27 September 2010

Liverpool v Sunderland – Average Position Comparison

Normally, Soccernet's graphics are infuriating, often incorrect or unhelpful. But comparing the average position of Liverpool's starting XI in Saturday's match to last March's 3-0 win is a perfect encapsulation of the tactical differences between last season's team and the current version.

Click on the image to see it full-size, where the player numbers are actually legible. The underlined players are the outfield starters.

That graphic can be summed up in two words: deeper and narrower.

It's especially evident in the positions of the back four and the "wingers." The center backs are slightly further back; the difference explained by Agger and Skrtel's style of play. The fullbacks are massively further back; last March, both Johnson and Insua spent more time in the opposition half than their own. Cole and Kuyt – ostensibly the wide-men in Saturday's formation – are nowhere near the touchline, compared to Babel and Maxi last year, where I wrote that Liverpool's formation could have been written as 4-2-4, and where the wingers were actually supplemented by attacking fullbacks, especially on the right flank. And yes, Benitez actually used a 4-4-2 in that 3-0 win last March.

Comparing the holding midfielders, Poulsen's basically atop Skrtel as a third center-back, whereas Mascherano's position is close to where Gerrard was on Saturday. Torres is almost 20 yards deeper, just outside the center circle, needing to retreat in an attempt to link with the midfield. Last season, Liverpool had seven starters who spent more time in the Sunderland's half of the field. This season, Liverpool had four. Barely.

All in all, it makes for depressing viewing and confirms lingering suspicions. Hodgson's happier with a deeper defensive line and keeping a narrow, compact shape. Saturday's match was the worst example, but the graphics from the other five matches aren't very different (here's the fixture list; you can go from there to check if you're so inclined). Despite complaints over the previous manager's conservative strategy, these are far more defensive tactics. And so far, it simply hasn't worked in the league. Liverpool's had a very tough stretch of matches to start the season, but six points from six matches is unacceptable, no matter the opposition or off-field problems.


Matt said...


I've shouted Move Up! countless times in nearly every fixture I've seen. It is driving me mad.

Anonymous said...

It pains me to look at that graphic. Teams should be wider on offense and narrower on defense; does Roy not know this?

TimC said...

I have no problem with the idea behind what is going on in terms of positioning. However, the way the personnel is laid out goes against the philosophy. Our CBs, Carra and Skrtel, are not of the caliber that Agger is on the ball and their inability (and Poulsen/Lucas, too) to spring the counter from deep forces Gerrard back to collect the ball, depriving us of our most powerful runner from midfield. The 'wide' players, Cole, Meireles, Maxi, etc., tend to naturally drift into the middle and make it far easier to defend the counter by running atop one another. The N'Gog substitutions in the past two league games have produced sparks but I think this has more to do with removing a midfield player and reducing this clutter than any real tactical brilliance.

Unless our players make a more concerted effort to get wide when we regain possession, Roy's system is not going to work. I think such an acclaimed 'man-manager' should be able to get his players to buy into the system but perhaps I am misunderstanding the term. Blame does need to go to those who drift too far into the middle but at the same time what is the sense in playing a system that is such a poor fit for the personnel?

nate said...

...but at the same time what is the sense in playing a system that is such a poor fit for the personnel?

The elephant in the room.

You'd think with such limited funds, it'd be easier for Hodgson to change his tactics instead of trying to force rounds pegs into square holes (and to think, people blamed Benitez for that because of using Kuyt, Cisse on the right).

Johnson looks horrible in a deep backline, positionally unaware and unable to use his best quality in getting forward from deep. Neither Kuyt nor Cole nor Jovanovic are out-and-out wingers when using 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 (defending in banks of four, whatever), but we've seen Kuyt succeed in an outside position, whether on the right for LFC or left for Holland, and Cole do similar while at Chelsea (can't speak for Jovanovic as I didn't see enough of him at Standard Liege). Playing either Meireles or Gerrard behind the striker isn't helpful when you're getting the ball from deep and not pressing high up the pitch (one of Rafa's key philosophies), because it exacerbates Torres' isolation. And Torres is not Zamora; his hold-up play is not his strongest quality – running at defenders with support from deep/inside flanks is. Etc. Etc. Etc.

This is why I keep railing against the tactics used so far, and am quickly losing faith in Hodgson, even though problems off-the-pitch are just as, if not more, responsible for Liverpool's dire situation.