in the transfer fee.

Liverpool needs to do the same thing with Roy Hodgson.

I'm as afraid of the Newcastle parallels as anyone. Liverpool has rarely been a firing club. Souness and Evans were sacked mid-season (February and November, respectively), but more often than not, the manager's given multiple chances to come good. Which, of course, is why it was so frustrating to see Benitez sacked after one bad season.

And yes, it's only been seven league games (14 in all competitions), but I fear that Hodgson will never come good. His tactics are embarrassingly outdated, unsuited to the current squad, and he's shown little clue as to what managing Liverpool means.

Let's review the tactical problems first.

Refusal to press high up the pitch. This is one of the biggest changes from Benitez's style, along with the deep backline and man-marking on set plays (we'll get there). And it's hindering Liverpool in attack. Eto'o gave an interesting interview a week ago on the topic:
"With Mourinho we played on the counter-attack, with Benitez we press more and that's better for us forwards because we win back the ball higher up the pitch and create more chances."
It's no coincidence that while Eto'o is thriving under Benitez, Torres is struggling under Hodgson, almost completely starved of chances. Yes, he's been injured, but he's been injured off and on for three seasons now, and still scored 17 goals in '08-09 and 22 goals in '09-10. In 38 and 32 appearances respectively. But because Liverpool's not pressing as high up the pitch, Torres is receiving the ball in deeper positions, often with his back to goal. Players like Kuyt, Cole, and Gerrard aren't able to get behind the backline when Torres does hold play up because they're coming from deeper (if Gerrard comes forward at all). Nonetheless, if we're counting set plays won (specifically, the two against United), Torres has created four goals, the most assists in the squad so far this season. But he looks a disgruntled, off-form fish out of water, and that's massively frightening given the rumors that surrounded the player this summer.

The dreadfully deep backline. I've highlighted this on multiple occasions, most notably in the average position comparison of the Sunderland matches. Liverpool's used to a high backline reliant on the offside trap, with attacking fullbacks who provide the width. Now, players like Johnson are being asked to defend at the edge of their penalty area, which leads to moments like the terrible penalty concession against Blackpool. They're basically inviting teams to attack, which Blackpool were glad to do on Sunday. Liverpool's happier hoofing the ball out of defense than playing it to the defensive midfielders and building from the back, and Agger – the most-creative center-back in the squad, has been ostracized for the bullying talents of Carragher, Skrtel, and Kyrgiakos. The Dane's played nine times this season. He's been a center-back twice, against Steaua and Northampton. He's been a left-back in all six of his league appearances, including thrice off the bench because Konchesky got injured.

Lack of width. Yes, width was a problem under Rafa as well. It has been since the days of Barnes and McManaman. But we rarely saw a central midfielder forced out to the right; it's diabolically baffling that Meireles continues to play there, and it's no surprise the Portuguese looked twice the player when moving centrally in the last 30 minutes against Blackpool. At the same time, Kuyt, Cole, and Jovanovic aren't 4-4-2 wingers. Benitez's 4-2-3-1 system (while pressing high up the pitch) played to Kuyt's strengths – as he did with Holland during the World Cup – but asking him to play as a typical out-and-out winger highlights his deficiencies on the ball and on the touchline. If he, or Cole, or Jovanovic come inside, the fullback's completely exposed because there's no one like Mascherano to cover. And Cole's had the same problems when deployed on the left (as has Jovanovic), leading to the incredibly narrow formation. This is the one difference to Hodgson's formation at Fulham, where he used "opposite wingers" like Duff and Davies (left-footers on the right, right-footers on the left, allowing players to cut in and shoot) to good effect.

Man-marking on set plays. Zonal marking was a stick used to unfairly beat Benitez throughout his tenure, but like pressing high up the pitch, it was a tactic suited to the players in the squad. Liverpool's not the tallest team, and aside from Hyypiä and Kyrgiakos, Liverpool hasn't had aerially-dominate center-backs. Zonal marking helped ameliorate that weakness by marking areas instead of creating one-on-one matches where the opposition were at an advantage. At the same time, Reina, at 6'2", isn't incredibly tall as goalkeepers go. Man-marking leads to crowds around the keeper when opponents pile men into the box, making it harder for Pepe to get space and claim balls into the box.

Leaving substitutions until late. Thankfully, this changed against Blackpool, but Hodgson waited until the 75th minute against Birmingham, the 81st against Utrecht, and at the beginning of extra time against Northampton. Liverpool were level in all three. Was Hodgson really happy with the team during those matches? Were ineffective draws the goal? And we thought the last manager was stubborn in his starting XI selections...

Poulsen. This isn't truly tactical. But I'm still flummoxed that Christian Poulsen – who can't jump, can't tackle, and plays even safer, less creative passes than Lucas – has marginalized the Brazilian. Every manager has favorites, but those favorites shouldn't be keeping better, younger players out of the squad.

Shipping out Aquilani and Insua, marginalizing Agger and Lucas. We don't know how much the board (read: Purslow) is to blame for the first two. But Hodgson could have fought those battles if he so desired. Now, Liverpool has a huge hole at left-back (despite buying Konchesky and re-signing Aurelio) and Aquilani's been increasingly excellent for Juventus – paired with the defensive Felipe Melo in central midfield, no less. Not as an out-and-out attacking midfielder as we thought he needed to be. At the same time, the likes of Lucas and Agger – both better than those who have replaced them – are relegated to the second-string. The fear that both will depart in the January window heightens with each match.

And then there are the embarrassing comments, making it that much harder to respect Hodgson, leading to the belief that he just doesn't get this club or its fans. He took five days to defend Torres from Ferguson's drunken rantings after the United match. He threw his "B-team" under the bus after the loss to Northampton. He was seemingly satisfied with underwhelming draws against Birmingham, Sunderland, and Utrecht, with Liverpool arguably outplayed in all three. He ham-handedly critiqued fan's protests against the owners. And there were the recent jaw-dropping quotes in the run-up to Sunday's match, where Hodgson referred to himself as 'one of the most-respected managers in Europe.'

I've become more vehement in my critiques, and in demanding his exit, for two reasons. One, because I'm increasingly convinced Hodgson can't and won't change. Some say he needs time to implement his system, but we're seeing his system. It's the same system he used at Fulham. Defend deep, 'keep the shape', hope to strangle the opposition, and hope to get something against the run of play. It actually worked for Fulham against Liverpool in both meetings last season. But it's a small-club mentality, and it's not working with the players Liverpool has. I doubt that it ever can.

Two, because of the international break, this seems as good an opportunity as any to get a new manager in. Admittedly, the majority of first-team players will be away with their countries, but it's still two more weeks for to get settled and work with those not on international duty. And if the new man is Dalglish, he'll hit the ground running because of his familiarity with the club and players. If Liverpool failing to get a result against Everton on the 17th (God forbid) leads to Hodgson getting the sack, there are only four days before the next match at Napoli. Because of the Europa League, Liverpool has two games a week almost every week until mid-December. That schedule will really hurt a new manager's chances of settling quickly. And by then, it really could be too late.

I don't want to see Dalglish's legacy tarnished by the ownership debacle, but I truly believe we can't wait until they're finally booted out. Multiple RBS deadlines have been mooted, whether it's the 1st, 6th, 11th, or 15th of this month, but that won't be the end of the fight by any means. And because of the situation, I think Dalglish is the best choice – a legitimately safe pair of hands, unlike the manager we got this summer. Other names mooted, like Pelligrini, Rijkaard, etc., actually are untenable until the off-field situation is resolved. Dalglish is different. It's not as if he's been away from the game, living in a cave, since his last managerial position.

To use a phrase our Texan tumor will understand, know when to hold them, and know when to fold them. It's time to fold this hand before the stakes are too high to buy back in.

16 comments:

FSG said...

Thanks for the analysis. I didn't expect much for Hodgson in the beginning. But I also didn't expect him, or any Liverpool Manager (or even caretaker Manager), to lose to Blackpool at Anfield.

RedIndian said...

Spot on. Very well written and analyzed. Hodgson is too old to change his style. The more people question his tactics and style the more he would stick to it to prove everyone wrong. I thought Rafa was bad at making substitutions. But Roy is worst. And I dont think guys in the LFC board would take any action to improve on field situation at the club, especially when there is plenty of off field action bound to take place in coming week or two. Lets hope for the best.

Noel said...

Which, of course, is why it was so frustrating to see Benitez sacked after one bad season.

A very good--an perhaps under appreciated--point. Rafa got, what, six months to sort things out after they'd clearly gone pear shaped. So if Roy's still here at season's end and hasn't steadied the ship he'll have been given more time to get it sorted than the man who won the CL.

When you put that on top of all the rest about schedule density making replacement more difficult after the break and all the rumblings of half the squad looking to leave in January because Roy's "man management" has them feeling marginalized... just all lovely stuff to think about. Has to be said, though, and it'd be hard to top your summary, Nate.

drew said...

Roy is so much the embodiment of the stereotypical British approach to football that it's eerie. Perpetually behind in terms of tactics, renowned if anything for "solidity" and "man management," and not just resistant to, but actively suspicious or downright aggressive toward any notion that change might be in order.

Absolutely agreed on getting Kenny in there as caretaker, and then he can hand the reins over to a new boss under new owners and resume his vital work with the youth ranks.

Unfortunately right now Roy is doing an excellent job (the only excellence he's displayed thus far) in deflecting attention away from the ownership fiasco; thank goodness for SoS and the other groups keeping feet to the fire there.

DooglaCush said...

SHUT IT-- ROY WILL WIN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE THIS SEASON THEN YOULL SEEEE!!!

but seriously, I don't really care for Liverpool but I love Roy and its a shame to see him doing poorly, though I will agree you pretty much nailed the problems of inflexibility spot on.

Remember though, there is the friendly link with Sir Alex, so Roy might be in on the plot to bring Liverpool down- a thought which brings to mind fantastically juicy tabloid articles. I will write said articles if no one else opts to.

however, I disagree with the loss of Insua being a problem. He was culpable for every goal of theirs that I can remember in my selective memory from last year. This year Glen Johnson has taken on that responsibility. add in mr poulsen, carra and whoever might be playing left back and youve got some pretty attackers but a shaky defense at most, tactics disregarded.

sidenote: i watched masch play at the camp nou yesterday and while he wasnt prolific and barca played poor, he was damn solid for once this season. all i could think of when watching the liver/black pool highlights was that. also, we have the opposite fullback problem with dani alves-- the man is a terrier, but whew, learn to cross, boy

Ken said...

Nate I am sure you are aware of his current comment; liverpool is truly in for relegation battle and then highlight his heroic effort at winning the relegation battle at fulham. God he is getting nutter with his comment. After his much talk about of lowering Liverpool expectation, he now places Liverpool as a relegation candidate after only 7 games! Clearly he is trying to set himself up for another heroic effort to save liverpool like he did with fulham. If he stays and Liverpool ends up in 17th avoiding the drop, we fans are told to party like fulham fans did. Didn't occur to him that the statue of Liverpool at any state should not even entertain the thought. Be it giving sticks to players, change tactic or do anything hamanely possible to improve games and always bear in mind Liverpool target is definitely not avoiding relegation. Of course as you point out if he persists in his line of reasoning, tactic, attitude, mentality, etc. , it might just what he expects; relegation battle. Roy needs to go and sooner the better. In theory Noel's knowledge of tactics seem to dwarf his 35 years of collective wisdom.

McrRed said...

Wow.
Great analysis Nate...

I'm too too conflicted about this one. He has to be given more time but time is running out.

I said when he was appointed that I would support him as our manager but I'm beginning to question that.

Two things in his favour.
1. Our second half performances have been good or at least decent. Though why Hodgson can't get the team fired up for the start of matches is beyond me.

2. Hicks & Gillett haven't been ousted yet (crosses fingers again - please God, please God!) so the miasma of doom is still hanging over the club (including the players).

Remember when Kenny Huang looked nailed on to take over? The mood around Anfield lifted...if RBS do the right thing Roy may be able to get some performances out of the squad even with his tactical deficiencies.

But it's my heart saying stick with the guy; my head says - like you say - he can't do it, let's cut our losses.

I did this with Souness and I did it with Houllier and was glad of the changes braver men than I made. That to me says I should come off the fence. Maybe I will...

Anonymous said...

You have hit the nail on the head. The tactics would suit a small club but not us. I think the tactics are actually confusing the players and the lack of width and creativity is so shocking I actually will not be watching the derby. If we lose that I feel he will have to go. Nice guy but his ideas are not at present going to work at this club.

Mark8

And, come on, lets get a campaign going to get aquilani back.

aredthing said...

It's likened to a ceasarian operation on a number of fronts, on a red sky in the morning, this asking of Kenny Dalglish to caretake a club that's in a far worse position than when he first offered himself pre-season, but it's something I'll embrace with wide open arms.

Interesting analysis. I liked it and Indeed Robbie Keane was never supposed to have arrived before a Gareth Barry blueprint was in effect.

In any case, I'd like to see my beloved baby really good out of their current state. Oh, and also to remove the malignant tumours two (too).

Anonymous said...

Great the owner of the red sox now has supposedly put in a bid. Can't fucking wait, more yanks

Please make it stop now


Carlos

Anonymous said...

Well what do you expect when the majority of our fanbase are as fucking stupid as Jamie Kanwar! Or Andy Gray! Or Jamie Redknapp! Or Hansen and Lawrenson!

Rafa fucking OVERACHIEVED given his budget...but these morons expected him to win the EPL on a shoestring...

These traitorours fans and ex players have helped destroy our club as much as the two criminals who currently own us...Rafa was the only one capable of keeping us up there until new owners are found...now hes gone we have become Leeds.

Thanks a lot to all the traitors!

Oh - and too all the idiots calling for time...what a crock of shit that is...only losers would do such a thing...its called accepting mediocrity and well run business dont do that...they admit when the make a mistake and have the balls to fix it...oh right...Purslow is running the club...backed by a million idiots like Kanwar - the mother fucking traitorous cluess cunt!

Anonymous said...

The morons who called for Rafa's sacking can all piss off and support chelsea - they are not wanted at LFC as they are too fucking thick to understand the game, the club and its principles...they are nothing but fucking stupid day trippers!

nate said...

Carlos,

You do realize you're writing that comment on an American's blog?

I hate baseball – the sport puts me straight to sleep – so I don't know a ton about Henry and the Red Sox. I'm doing what research my brain can tolerate, and if the sale happens (enormous, massive if), I'll ask a friend of mine who lived in Boston, and actually likes baseball for God knows why, to write something up for us. Given recent history with the custodians, I'm sure any new bid will receive far more scrutiny than the previous takeover.

But, please, for the love of all that's holy, don't group an entire fucking nation with those two tumors.

I know it's gonna happen – it's already happening – and it'll take an excellent PR campaign as well as actual concrete plans to diffuse that criticism. But we are not all fucking Hicks and Gillett.

drew said...

Henry has a far better track record than Hicks or Gillett--I realize that's not a high bar to clear, but nonetheless he wrote the checks that got the Red Sox their first World Series title in 86 years--and another three years later.

Could he end Liverpool's less prolonged but no less anguished drought? Perhaps, though he has nowhere near the resources of your average Russian oil baron or Arabian sheikh. Henry's business has suffered a bit in the global downturn, and the Red Sox have as a result fallen behind not only the Yankees, who committed half a billion dollars last offseason to buy their way back to World Champion status, but also the Tampa Bay Rays, who have built mostly on superior scouting and talent development.

It is worth noting, however, that Henry would in this case just be the public head of New England Sports Ventures, which includes a number of other choice investors such as the New York Times and Henry's own New England Sports Network--thus the whole consortium has highly relevant experience in sports media management, and would be well positioned to sell Liverpool to an American audience; whether it could do as well in the worldwide market is up for debate.

There were problems in Boston with the building of a new stadium; however, unlike Bostonians and Fenway, most Liverpool supporters are resigned to the need for a new Anfield; LFC simply can't afford to make do with lower gate receipts and concessions (up to 1m per match difference between us and Old Trafford) in the way that Boston has vs. Yankee Stadium. Besides, I expect that any deal would be made conditional upon getting ground broken immediately and the stadium built within a set period of time.

Henry is, by most accounts, a decent human being. When he's branched out into other sports (most notably NASCAR) he's done fairly well though without any smashing success. Most importantly, I expect he would put genuine effort into trying to understand the supporters, and work with them to repair the breach between them and the ownership. Obviously that will not be completely healed till we are again financially stable and competitive if not champions on the pitch--however I feel confident in saying that Henry's (NESV's) hands would be much safer ones than we are in now--not a return to rude health maybe, but a tourniquet for the bleeding at least.

drew said...

Henry has a far better track record than Hicks or Gillett--I realize that's not a high bar to clear, but nonetheless he wrote the checks that got the Red Sox their first World Series title in 86 years--and another three years later.

Could he end Liverpool's less prolonged but no less anguished drought? Perhaps, though he has nowhere near the resources of your average Russian oil baron or Arabian sheikh. Henry's business has suffered a bit in the global downturn, and the Red Sox have as a result fallen behind not only the Yankees, who committed half a billion dollars last offseason to buy their way back to World Champion status, but also the Tampa Bay Rays, who have built mostly on superior scouting and talent development.

It is worth noting, however, that Henry would in this case just be the public head of New England Sports Ventures, which includes a number of other choice investors such as the New York Times and Henry's own New England Sports Network--thus the whole consortium has highly relevant experience in sports media management, and would be well positioned to sell Liverpool to an American audience; whether it could do as well in the worldwide market is up for debate.

There were problems in Boston with the building of a new stadium; however, unlike Bostonians and Fenway, most Liverpool supporters are resigned to the need for a new Anfield; LFC simply can't afford to make do with lower gate receipts and concessions (up to 1m per match difference between us and Old Trafford) in the way that Boston has vs. Yankee Stadium. Besides, I expect that any deal would be made conditional upon getting ground broken immediately and the stadium built within a set period of time.

Henry is, by most accounts, a decent human being. When he's branched out into other sports (most notably NASCAR) he's done fairly well though without any smashing success. Most importantly, I expect he would put genuine effort into trying to understand the supporters, and work with them to repair the breach between them and the ownership. Obviously that will not be completely healed till we are again financially stable and competitive if not champions on the pitch--however I feel confident in saying that Henry's (NESV's) hands would be much safer ones than we are in now--not a return to rude health maybe, but a tourniquet for the bleeding at least.

drew said...

We may have just been sold, pending League approval and resolution of dispute with the cancers. If so will be very, very interesting to see how much of a splash Henry + NESV want to make off the bat; they have a guaranteed fan-friendly move they could make by bringing in Kenny as caretaker so wouldn't be surprised if that happens.

(Also please delete double post above, didn't notice before.)