09 April 2008

More on yesterday’s match: Crouch and the 4-2-3-1

I want to go a bit more in-depth on something I hit on in yesterday’s review (that review was more than long enough anyway). I also need to preface this by saying I’m extremely happy with the result, how it was accomplished, and Liverpool’s progression. The final minutes after Adebayor’s equalizer were simply magical, and yet another example of how this year’s team is different than seasons’ past. I have no idea why I’ve felt the need to be critical, but I started this blog to opine on the Liverpool thoughts rattling around my head.

No matter what the pre-match chat said on espn2, ITV, or wherever you watched it, yesterday’s formation was still 4-2-3-1, with Gerrard, Crouch, and Kuyt behind Torres. At times, all played on the same line (The Times called it a 4-2-4), while they shifted around at others depending on where they were on the break or after a set play. Before Liverpool’s second goal, Crouch played further up the field with Torres mostly making runs from the left channel. But for the most part, it looked like how I drew it up in the match review.

And despite Liverpool scoring 4 goals, with Crouch and Torres linking up exactly as hoped to create the second from next to nothing (just as Crouch fed Torres for the second goal against Sunderland), I’m unsure if this system has a future.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be happy to be proven wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time by any means. It’s just that one of the main strengths of the 4-2-3-1 formation has been how it’s freed up Gerrard to focus on the attack, pull the strings on the break, and play off of Torres, best utilizing that promising partnership.

Shifting Gerrard out to the left didn’t accomplish any of those things to the effect there’s been in previous games. By his own admission, he had one of his worst games in a Liverpool shirt until the penalty. While I wouldn’t go that far, saying that Gerrard’s had more influential games recently would be an understatement.

It might be different if Gerrard played on the right, where he’s more comfortable and where he scored 23 goals in 05-06, with Babel on the left, but another reason for this formation’s success has been Kuyt, first and foremost his willingness to defend and to run until his legs fall off. Kuyt’s not without his weaknesses, but no player works harder for the full 90 minutes, with his play in both legs a prime example of his benefit to the team. We haven’t seen if he’s able to do this from the left, either for Liverpool or when he played in a 4-3-3 for Holland.

In addition, without traditional wingers (which Gerrard, Kuyt, and Babel aren’t), the way Crouch would succeed in this formation is with long balls hoofed forward. One led to Liverpool’s second goal, but a reliance on route 1 football would be a step backward, not forwards, and doesn’t fit with Liverpool’s method of keeping possession and out-working the opposition.

If comes down to accommodating Crouch or Gerrard (or Torres for that matter), I’m siding against the gangly handful, no matter how much I want to see him do well. I realize the last paragraph comes off accommodating Kuyt to Crouch’s detriment, which has been an on-going argument all season long, and no matter how unbiased I try to be, my feelings on this probably come down to the fact I’d take Kuyt over Crouch in this system.

I’m happy Crouch has gotten a run in the team. I’m even happier that it’s ended with two good results, including an excellent goal at the Emirates, and I’ll be even happier still if it ends with Crouch extending his contract. I’ve written before that Crouch has a role in this squad, and in a squad capable of winning the title. But I also think that more often than not, it’s a matter of Crouch or Torres, not Crouch and Torres.

My theory is that Benitez is being forthright with what he said post-match: the idea to use Crouch today was because he’s been excellent against Arsenal in his last two opportunities. No more, no less.

But, knowing my luck with predictions, there’s just as much of a chance this could be a sign of things to come, especially since Babel (once again) proved so valuable off the bench. And this system did just deservedly beat a very talented, and determined, Arsenal side.

We’ll know a lot more after the two league games (v Blackburn and at Fulham) before hosting Chelsea in the first leg of the semi-finals on the 22nd.


Ace Cowboy said...

Nice post. I'm hoping it's rendered completely moot by the fact that we sign some actual wingers this summer.

More importantly, excellent use of 'Gangly Handful.' You've made me happy this morning.

Anonymous said...

Agreed Crouch's days are numbered. he just isn't the kind of partner Torres needs.

I have to admit that I am impressed with Kuyt's reverse-Henry, transition into a winger. He seems only slightly outclassed instead of completely out of his depth. There's hope for him yet.

It'll be interesting to see if Benitez spends his summer allowance on backs or wingers.

I'd also like to see more of Babel and Torres partnered up front. As he matures there's a very real possibility he could be deadly.