03 August 2013

Liverpool 2-0 Olympiakos

Allen 23'
Henderson 63'

Yep, it's almost the start of the season
There was only one change to the starting XI which faced Thailand six days ago: Sterling for Borini, with Aspas moving back into the middle. Otherwise, same players, same formation: a 'more orthodox' 4-3-3, with three mobile forwards and both Allen and Gerrard ahead of Lucas as an out-and-out defensive midfielder. Are you sensing a trend here?

Allen and Gerrard's movement
And like against Thailand, Allen and Gerrard were both demonstrably ahead of Lucas, used further forward than either were last season. There were multiple occasions that Allen and Gerrard were both inside the penalty box, that Allen was the furthest forward attacker. And those runs into the box from midfield are a necessary development with the way that Aspas, Suarez, and Coutinho (and, ostensibly, Luis Alberto) play: mobile attackers who drop deep, pull wide, and cover almost every blade of grass in the attacking third. All too often, Liverpool were reliant on Suarez to get into the box and make magic last season, because no one else was in there.

It's no exaggeration to suggest Allen should have had a hat-trick in the first half. He missed a close-range volley after an audacious Aspas backheel as well a free header from Gerrard's deep cross, so we'll have to settle for this tap-in, again set up by Aspas.

If this tactic continues, Liverpool's ability to cope with counter attacks will be a worry. Or maybe, more accurately, "remain" a worry; counter-attacks were worrisome enough last season. Lucas looks fitter than he was in 2012-13, while Toure's quicker than Skrtel or Carragher, but there's a reason that Rodgers relied on two sitting midfielders for almost all of last season, especially after the opening five or so matches.

Iago Aspas
As implied in the last section, Aspas was the other start of the show in the first half along with Allen. The Spaniard is capable of some magic tricks to rival Suarez ("they're illusions, Michael!"): the aforementioned back heel for Allen, a Cryuff turn in the box, always looking to run at, spin, and embarrass defenders in whatever way seems plausible. I think we're going to enjoy the Aspas era. Chaos is come again.

Coutinho on the left
But preseason's usual star was one who underwhelmed in that first half. As we saw at times last season, Coutinho didn't get enough of the ball to truly threaten when used on the left, more concerned with keeping position and tracking back to support Enrique when needed.

That changed in the opening stage of the second half, with the Brazilian determined to come inside to get on the ball more often, highlighted by his immaculate long throughball – reminiscent of assists at Newcastle last season – which Sterling chipped over the keeper but narrowly wide.

I'm very curious to see how this plays out over the course of the season. Will Rodgers stick with the more 4-3-3 formation, with Coutinho 'relegated' to the left (which the pursuit of Mhkitaryan heavily suggests is an option), or will Coutinho be used as his squad number suggests, a playmaking #10 where he's been so impressive? The answer is probably "both, depending on the opposition" but it's something to keep an eye on.

And then it became a testimonial
Until Liverpool's second goal – incredibly well-taken by the substitute Henderson, demonstrating the finishing ability (with his weaker foot!) that we need to see from him – this was actually a competitive friendly. As increasingly demonstrated during the Asia Tour, Rodgers is taking preseason seriously, working the side into full fitness as soon as possible in the hopes of starting the season vastly better than the last campaign.

But then a testimonial broke out, mostly because of Fowler and Carragher's entrances. That's what testimonials are for, after all.

The highlights from there were John Aldridge, in the stands, chortling at Fowler's errant, too-slow tackle; Suarez doing his frustrated hop when Fowler was unable to get on the end of a chipped throughball, followed by Fowler just smiling at him; and a wonderful chance for Fowler – set up by Sterling and Gerrard – ungratefully blocked by an Olympiakos defender. The cur.

A day, and a celebration, deserving of Liverpool's current captain. Thank you, Steven Gerrard.


sbjensen said...

"If this tactic continues, Liverpool's ability to cope with counter attacks will be a worry."
True, but... counter-attacks are always going to be the kryptonite for any attacking, possession-based approach. And Rodgers has always clearly advocated that approach.

And, you're certainly also correct that a true 4-3-3 -- as LFC played today -- is more vulnerable to counters than the 4-2-3-1 that Rodgers played most of last season.

But, the team has been much more compact in this preseason, with a higher defensive line, as compared with last season. We're seeing the centerbacks intercept passes in the opposing team's half several times a game. That almost never happened last year.

Now, I don't think we can do this against the best teams in the Premier League. But, especially on today's evidence, I think we will do it quite effectively against everyone else. And, if so, I think it will be awesome.

nate said...

It's a fair point, and – credit where due – Liverpool have played five preseason matches without conceding a single goal, but as Chelsea (mainly under Villas-Boas) and Arsenal last season can attest, playing a compact formation with a high-line defense can be a dangerous game in the Premier League.

Biggestfandownunder said...

I think, as a regular strtegy, we might see Couthino played on the left through the first half, moving more into the middle into the second half against weary defenders aided by tactical midfield substitutions. Similar to what we saw today.

Quicksloth said...

Just wanted to say I liked the Arrested Development reference. Rest of the wrap-up was on point, good read.