Fulham endured an afternoon to forget as Liverpool recovered from their defeat at the Emirates with an emphatic and convincing display which saw them run out deserved 4-0 winners at Anfield on Saturday. Liverpool fan and media discussions revolved around the big decisions now facing Brendan Rodgers, with the back three system failing to provide the team with a clean sheet in the recent weeks of experimentation. The general belief was that he would return to four at the back, while the more important questions concerned the personnel he would choose. With an almost full strength squad, Rodgers was able to make the most of some very important factors that his system would provide:
- A back four, this has already brought clean sheets this season, familiarity and solidity
- A flexible ‘flattened diamond’, utilising the best attributes of all four midfield players
- Keeping Suarez and Sturridge together up front as a two, maximizing their potential
The return of Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger to the side meant Sakho dropping to the bench and Kolo Toure missing out, while Aly Cissokho was back in at left back despite the looming return of the competition Jose Enrique will bring. As you can see, Lucas formed the base of the diamond, while Henderson and Coutinho worked either side of Gerrard further forward. They occupied the wide areas to assist the full backs, and the centre of the field to overload Parker and Sidwell (overwhelming them in the process):
The graphic above summarises a key area where Fulham struggled to contain Liverpool, a massive influence in the central areas from Coutinho, Gerrard and Henderson, all creative players in their own right. They suffered when Liverpool got into the final third, because it seemed like they had tried to identify particular players who they thought they should mark throughout the game. This completely pulled them apart due to the fluidity and interchangeability of the movement in Rodgers’ system.
Here you can see it in action – six players are drawn into the threat of Gerrard on the edge. Coutinho makes a darting central run behind Sidwell and Parker untracked, Richardson is too scared to give Sturridge space which leaves Henderson free on the right with Johnson as an outlet. Suarez plays off the shoulder of Zverotic, nipping in behind him to latch onto the through ball on this occasion – however, Liverpool also used this situation to play one-two’s in these tight spaces to great effect.
Here we see a trick that Liverpool use on a regular basis to release the full backs in high and wide areas. Gerrard picks the ball up from a deep area and anticipates the movement from Henderson to drag Dejagah out of position.
Henderson checks then makes a deep and central movement as if to receive into feet from Gerrard. Simultaneously Glen Johnson checks and then makes a high and wide movement into the vacated space:
Here you can see Dejagah realising he has been dragged away half-way through the move. Johnson is released wide and has plenty of time and space on the ball. He was the catalyst for much of Liverpool’s attacking play, and you can see this by looking at the sheer dominance on the right side of the field:
Courtesy of Whoscored.com
Liverpool bossed the game in every sense of the word, and it was a full return to the possession philosophy after the first ten games, which saw the Reds predominantly sacrificing possession for control. The system was fluid, effective, allowed pressing higher up the field upon losing possession, and also saw every single player in a comfortable, familiar position, which hasn’t always been the case this season.
The result was 67.2% possession for Liverpool and a whopping 722 passes attempted at 90% accuracy, which led to 33 shots versus Fulham’s 4 (only 1 shot on target). Rodgers will be delighted with the reaction of his players in a potential banana skin fixture, highlighting the tremendous strides they have made this season. Another positive for the Reds was Joe Allen making a cameo return to the side, coming on in Steven Gerrard’s position – arguably his most suitable role in the side – and having a calming and influential game. Liverpool keep the pressure up on Arsenal, with the Merseyside derby on the horizon, while Martin Jol may soon be out of a job unless a change of fortunes soon comes Fulham’s way.
The harsh reality is that they were ill-prepared to deal with the relentless movement and dominance that Liverpool are now capable of producing on a consistent basis. With players like Darren Bent, Adel Tarrabt and Bryan Ruiz lingering without impact this season, the teams potential is yet to be met, and things must change soon to avoid a rough season.