30 December 2010

Accommodating Hodgson, Accommodating Gerrard

The best managers tailor their system to the players at their disposal. Mourinho using a deeper back-line with Inter than any other team he's coached because of that unit's weakness and Ferguson deploying every formation under the sun during his time at Old Trafford are two recent examples, even though citing those two men pains me.

Unfortunately, Liverpool's current manager believes the opposite. He has a system, and he'll keep hammering square pegs into round holes until they fit or the hammer breaks.

Last night's lineup was the worst example of the trait. A proven central midfielder on the right, a converted right winger forced onto the left, and a continued belief that it's 4-4-2 or bust. Unlike with Liverpool's previous manager, the opposition's tactics don't enter into Hodgson's equation at any stage. Roy's rules of managing seems to be a list comprising two tenets. One: his team is playing 4-4-2. Two: Gerrard must play in central midfield.

The second maxim is arguably the more depressing. The captain's return was the domino that sent all the others falling. If Gerrard plays behind Torres, using the formation which previously brought success and had been halfheartedly adopted earlier this season, Meireles isn't pushed onto the right, which ultimately sends Kuyt to the opposite flank. But, instead, the team's built around the captain's supposed "preferred position" and the entire house of cards crumbles against the 20th-placed side in the league at Anfield.

Lucas and Meireles were at the heart of the positives against Aston Villa. Yes, the pairing also played in the loss to Tottenham, where both did well, and the travesty at Newcastle, where both were rendered invisible by the usual away tactics, but the partnership had been one of the few bright spots this season. Yet all that's thrown away the second Gerrard returns from injury, to the obvious detriment of the team as a whole.

In addition, that Kuyt's still an ever-present can't be ignored. Playing Maxi on the left, arguably in the best form of his Liverpool career, at the expense of Kuyt may have changed last night's result. That Kuyt, like Gerrard, also needed to be wedged into the team increased problems. But that every manager who's had Kuyt available has found a starting spot for him – including the national team manager who played him on the left at times during the Netherlands' World Cup run – speaks volumes. He's not the main problem; as usual, when the team plays well, Kuyt plays well, and when the team's performing poorly, Kuyt's weaknesses are exacerbated. That's been the case since Kuyt arrived.

Hodgson's shown a remarkable refusal to compromise throughout the season, including those oft-featured indignant quotes when his methods were questioned:

"What do you mean do my methods translate? They have translated from Halmstad to Malmo to Orebo to Neuchatel Xamax to the Swiss national team. So I find the question insulting. To suggest that, because I have moved from one club to another, that the methods which have stood me in good stead for 35 years and made me one of the most respected coaches in Europe don’t suddenly work, is very hard to believe."

It's easy to play fantasy football – as Purslow did this summer – but this team's crying out for something other than Hodgson's two requirements. Torres is a striker who thrives on balls to feet and when given a chance to run at defenders, not isolated and forced to hold up play with his back to goal following aimless hoofs from the defense. Gerrard's been at his best in the last five years when played behind a main striker. The Lucas/Meireles pairing was the first capable partnership we've seen since Alonso left; neither Gerrard nor Lucas combined well with the talented Mascherano last season and nothing else has looked remotely passable this campaign. Kuyt, Jovanovic, and Cole (and Maxi, to a lesser extent) are attacking forwards, not 4-4-2 wingers. Glen Johnson is an attacking fullback; along with Aurelio, he's best suited to provide width in this team. Reina needs to play short from the back instead of ordered to punt the ball into the opposition half, as this chalkboard posted on the Tomkins Times demonstrates. Neglected center-back Daniel Agger's also handy at playing the ball out of defense. But, then again, I'm an idiotic layman, not one of the most respected coaches in Europe.

This team is crying out for a formation akin to:

Johnson Skrtel Agger Aurelio
Meireles Lucas
Kuyt Gerrard Maxi

The manager with 35 years experience is the only one who can't see it. He's bound and determined to find success with "his methods," no matter how quickly the ship sinking. And the saddest part is that's only one of many reasons why he needs to go as soon as possible.

Yet it seems the new ownership is determined to accommodate Hodgson until they can make a change on their own terms. Even the best long-term intentions are subject to short-term crises. Liverpool can't wait much longer for that day to come.


Noel said...

Hear, hear. And other words of agreeing agreement.

elpool009 said...

i couldnt agree more with your assessment of the squad and our crippling formations. however, NESV will make a move, no doubt to that, but they wont make a move for the sake of the fans, nor will they make a move to install King Kenny on a caretaker basis. we need a manager of long term vision, if not a long term tenure right now. someone who will properly utilize all those central midfielders that the former administration has amassed. Martin O'neill on a trial basis, for me, would be a good place to look for the rest of this year.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please please just tell me if hodgson is staying or going in january? because this back and forth is really killing me and i need to know if i should get my hopes up or just drown in sorrow.

Anonymous said...

I've only been following football since June, and even I can tell that the formation you propose is a much better solution. Now what does that say about Roy?

Rick said...

C'mon Nate. Are you really questioning Roy's tactics? He has 35 years of experience at big European sides. Surely he's capable of managing at a big club like Liverpool and employing sound tactics. I mean, a 4-2-3-1? That seems a lot like a formation used by a certain past manager who is clearly responsible for the team's current state [/sarcastic rant].

On a more serious note, another great article. It's always a pleasure to read what you write on this site. As for the club, I can only hope that when I return home at the end of January (will be abroad without internet all month) Roy is gone and that we can put together a push for the top 6.

Ash said...

I know Liverpool have been playing below expectations, even though expectations are at their lowest since I can remember. I'm still for Roy. This Liverpool team plays nothing like his Fulham side and his Fulham players are quoted as saying that it takes a great deal of time to learn Hodgson's methods but once learnt, the performances will improve.
Roy certainly has been having a sharp period of adjustment and looks like he is showing more aggression and defensiveness in his personality than before, where he was everyone's second preference for grandfather behind Sir Bobby Robson, but I still think he can do it.

Mike said...

Hodgson: "4-2-3-1? This is blashphemy, this is madness?"
Everyone else: "Madness?...THIS IS TACTICS!"

In all seriousness, how can he not even give 4-3-2-1 a chance. Its proven to get results from(most of)these players, his own tactics clearly arent working and this formation would allow Cole to get some playing time in a position he's comfortable with.

He has to go, and with a Dir. of Football in place, you'd think it'd have to be a European name coming in,ruling out O'Neill. Van Gaal is in trouble at Bayern so he'd be in with a shout.

IDEAS said...

Oh Roy oh roy. When does he learns? When Liverpool gets relegated? or when all our players leave? It's just so depressing to see Liverpool play these days.