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Football Focus, Aston Villa-Liverpool: Brendan Rodgers’ vision for fluidity in attack

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source:  Liverpool’s narrow 1-0 win at Aston Villa on Saturday showcased a contrast of styles in each half of play from the Reds. The free-flowing style that manager Brendan Rodgers has tried to instill shined through in the first half, but it shrank as time wore on and Villa pressed for an equalizer.

Both teams started similar lineups as in previous league games in the young 2013-14 season, with Liverpool preferring a two-man central pair of Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva, while Aston Villa played three in the middle again.

In effect, Liverpool cut its lineup into an attacking block and a defending block, with those two central players creating a conduit between them. Gerrard and Lucas took turns pressing underneath Philippe Coutinho, Iago Aspas and Jordan Henderson.

Gerrard and Coutinho were the Reds’ primary playmakers, Gerrard from a deeper position and Coutinho higher up the field. Lucas’ role primarily consisted of winning balls and sweeping up defensively.

Aston Villa’s midfield triangle played much flatter than usual in the first half, causing its wingers to tuck in and leaving space on the outside.

Constant interchange and movement

When Villa had the ball, Liverpool dropped into two blocks of four defensively.


Aspas worked closely with target striker Daniel Sturridge on both sides of the ball, remaining high as a quick outlet for breakout passes. Wingers Henderson and Coutinho dropped even with Lucas and Gerrard, leaving space into which they could run in transition.

In attack, the players interchanged constantly and overlapped one another at every opportunity.


Primary movements included Coutinho tucking inside to find the ball and Aspas pressing alongside Sturridge on the front line. This gave left back José Enrique the space to overlap often, and Liverpool usually had two forward runners on balls played through.

Sturridge’s work rate creates game’s only goal

No play symbolized Liverpool’s attacking movement better than its goal. Sturridge started on the left wing, drifted inside and ended up finishing the play inside the six-yard box. He covered an immense amount of ground without ever really sprinting, all because he kept looking for open spaces to exploit.


As Liverpool looks to counter-attack, Sturridge drifts into the channel to possibly exploit a one-on-one situation or open up space for Aspas to run centrally.


He decides to hold the ball up and play centrally through the midfielders. Sturridge dribbles toward the middle of the field before laying the ball off. Meanwhile, José Enrique overlaps again on the left. After he gives the ball up, Sturridge continues his bent run toward the forward line, allowing the play to develop and searching for a gap into which he can run.


Both he and Coutinho (who has drifted centrally once more) find themselves in the soft space between Villa’s defensive and midfield lines. Instead of taking on Matthew Lowton one-on-one, José Enrique decides to serve the ball into the middle, where Liverpool has numerical superiority.


Now comes the tough decision for Villa’s defenders: do they step up and try to cut the pass out to Sturridge and Coutinho, or do they delay and wait for a midfielder to back-tackle? Ron Vlaar decides to step, thinking he can take the ball off Coutinho.

But instead, Coutinho dummies the ball through to Sturridge, and because Vlaar is now out of position, the forward finds himself one-on-one with Antonio Luna. Any forward in the world would salivate at the prospect of taking a player on in the penalty area and scoring, and Sturridge does well to round Luna and goalkeeper Brad Guzan before slotting it in.

A game of two halves

Aston Villa clawed for an equalizer for the remainder of the match, putting Liverpool on the back foot, especially in the second half. Liverpool’s defensive shell resulted from a combination of its desire to keep a slim lead on the road and Villa’s tactical changes to attack more dangerously.


Instead of holding deeper positions next to Ashley Westwood, Leandro Bacuna and Fabian Delph pressed higher in Villa’s midfield triangle. It more closely resembled Villa’s shape in its first two league matches, which could be described as a traditional 4-3-3.

That allowed the wingers to stay wider, which put Liverpool on the back foot defensively. As the match wore on, the Reds’ line of confrontation dropped deeper and deeper, until Sturridge eventually began his team’s defensive work in his own half.


His starting position dropped even deeper than Liverpool’s half of the center circle, which allowed it to condense its two blocks of four even further. Villa had no space to play within 25 yards of goal. Liverpool astutely held a deep but firm position, allowing the ball to play around in front but never getting too close to the penalty area.

In effect, Liverpool bunkered down and held on tightly for three points on the road. Villa completed 50 of 79 attempted passes in its attacking third of the field in the second half, compared to 30 out of 47 in the first, but it could not find a way past goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who again made a couple crucial saves.

Attacking for 90 minutes

Ideally, Liverpool would like to be on the front foot all game long. A free-flowing system starts to look even better when a team goes up by two or more goals because then the opponent gets stretched out, looking for a response, giving more room to play combinations and run into spaces. So far, Liverpool has only been able to get its goal and then drop deep to keep the slimmest of leads.

Early in the season, teams are rarely able to convert the majority of their scoring opportunities. Although Liverpool’s players showed great understanding when moving forward with the ball, that should only get better as they get more of a chance to train together and establish a rhythm (not to mention getting Luis Suárez back from suspension).

For now, manager Brendan Rodgers will be happy — but not satisfied. His team still has work to do to become an attacking force for 90 minutes.

If you missed the match, or if you want to re-watch it in its entirety, here it is:

On-loan Manchester United striker James Wilson suffers ACL tear

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 06:  James Wilson of Manchester United celebrates scoring the second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford on May 6, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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James Wilson‘s loan spell at Derby County has likely been cut brutally short.

Having made just four league appearances for the Rams since being loaned to the Championship side from Manchester United this summer, the 21-year-old ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in training on Monday, and has since seen the damage confirmed by tests.

The club announced the injury on Friday, with manager Steve McClaren saying in a statement, “It’s incredibly disappointing news that James has suffered an injury like this. Only last week I was saying how much I was looking forward to working with him because he is an exciting young talent. I know that he will bounce back from this disappointment, especially as well as being a very good player he is also a strong and determined character.”

It’s possible that Wilson misses the entire rest of the season due to the injury, although a six-month layoff would see him able to possibly return by late April.

Of Wilson’s four league appearances for Derby, he started in three of them but failed to log more than 65 minutes in any game. He did not score across those four appearances, although he did net for the club’s academy side in an EFL trophy match with Doncaster in early October.

Wilson has made 20 appearances across all competitions for his parent club Manchester United, scoring a brace against Hull City in his Premier League debut in May of 2014. However, he has not appeared for the Red Devils in nearly two years, instead seeing time on loan at Brighton Hove & Albion for much of last season before moving to Derby before the season. Wilson’s loss is a big one for the Rams, who are struggling in 20th place in the Championship table after narrowly missing out on a chance at promotion each of the past three seasons.

Brazil names squad to face trauma and Messi in WC qualifiers

BRASILIA, BRAZIL - JUNE 23: (L-R) Willian, Neymar and David Luiz of Brazil react after defeating Cameroon 4-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Cameroon and Brazil at Estadio Nacional on June 23, 2014 in Brasilia, Brazil.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil not only faces Argentina in World Cup qualifying next month but also the ghost of the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals, coach Tite said on Friday.

Brazil plays Lionel Messi’s side in the same Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte on Nov. 10. Five days later, Brazil is in Peru.

[ MORE: Neymar signs new deal ]

“The psychological work has been perfectly placed. We have to see that two years have passed. That time has brought us maturity,” Tite said at his squad announcement. “It is the same stadium, but we have to know that this is a different moment.”

There were few changes to the squad, which features the return of Bayern Munich winger Douglas Costa and Real Madrid defender Marcelo after injuries, and the absence of Chelsea midfielder Oscar.

Tite started out with convincing victories against Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Venezuela, which lifted Brazil from sixth position in South American qualifying to first. But his dream of coaching the five-time world champion will seem more real, he said, when they meet fifth-place Argentina and Messi.

“I am living a dream that every Brazilian coach has. To be in a Brazil v Argentina is a great honor,” he said. “To face Messi and all his virtues is such a challenge.”


Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Weverton (Atletico Paranaense), Alex Muralha (Flamengo).

Defenders: Dani Alves (Juventus), Fagner (Corinthians), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Miranda (Inter Milan), Gil (Shandong Luneng), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Rodrigo Caio (Sao Paulo).

Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Giuliano (Zenit St. Petersburg), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Lucas Lima (Santos), Willian (Chelsea).

Forwards: Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich), Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras), Neymar (Barcelona), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool).

MLS weekend preview: Four playoff spots, Supporters’ Shield on the line

SANDY, UT - MARCH 12: Jordan Morris #13 of the Seattle Sounders FC and Chris Wingert #16 of Real Salt Lake try for the ball in the first half at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 12, 2016 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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First and foremost, for the unclear, our own Andy Edwards has put together a complete list of possibilities for MLS teams on Sunday’s final match day.

Read that here.

There will be a quick turnaround in on-field fortunes for some of Sunday’s competitors, and a nightmare of logistics for those remaining.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League quarters set ]

As of right now, only three teams know their next match after Sunday; The Red Bulls, Colorado, and FC Dallas will get a full week to plan for whoever wins the knockout round matches.

The West remarkably still has three playoff spots on the line amongst four combatants. The remaining Western playoff team, LA, only knows that it will be home for one of the those four.

Over in the East, Philadelphia is likely to claim the final playoff spot barring a wild loss and a wild win for New England. But both Toronto and NYC are still up for first round byes, with the loser hosting a knockout game. DC and Montreal could still host knockout games as well.

It’s going to be a fun Sunday for the league, as every game has at least one opponent who needs a result. The marquee matches see a Cascadia Cup deciding match between Portland and Vancouver, a potential playoff decider between Seattle and RSL, and a tone-setter between LA and still Supporters’ Shield seeking FC Dallas.

Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire
Vancouver vs. Portland
LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas
Orlando City vs. DC United
Sporting KC vs. San Jose
New York City vs. Columbus
Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake
Colorado vs. Houston
Philadelphia vs. New York Red Bulls
New England vs. Montreal

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Score predictions for all 10 games

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace celebrates scoring his sides third goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light on September 24, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
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Week 9 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEOS: Preview all 10 games ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


West Ham 2-0 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 3-0 Middlesbrough – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 1-3 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Swansea 2-0 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]


Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Manchester City 2-1 Southampton – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 3-2 West Brom – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]


Leicester City 1-2 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 1-1 Tottenham – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]