04 October 2012

Liverpool 2-3 Udinese

Shelvey 23'
Di Natale 46'
Coates og 70'
Pasquale 72'
Suarez 75'

Liverpool involved in another high-scoring shoot-out. Two group stage games, 13 combined goals. It has been unexpected to say the least.

But this one shouldn't have been a shoot-out. Liverpool were in control in the first half, exactly to Rodgers' template, and took a 1-0 lead midway through the half thanks to an excellent Shelvey header when he charged into the box to get on the end of Downing's cross, once again proving the importance of midfield runners. Sure, as always, Liverpool could have done with more goals, with better finishing, but Udinese were defending excellently even if they had no idea how to regain possession. To say that Liverpool were dominant would be an understatement bordering on criminality.

This one picture adequately recaps the first 45 minutes.

It took 15 minutes for Liverpool to settle, with Reina making excellent saves on Di Natale's blast and Benetia's header, but from there, it was the now-ubiquitous (and now-somewhat-tiresome) death by football. Henderson and Allen dominated the middle, Shelvey was a constant threat, Coates and Carragher closed off any potential counters, and even Downing contributed, evidenced by his first assist in some time. By the 45th minute, Udinese had forgotten what the ball looked like; Liverpool had 78% possession in the half despite those shaky opening 15 minutes.

Credit for the second half comeback goes to Guidolin's tactical changes, with a heavy dash of Liverpool being Liverpool and two outstanding finishes. Udinese replaced the wholly ineffective Armero with Lazzari, and the substitute was immediately involved in the equalizer, finished off brilliantly by Di Natale. Just 33 seconds into the half. Unfortunately, the move began with Glen Johnson, unable to control Udinese's hoofed long-ball, giving it directly to Lazzari, then passed quickly from the midfielder to Pereyra to Di Natale to Lazzari, moving into the space vacated by Johnson, centering straight back for the talismanic striker to wonderfully finish first-time.

The substitution changed Udinese's formation from 3-4-2-1 to 3-5-1-1, with Lazzari deeper than Armero and Pereyra roaming behind Di Natale. It rendered Liverpool's midfield unable to dominate as they had in the first 45 minutes, struggling to replicate the control they had in the first half. Lazzari, Pinzi, and Badu pressured Henderson and Allen, thoroughly cutting off the supply line forward.

After 65 minutes, Rodgers' response was to call in the cavalry, Suarez and Gerrard replacing Assaidi and Henderson. But rather than reinforce Liverpool, Udinese went up 3-1 within seven minutes.

The funny thing – if you have a sense of humor about these things – is that Liverpool should have gone 2-1 up just before the dam broke: Udinese half-cleared a Gerrard free-kick straight to Suarez, who rocketed a shot towards the far corner. But somehow, Shelvey blocked it on the goal line, a near-perfect replica of what happened to Norwich in Liverpool's last match, when Snodgrass kept Norwich from equalizing not long after the second-half restart.

Udinese stormed down the field, with Borini fouling Badu to stop the breakaway. And then Udinese made their set play count, again taking advantage of Liverpool's propensity for errors coupled with misfortunate as Coates headed into his own net when both Domizzi and Benatia found space between him and Carragher.

With Liverpool on tilt, Udinese added a third less than two minutes later. Robinson stopped one counter-attack after Gerrard lost possession, but the captain then lost it a second time, unsurprisingly pushing forward with reckless ambition. Badu's chipped ball over the top, Di Natale controlling around Carragher all too easily, sucking both Coates and Johnson into the center, then laying off for the on-rushing Pasquale, who hammered a sumptuous low drive past Reina. Yikes.

It's no wonder Rodgers' post-match quotes were so damning.
"It was a game where we were much the better side but lost our concentration at the beginning of the second half. I thought we'd moved on from that, to be honest. We had total control in the first half and were deservedly in the lead, but we were so loose at the beginning of the second half it was frightening. Our concentration was very poor and before we knew it we were 3-1 down. The last 20 minutes was very good but it's too late by then. I thought we were lazy. Lazy in our play, loose and sloppy."

Suarez's brilliance pulled one back not long after, a magisterial free kick from outside the box in the 75th – but Udinese's deep, well-organized defense weren't likely to allow another. Not that Liverpool didn't have chances. But Suarez headed straight at Brkic from Downing's deep cross then had a near-post effort saved, while Sterling had a dangerous shot blocked then curled a narrow-angled effort high and wide. Liverpool's final chance, through the surprisingly-not-terrible Downing, was hit directly at the keeper, an apt summation of his time at the club despite the promise intermittently demonstrated today.

75% possession. 20 shots to eight. 691 completed passed to Udinese's 173. 91% pass accuracy to Udinese's 72%. Joe Allen was Liverpool's top passer with 127 completed. Roberto Pereyra was Udinese's top passer with 22 completed. All 11 Liverpool starters, including the goalkeeper, completed more passes than Udinese's most prolific player. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

What makes this so disappointing is that aside from the five minutes to start the second half and that five-minute stretch from the 69th-74th minute, Liverpool played how Rodgers wants Liverpool to play. Everyone impressed in the first half, less so in the second, but Coates and Jack Robinson were standouts despite conceding three goals, Allen controlled the game, Henderson was outstanding in the first half (although Udinese's changes rendered him far less effective), Shelvey scored a great goal because of a clever run into a box and an intelligent cross from Downing, and Suarez was a permanent threat after coming on the pitch.

But Liverpool lost, because Liverpool cannot stop conceding stupid, sloppy goals due to a lack of concentration, individual errors, and bad luck. Whether it's in the Premier League, the League Cup, or the Europa League, this simply has got to stop.


Ryan said...

I am convinced that every time Gerrard gives away a cheap ball in the middle of the pitch, it will directly lead to an opposition goal.

Anonymous said...

I think when you use the word "magisterial" to describe a goal, shot, pass or move you need to include "copyright Ray Hudson".

Nice piece as always. Never quite understand how you process them so quickly on weekday afternoons.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Nate, how do you crank these out so quick? Do you work from home/are a student?

BackBergtt said...

When Coates made the standing tackle on Di Natale (believe it was, anyhow) that surely saved an inevitable 1v1 goal I thought to myself that it could be a huge moment in his development. Really hope that the OG doesn't get in his head.

In no way shape or form should Carragher start against Anzhi. If we're serious about progressing you cannot throw him out against Eto'o.

Anonymous said...

We are conceding way too many goals but I think you are being to generous when you attribute this to several reasons and leave out the possibility that it is in part due to the system that we are playing which leaves us vulnerable to counter attacks.

Biggestfandownunder said...

As always, first class article Nate ... For me bang on target.

In response to the last anonymous comment concerning the system ... The system cannot be blamed for most of our goals conceded ... School boy errors.

Anonymous said...

Personally I would argue the following goals were a result of the system

2nd goal West Brom
2nd goal Man City
1st and 2nd goals Arsenal
2nd goal Man U
3rd today

It seems to me that this year the team is especially susceptible to counter attacks. I hope that this is just some early growing pains that will subside with additional experience but I for one am not convinced that tiki taka will ultimately work in the prem as teams will not hesitate to park the bus and hit us on the break.


nate said...

Well, what you do mean by "the system"? What leaves Liverpool vulnerable to counter-attacks? The defense playing higher up the pitch? Liverpool possession leading to more men going forward than Liverpool should commit because of its propensity for defensive errors?

Regardless, I disagree with a lot of your examples.

2nd West Brom goal: Skrtel dawdles in defense, Dowd calls a very soft penalty. Done and done. Not a counter attack.
2nd Man City goal: Again, individual error, again from Skrtel. That Liverpool prefer to play back to the goal rather than hoofing up the field wasn't responsible. Skrtel was responsible because he didn't turn or look before playing the back pass. Not a counter attack.
1st Arsenal goal: I'll give you this one, because Arsenal diced through Liverpool's soft midfield as neither Şahin nor Allen covered the middle, but again, it started through a Liverpool error, a Gerrard giveaway in the attacking third with multiple Liverpool players (full-backs and midfielders) caught upfield.
2nd Arsenal goal: Down to a slick Arsenal passing move more than Liverpool defense failures, except that Reina really, really should have saved the shot. Not a counter attack.
2nd goal Man U: Wasn't a penalty. United move started with Agger giveaway in United half because Liverpool were pouring men forward looking for a winner despite being down to ten men. Still, not a penalty.
3rd today: Liverpool tracked back well enough to stop the first counter-attack, but then Gerrard gave it away again. Liverpool should have had the defenders to deal with Udinese's punt forward, but Di Natale out-maneuvered Carragher, then Coates and Johnson tried to compensate, leaving Pasquale open. That Pasquale scored from Johnson's zone means I'm more likely to blame him. Again, not a system failing, but individual failings. The counter attack should have been dealt with.

Last year's team was fairly susceptible to counter attacks as well. The perils of missing Lucas, among other things.

More importantly, counter attacks happen less often when Liverpool don't stupidly, unnecessarily concede possession. Hint hint, Gerrard. Or Agger. Or others not mentioned in the goals above.

If anything, Liverpool's set play defending – which is mostly zonal – bears more blame than the open play system: Udinese's second today, Young Boys' second goal, the failure to clear before Hearts' goal (mostly Reina's error), West Brom's League Cup goal (also more due to goalkeeper error), an excellent chance for Norwich's equalizer last Saturday. But it's not as if Liverpool's haven't struggled on set play defending under other managers, whether zonal or man-marking.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with most of that, I think giveaways are, to an extent, inevitable for any team. We're just giving up goals for the majority of our mistakes that lead to counters, which is unusual. I think THAT can be attributed to the system.

I agree with your assessments for the most of the goals cited above, except:

1st Arsenal goal. We missed Lucas here, you're definitely right. Having the double pivot rush forward without cover was a mistake, but I don't think you can pin the blame entirely on the players. Some responsibility lies with the system that day, though I do think a lot of it has to do with unfamiliarity for both Allen and Sahin.

2nd goal Man U. The very fact that we were so unbalanced and open led the to the fact that Johnson was chasing, rather than defending. Yes, we were searching for a winner. Yes, we were down to 10. Yes, it shouldn't have been a penalty. But I don't think you can wholly acquit the system for the situation that led to the bad call and Man U's winner.

3rd today. Johnson messed up, yes. Gerrard messed up, yes. We were unlucky that the strike from outside the box was so accurate, yes. But the situation was caused in part by the system and by the fact that we were caught out without good cover.

ErictheRed said...

Goddamn I wish we could have one game where we finished chances like those Italians today.

Schoffle said...


I do respect your footballing opinion, which is why I look forward to your post game analysis after every game, so I certainly do not want this discussion to become heated. But I do think that your desire to see beautiful football is causing you to give Rodgers a bit of a pass for what I see as vulnerabilities of the system, conversely my own disappointment in seeing Kenny dismissed probably makes me reluctant to embrace Rodgers.

Anyway when you asked about what I meant by “the system” you pretty much nailed my position when you said “The defense playing higher up the pitch…Liverpool possession leading to more men going forward…” I would however change is the last part “…than Liverpool should commit because of its propensity for defensive errors” I believe that having players pushing forward while primarily looking to retain possession is a feature not a bug of the Rodgers system. And this feature is what tends to be the Achilles heel of the system in that when the team loses possession they are susceptible to counter attacks and I really don’t see why this would be viewed as a controversial statement.

As for the specific goal breakdown I realize that an after the fact argument about specific game events is not one that I will be able to win. So I will pass this on to some who is probably much better at this than I am and steal a few quotes from a blogger whose opinion I believe you will respect

2nd West Brom

“West Brom stormed down the pitch with Liverpool wholly wide open in the middle as both Lucas and Allen had come forward to join the attack. Morrison found Shane Long with a long through-ball, taking full advantage of Liverpool's high back line”


“Agger's red card started from one of those five unsuccessful attacking third passes, the mistake compounded by losing possession with so many Liverpool players in West Brom's half, as both Allen and Lucas went forward when Gerrard dropped deeper to receive possession.”

2nd Man City

“ Liverpool have become heavily reliant on the back pass by design, looking to take the sting out of the match and regroup with Reina. It's understandable that when Skrtel was put under pressure by Dzeko, he immediately thought of going back to his keeper.”

There were other quotes for other games (ManU and Sunderland) but these two seem to be the most on point, also given that I rewatched yesterdays game I will gladly concede that the 3rd goal had nothing with “the system”.

Anyway look forward to Sundays game and reading your analysis of it.


nate said...


When players mess up zonally marking on a set play, is the system's fault or the player's fault? What about when it's man-marking?

If Team A concedes because Team B finally makes the breakthrough after 85 minutes of Team A hoofing the ball out of defense, is the Team A system at fault because their style of football invites so much pressure – whether or not the goal could also be blamed on a defender's error?

First off, I thought you mean West Brom's second goal – the penalty which led to Agger's red card wasn't scored. Like Arsenal's first, I'm "happy" to concede that one, although again, there's a lot of fault with the attacking player who gave the ball away in a dangerous position (cough Gerrard cough).

There's a reason Brendan Rodgers' system, in addition to the facets mentioned above, also requires players to keep possession, to be careful with the ball, to not give it away cheaply. Because goals like those listed above can happen.

I guess I differentiate between system and player when there's a clear scapegoat. I know what I wrote about Skrtel v City, but regardless of system, that's an unforgivable individual error, even more than Gerrard's giveaways leading to a WBA penalty and an Arsenal goal. An individual error which can't be blamed on the manager. Just like similarly unforgivable back-passes from Gerrard against Chelsea and Arsenal a few years ago weren't the fault of Benitez's system.

Rodgers' style of play was always going to lead to some goals like Arsenal's first and the first penalty opportunity for West Brom. And there have admittedly been too many; I didn't think it'd be harder for the defense to adjust than the midfield or attack. But the benefits have also been evident in, say, 80 of the 90 minutes against Udinese, the Norwich match, 75-80 minutes of the Sunderland match, most of the Manchester City match, etc etc. I have to believe it will get better, and the angry nature of Rodgers' post-match comments yesterday reinforces that notion. He expects better because we've seen better, we've seen progress since West Brom and Arsenal.

Finally, trust me, I don't take offense to being questioned. I've been wrong before, there have been times I've contradicted myself, and both will probably happen multiple times in the future. And if my response seems unduly harsh or abrupt, please don't take offense either. I can kind of be an ass sometimes.


Liverpool did. It was the Norwich match last Saturday. It just doesn't happen enough.

Schoffle said...

Crap, your right that penalty wasn’t scored, now I need to look up the third goal as it has escaped my memory and will bother me throughout the weekend.

Again from what I am reading our disagreement looks to be more about semantics along with some finer points than this discussion would suggest. Essentially you place the blame on the individual errors while I place blame at the overall scheme in which individual errors ends up leading to easy opportunities. I just don’t see how the errors will be eliminated without heavily sacrificing the aggressiveness that leads to chance creation.

Interesting to me that you bring up Norwich as an example of the benefits of the system as that game for me is very much an example of what I see as the weakness of the system as it was a game that without a doubt we dominated yet they were able to create 11 chances.