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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

Winter on Allardyce corruption allegations: “Touch and go whether he survives”

England international soccer team manager Sam Allardyce, centre, his assistant Sammy Lee, left, and FA chief executive Martin Glenn, right, applaud during the launch event of UEFA Euro 2020 and the unveiling of the tournament brand and the London host city logo at City Hall, in London, Wednesday Sept. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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As details continue to unfold from the Telegraph’s sting operation that may’ve caught England manager Sam Allardyce in its grasp, the question of whether the ex-Sunderland man could be fired after just months on the job is moving to the forefront.

Allardyce, 61, is on tape talking about third party ownership of players — a big no-no for FIFA — and the words have some alleging that he is giving advice on how to buck the system.

[ MORE: Watford’s Deeney rages after loss]

Given that the manager has only overseen one match for the Three Lions and had been accused, but never charged, with accepting bribes from agents in 2006, some think he may not survive the issue.

Well-connected The Times of London writer Henry Winter says it’s possible.

Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp pulls the rug out from armchair tacticians

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spent time on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football set for Burnley’s 2-0 win over Watford, and proffered some fascinating comments.

The ones that had us quite delighted were some dismissive comments aimed at people who like talk about, even lament, the Reds’ “false nines” — boiled to its bone, an advanced attacking mid that assumes the striker’s role.

[ MORE: Allardyce in hot water ]

After all, most times a 4-5-1 and a 4-1-4-1 are essentially the same thing (and perhaps dictated more by how a match plays out). And when Liverpool is using Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino, or Divock Origi, it’s the player that matters as much as the formation (USMNT fans can consider how Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey rotated around the top of Jurgen Klinsmann’s formation at the Copa America despite having a traditional given position in the Starting XI).

“To be honest, I don’t think about us having now a false nine or no nine or whatever it is. These players are all responsible for being in the opposition box in all situations there can be. “

Right. If an attack is moving ahead with just one man sitting high, that most advanced attacker is a forward. It doesn’t matter if that attacker has drifted out left on defense, or checked deeper into the formation when the other team has the ball. He’s a striker.

“A lot of people have got different views on it. Where’s the difference between 4-1-4-1 and 4-5-1, I don’t see it really.

“4-3-3, it depends on the situation you are in. For example, if you play a 4-3-3 with real wingers, like Holland played a few years ago, then it is different.”

Presumably, Klopp is speaking of the 4-3-3 employed by Louis Van Gaal at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin Van Persie forced defenses to stretch wide as well as long, and that is a genuine 4-3-3. It’s much different than an average formation graphic showing three players high and three players low. The spacing of the opposition and movement of the ball match demands that!

Tactics and techniques are a lot of fun to discuss and debate, but Klopp reminded us a fact that plays out in almost every match. Most times, when the ball is kicked in anger, it’s “about Jims and Joes, not X’s and O’s” as former University at Buffalo and current Canisius College men’s basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon liked to say.

England: Allardyce in hot water after controversial Telegraph report

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21:  England manager Sam Allardyce and his assistant Sammy Lee listen to speakers during the UEFA EURO 2020 launch event for London at City Hall on September 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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Sam Allardyce might be in a bit of trouble.

The England manager has been “caught” on tape by undercover Telegraph reporters in what’s being called a sting. Some of the banter is simply Allardyce being Allardyce — ripping on personalities he doesn’t like — and won’t affect much at all.

[ MORE: Watford’s Deeney rages after loss ]

Being outspoken isn’t a crime, after all. Other talk, though, could be quite damaging to the ex-Sunderland and Bolton boss. Allardyce reportedly flirted with getting big money to speak to a company that would be pitching third party ownership of players, which is strictly prohibited by FIFA.

From The Telegraph:

He agreed to travel to Singapore and Hong Kong as an ambassadorand explained to the “businessmen” how they could circumvent Football Association rules which prohibit third parties “owning” players.

Unbeknown to Allardyce, the businessmen were undercover reporters and he was being filmed as part of a 10-month Telegraph investigation that separately unearthed widespread evidence of bribery and corruption in British football.

The article is a part of an investigation the Telegraph claims will cause many problems for some big names in England over the coming days.

It could all come to nothing, though reports below show the Football Association will look into the Telegraph’s claims.

Watford’s Deeney raging after loss: “We got bullied to a man”

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Watford’s spirits have gone from the penthouse to outhouse in barely a week.

The Hornets hammered Manchester United last week only to look listless against Burnley at Turf Moor on Monday.

[ MATCH RECAP: Burnley 2-0 Watford ]

Outshone under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, Watford captain Troy Deeney is, in a word, angry.

From the BBC:

“Poor. I’ll have to watch my words or I’ll get in trouble. We got bullied to a man, Burnley stuck to their gameplan, fair play to them.

“We lost 2-0 on TV, we got run over and both goals could have been avoided. I’m very disappointed. You set high standards and if you don’t match them people will ask questions.”

With Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Swansea City, and Hull City next on its Premier League docket, this is not a time for Watford to accept inconsistency.

To a man.