One week later and it looked like a different Liverpool team that took to the field against Gomel. Of course we had two great players back in Lucas and Suarez that no doubt helped the cause immensely. However, it wasn’t just the return of these two individuals that heralded a captivating Liverpool performance; it was also clear that with each passing week Rodgers’ ideas are taking hold and starting to burrow deep into the playing style of the club.
The defence looked a lot more solid as it got to grips with different demands and players came to terms with dropping in to cover each other when out of position. There was a lot to take from the game against Gomel that was both heartening and exciting for the new season ahead.
Pressing the opposition
Liverpool’s pressing in the game was fantastic, right from the off, not only as a team but also as individuals. It was intelligent, fast and measured. When Gomel did get possession we did very well to squeeze the play into a containment area. Doing this made the pitch as small as possible for Gomel to play in, meaning we were able to win possession back quite quickly.
Gerrard’s goal came as a result of Suarez’ battling run into the box after pressing a Gomel player and dispossessing him. Later on Glen Johnson was first to react first to a ball he had no right to. The Gomel coach would be disappointed conceding a goal from the position illustrated.
If we take a look at the tackling stats (below), a couple of things stand out for me. The dominance of Skrtel and Agger both aerially and on the ground. Enrique’s stats also suggest he is much more comfortable with the approach we took (see lop-sided formation below) and also dispel the notions that his loss of form last season was a reflection of his true ability. Still it was only Gomel and he will have doubters to still prove wrong. We can also see the hard work put in Suarez and Borini up front, not only intercepting loose passes and hustling opposition players, but also keeping the ball and winning possession for the team. In the middle Shelvey and Lucas also dominated their area of play. This is in summary, Liverpool showing their level of quality above the opposition, but also their tenacity and willingness to make up for the disappointment in Belarus.
Liverpool were helped by a poor defensive display from Gomel. The offside trap was undisciplined at best. Time and again Liverpool were able to break through from the final third into the box, or play a ball across the centre back and behind the full back into real danger areas.
There were also acres of space on the right hand side of Gomel’s defence which Suarez, Borini and Gerrard were able to exploit with ease. We were able to fashion some real quality chances as a result of this. What’s nicer to see is that the chances created are spread amongst the team. The best chances fell to Gerrard and Downing. After last season’s largely inconsistent and anonymous performances, Gerrard being given license to roam clearly benefits the team and himself, and he was unlucky not to score instead of striking the base of the post. In the last couple of games Downing has scored one and is now having more chances being presented to him. The experiment to play him on the right last season looked like it might bear fruit and I think it’s clear that he has more to offer in this area, than simply staying wide, like Jermaine Pennant for example.
There was a real emphasis on Johnson providing the width on the right hand side. In the second half there appeared to be a switch of tactic as we were comfortable and trying to mirror the first half on the left flank. It worked to an extent and Johnson and Downing swapped a bit more. Johnson’s goal actually came from him coming inside on this occasion.
Enrique stayed back a bit more and with the space in front of him invited Gomel to come at him. He was in imperious form and his distribution was excellent when he won the ball. He didn’t dwell as per last season (possibly because of more options to pass to).
What this led to was a lot of space on Gomel’s right hand side which was exploited marvellously by Suarez and Gerrard. The formation allowed Gerrard to roam freely round this area and he basically went where the space was. The interchanges between Gerrard, Borini and Suarez were fantastic to watch and have really excited the senses for what is to come.
Enrique seemed to excel by ‘keeping it simple’ and not having the pressure of also needing to be creative, therefore making his darting runs much more effective when he did venture forward – they were well-timed runs specifically to exploit the space in front and not frustratingly running into traffic.
One aspect of the defensive work and fluid transitions was the fantastic covering work by a lot of the players on the night. To the left we can see Agger striding forward with the ball and Lucas immediately drops deeper and fills in for Agger.
This was a very measured and effective way of making quicker transitions. “If you can, then do” seem to be the mantra, with an emphasis on team mates dropping in to cover these forays forward.
To the right we can see that after a corner, Gomel had a chance of breaking down our right. Enrique got across to cover and put the ball out (highlighted in blue). We won a throw in and then were back in possession. Whilst Enrique was still stranded out on the right, Shelvey intelligently dropped into left back to cover until he had time to traverse the pitch.
The transition has not been instantaneous but the speed of development has been impressive. The defence now has a solid platform and style to free up the focus of development onto midfield and attack.
The passing was everything the away fixture was not. It was firm and it was positive. You can see the angles are much more aggressive and cutting in their nature. And this continued throughout the game. If the angles are there, the football will be played into them. If the opportunity was there to go forward we took it. We played with more freedom that reservation, more fluidity than rigidity. These angled passes are the keystone of Rodgers philosophy, they limit the need for a specialist trequartista much like Wenger’s style does. The lateral passes keep possession and move position, the transition to these sharp angled balls takes advantage of the space that is created. It has to be incisive and quick, and much to my, and others delight, it was. Let’s hope this is a marker for the rest of the season.
The quality of passing and consistency is clearly highlighted in the stats from the game as illustrated (below). Lowest passing accuracy by Luis Suarez is still 78% – not to be sniffed at. The back five possession stats are fantastic and reflect the lack of attacking threat and pressure of Gomel, and also how Rodgers ideas are taking hold of that careful slow buildup from the back. Even Carragher’s stats look quite healthy and as we see less of Jamie at this point of career, there is much to suggest we will also see less of the punt to safety that is often synonymous with him. When all is said and done it was a great display and the evidence is building that Rodgers impact so far has been nothing short of tremendous, considering how little time he has spent with some of these players. He will need this level of improvement as we do not have the easiest starts to the league campaign and the microscope will firmly be focused on this first month or two.