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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:

Report says Impact will add 96-times capped Ivorian defender

Monaco's Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov (L) challenges Montpellier's Ivorian defender Siaka Tiene (R) during the French L1 football match between Montpellier and Monaco at the Mosson stadium in Montpellier on September 24, 2014.   AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT        (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference’s second-stingiest team is looking to enhance its already-strong back line.

Joining MLS Best XI defender Laurent Ciman could be Siaka Tiene, a longtime international teammate of Didier Drogba on the Ivory Coast squad.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

The 96-times capped Tiene will be 34 when next season starts, but will have fresh legs having not played since last season ended for Montpellier.

MLSSoccer.com does the translation work for us:

A report from RDS.ca states that the Impact have signed 33-year-old left back Siaka Tiéné, an Ivory Coast international who boasts World Cup and African Cup of Nations experience.

Aside from Ciman, Ambroise Oyongo is the only Impact back currently under contract.

Tiene played relatively well last season, but was limited to just 17 appearances in Ligue 1.

Phil Neville takes over Valencia training; Could he get job?

VALENCIA, SPAIN - AUGUST 19:  Valencia CF assistant coach Phil Neville gestures prior to the UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between Valencia CF and AS Monaco at Mestalla Stadium on August 19, 2015 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
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Phil Neville is one stroke of the pen from opening his full managerial career at a vaunted La Liga stop, with a club in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Nuno Espirito Santo stepped down from his manager’s role at Valencia on Sunday, with the Bats in ninth place, five points outside the Top Four.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup | Bundesliga wrap ]

In his place in former Manchester United and Everton legend Neville, who will take charge of the team in the interim.

As weird as it would be to give the job to a man who has only led Salford City — a club he co-owns — on a caretaker basis, the hire would be no weirder than Tim Sherwood being allowed to run Tottenham Hotspur.

Would it be a surprise, given the time of season, if Neville was at least given through the end of the year?

And consider, from the BBC:

The club’s Singaporean owner, Peter Lim, has a stake in Salford City, the non-league club co-owned by Neville with his former Manchester United team-mates Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.

Valencia needs to beat Lyon in its final UCL Group H game, and hope Gent draws or loses at home to first-place Zenit Saint-Petersburg. Otherwise, it’s on to the Europa League.

Porter’s Timbers just wanted in the playoffs, now they’re 90 mins away from a title

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers looks on from the bench before the match against the FC Dallas at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
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Midway through the season, it was reasonable to question whether Caleb Porter could hang onto his job as Portland Timbers coach. With two games to play in the regular season, the Timbers were on the verge of missing the playoffs entirely, that job status still hung in the balance.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

Yet, this is Major League Soccer, where anything is possible. “Hot at the right time” is a mantra, and Portland hasn’t tasted defeat since early October. The Timbers are 6W-2T since losing to Sporting KC on Oct. 3.

Whether that’s “more exciting” than another league’s system is a conversation for another day, because today’s conversation is about what Porter and the Timbers have done in rising to within 90 minutes of an MLS title.

From Timbers.com:

“When we started the year, we wanted to get into the playoffs and win a trophy,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said in his post game comments outside a champagne and beer-drenched locker room. “That was the goal, and here we are. We’ve won one, and now we want to win the big one. So it’s very satisfying.”

And that’s the thing: You just have to get in. I imagine most Portland fans aren’t thinking, “Does this feel good in relation to how it would feel if we went wire-to-wire as champions?” They are thinking, “This feels good.”

The Timbers just needed to get in. Columbus, too. And now they are playing for a title with some of the better all-around players in the league, running the gamut from veteran savvy (Nat Borchers) to youthful flair (Lucas Melano).

MLS Best XI comes from a wide variety of backgrounds

Toronto FC 's Sebastian Giovinco, center,  tries to take the ball between Columbus Crew's Harrison Afful, left, and Ethan Finlay during the second half of an MLS soccer game in Toronto, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Major League Soccer rolled out its Best XI on Sunday, with few surprises.

Though the lack of fullbacks perhaps rightly cause Taylor Twellman and others to roll their eyes, the MLS’ 3-4-3 formation looks daunting.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

With expected MVP attacker Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto pacing the field, the XI is strong and filled with players from different backgrounds.

From American College Soccer, to Costa Rica, Serie A and the Premier League, there’s no one unifying thread. Heck, Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara mark careers reborn with the win, perhaps shining as bright as ever.

Best XI
Goalkeeper: Luis Robles (RBNY)
Defenders: Laurent Ciman (Montreal); Matt Hedges (Dallas); Kendall Waston (Vancouver)
Midfielders: Ethan Finlay (Columbus); Dax McCarty (RBNY); Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC); Fabian Castillo (Dallas)
Forwards: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto); Kei Kamara (Columbus); Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy)

It’s hard to call out snubs on a team this loaded, but David Ousted from Vancouver certainly deserves a shout, and Darlington Nagbe is probably the most aggrieved omission. But who comes out for the recently-made USMNT star?