21 November 2011

Goal Breakdown: Suicidal Defending and Taking Advantage

Both of Liverpool's goals against Chelsea were fantastic, strikes which have an excellent chance of showing up on various best-of-season lists. The first showed the benefits of pressing from the front and quick pass and move football, the second direct football at its finest: a cross-field diagonal opening up acres of space for an attacking full-back bombing forward.

But make no mistake. Despite each goal's outstanding qualities, both came because of some suicidal decision-making from Chelsea's defense.

Cech's decision to send the goal kick to Mikel (an illegally-taken goal kick, having touched it twice, I might add...) baffles in the extreme. Four Liverpool players are closer to Mikel than any in blue. Both Terry and Luiz have gone wide, each to the left and right of the penalty box, which has to be by design. Mikel's lone option in that position is to empty it as far as humanly possible, and when he dawdles in making that decision, Adam's on him in a flash.

With Mikel out of the picture after Adam's tackle, it left Chelsea with two defending four, and Bellamy, Suarez, and Maxi's quick passing and movement rendered them irrelevant. Terry was beaten by Suarez's touch back to Bellamy, Luiz by Bellamy's extra pass to Maxi, leaving the Argentinean open to smartly finish past Cech.

The second, in the final minutes of the game, was little better from the home side's point of view.

With the ball held up on the left flank – Enrique, Downing, and Suarez successfully keeping possession after bringing the ball out from defense – Adam's pinpoint cross-field caught multiple players out of position.

Chelsea have eight defenders in their own half. Eight. Pity they're all bunched up on the wrong side of the pitch after Adam's diagonal. Terry and Luiz's positioning (circled) is exceptionally unforgivable: both far forward, both basically atop each other. Why Terry, ostensibly the left-sided center-back, is in that position is almost completely unexplainable.

Malouda and Cole are the only two defenders on the left side of the pitch in Chelsea's half, and both are closer to the center circle than the touchline. When Malouda can't get back, a retreating Ashley Cole's left one-on-one with a rampaging Johnson, who still has work to do to beat the Chelsea full-back, which he does brilliantly by shifting onto his left foot, nutmegging Cole in the process. Kuyt's run into the box keeps both Luiz and Terry occupied, leaving England's Brave Captain unable to clear off the line after he decides to stick closer to the already-marked Kuyt instead of bailing out Cole and Malouda.

Liverpool needed smart, sublime plays from its attackers in both cases: excellent pressing from a central midfielder and divine interplay between three of the front four in the first case; Adam's pass and Johnson's run in the second. And Dalglish's tactical chess – first half pressing, second half counter-attack – provided the platform for Liverpool to get both goals. But both were infinitely aided by Chelsea's defensive decisions: a strange clear-out leaving Mikel isolated on the first; positional indiscipline (especially in drifting toward the ball) as well as Luiz and Terry's indecision on the second.

The media's quick to draw knifes, as we've seen unfairly happen to Dalglish following Liverpool's multiple disappointing draws. But after conceding in this fashion, it's little wonder that those knifes are out for Villas-Boas this morning.

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