14 March 2012

Converting Defense Into Attack

That goal-scoring has been one of Liverpool's greatest problems is no great secret. But Liverpool's first two goals last night – more specifically, how Liverpool scored those goals with quick transitions from defense to attack – shows the promise in this side. If Liverpool play a certain way.

The first was an archetypal break from defense.

Enrique's interception and pass, a one-touch layoff from Suarez, Downing's run into the opposition half before returning the ball to Suarez as central pivot, another one-touch move – a give and go with Henderson, which led to a throughball for Kelly, fortunately directed into his path by Gerrard. From Enrique's interception to Kelly's shot, Liverpool's procession from one penalty box to the other took all of 15 seconds.

This was Suarez at his most influential; he didn't have to singlehandedly conjure brilliance, but was the hub for the entire move, completing pass-and-move triangles with both Downing and Henderson before releasing Kelly. It would have been more aesthetically pleasing had the right-back finished the move – Brazil's hallmark goal in the 1970 World Cup made all the better because Carlos Alberto tallied it – but Liverpool scored despite Howard's save because Liverpool got midfielders into Everton's penalty box.

When Kelly takes his shot, Liverpool have five attackers in the penalty area – Kelly, Carroll, Henderson, Suarez, and Gerrard – matching Everton's five defenders. Five evenly-spaced attackers, all consciously trying to find space away from markers. No matter where Kelly's rebound fell, a Liverpool player had an excellent chance of following up. Which Gerrard did, sublimely.

For Liverpool's second, Kelly tackled Pienaar just inside Liverpool's half. 12 seconds later, after two passes and one mazy run, Gerrard slammed the ball into the back of the net.

Moments like this are why Henderson seems so promising. He immediately turns, gets his head up, and charges forward, instinctively starting the break as quickly as possible. Suarez takes off, splitting the retreating center-backs, both on the back foot not expecting Everton to cheaply concede possession. Gerrard's also beginning his burst forward, as is Downing on the far left.

And this is where Suarez makes goals by being Suarez. He'd ignored Henderson's run into the box, seemingly selfishly, preferring to take Distin on at the byline with a typical mazy dribble. But because he's Suarez, he beats Distin, then Jagielka for good measure.

Right here is where Suarez has had to take the shot in numerous other games, a shot which is probably saved by Howard or cleared off the line by Rodwell. But because Gerrard kills himself to get into the box once again, not picked up by Baines covering in the middle, Suarez has someone to pass to. Someone who isn't Downing, with two defenders between him and Suarez, or Carroll, who planted himself at the top of the box for an unlikely cutback.

It's not Route 1 football – which we saw at times yesterday, most notably when Reina's goal kick to Carroll was flicked on for Suarez, his shot saved by Howard – but it's direct football, whether with a quick counter-attack from Liverpool's own half or because Liverpool won the ball by challenging the opposition in their half. Move the ball at pace, before the defense settles, and move with pace without the ball. Those two goals were similar to some of the best that Liverpool have scored this season: Suarez's equalizer against Stoke in the Carling Cup and both goals in the 2-1 league win at Chelsea, among others. Too few others.

This team has been most potent when in free flow. Whether we've not seen it enough because of Liverpool personnel or tactics, or because most opponents don't allow it, is a valid question, one I'm not wholly equipped to answer. Having both Gerrard and Suarez at their best, combined with another attacker in Carroll and with Henderson and Downing both having bright moments, certainly helped. Gerrard, Suarez, and Carroll have started three matches, and Liverpool have won all three, scoring 11 against Brighton, Cardiff, and Everton. Even though he didn't score, pushing his lone chance wide of the post early in the second half, Carroll demonstrated that he's not a fish out of water in a quick passing, quick movement style of play.

As written in yesterday's match review, Liverpool need to take these tactical successes into account in the future. Quick, cohesive transitions have seen the team at its most promising during this transitional season. It's lead to an attack few can cope with when on top form, but that top form hasn't been displayed anywhere near enough.

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