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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:

Former World Cup winner, Brazil legend Carlos Alberto dies

COSTA DO SAUIPE, BAHIA - DECEMBER 05:  Former Brazil footballer Carlos Alberto Torres attends the FIFA World Cup Ambassadors Press Conference during a media day ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw at Costa do Sauipe Resort on December 5, 2013 in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Brazilian soccer legend Carlos Alberto has died at the age of 72.

He died in Rio de Janeiro following a heart attack.

Alberto, a marauding right back in his playing days, was best known for his role as Brazil’s captain as he led his team to glory in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

He is also remembered fondly for one of the greatest team goals ever scored.

Take a look at the video below to see Albero arriving like a steam train at the back post in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy to hammer home a shot following a marvelous team move from a famous Brazilian side which included the likes of Pele, Tostao, Gerson, Roberto Rivelino and Jairzinho.

Alberto played for Fluminense and Santos in his homeland and the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League before going on to many coaching roles in the game both in Brazil and across the planet.

Without doubt he is regarded as one of the finest defenders to ever play the game as his attacking instincts from full back were seen as revolutionary.

Five Manchester United players to leave in January?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's third goal with Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay during the UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between Manchester United and Club Brugge at Old Trafford on August 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho is a ruthless individual. That’s one of the reasons why he’s won so much over the years.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave? ]

And after a slow start to life at Old Trafford as Manchester United’s manager, it has been reported that he’s had enough of several first team stars.

Various reports, rounded up by the Manchester Evening News, say that five first team players will leave Old Trafford in January as Mourinho wields the axe following a start to the Premier League season which has seen them pick up 14 points from their opening nine games.

Per earlier reports, Rooney will be allowed to leave if he doesn’t want a bit-part role in Mourinho’s plans, plus Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian will all be cut loose.

In the case of Schweinsteiger, we all know what Mourinho thinks of the legendary German midfielder who has been forced to train with the reserve team as the new United boss deemed him surplus to requirements. As for the others, well, it is the same story.

Memphis has made six appearances for United this season, while Schneiderlin has yet to appear in the Premier League, Schweinsteiger hasn’t appeared at all and Darmian has played in only two Europa League games.

With Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin, it is clear Mourinho sees his central midfield better off with the power of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini plus the poise of Ander Herrra and Michael Carrick. Schweinsteiger is widely expected to move to Major League Soccer in January but his huge wages of over $200,000 per week may be a stumbling block.

At full back, Darmian is up against Antonio Valencia and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, while Phil Jones can also play at right back, and out wide Memphis has fallen behind Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in the pecking order.

Mourinho is used to operating with a relatively small squad and after the win against Southampton on Aug. 19 this season he spoke about how he was happy for the win but sad at the amount of top players in suits sat in the stand watching.

This is a massive squad but it is one Mourinho obviously feels like he can cut down. If these five players aren’t regulars in United’s current team which is struggling to perform, then they have no chance of edging their way in long-term.

Expect plenty of clubs to come in with loan moves for Memphis, Darmian and Schneiderlin in January if Mourinho can’t offload them for good.

Chelsea, West Ham issue statement to fans ahead of derby

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with John Terry of Chelsea after the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on August 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Anyone who has ever been to a game between West Ham United and Chelsea may use any of the following words to describe the atmosphere.

Tasty. Lively. Spicy. Electric.

Wednesday night will be no different.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave? ]  

The first-ever London derby at West Ham’s London Stadium will take place in the EFL Cup last 16 clash between the bitter rivals.

With several security issues at West Ham’s stadium in its opening months of operation (fighting among home fans, plus scuffles with some away fans outside and inside the ground, and plenty of unrest with the stewarding and seating situation) extra steps are being taken to ensure there is no trouble between the rival sets of fans.

Alcohol will not be served around the ground before kick off, while there will be segregation after the game to split up the fans and extra security checks will take place on entry to the stadium.

West Ham released a statement detailing that London’s Metropolitan Police will be on site to help out the security services who have previously been handling all of the game-day stewarding at the new venue.

The Metropolitan Police Service has a tactical solution for matches being held at the London Stadium which will allow the safe deployment of officers into the stadium, if required, to deal with any crime or disorder. The Metropolitan Police Service have confirmed for this fixture, and for every match going forward, that a tactical solution will be in place at London Stadium. This will allow the safe deployment of officers into the stadium, if required, to deal with any crime or disorder, before a permanent Airwave radio solution is installed by February 2017.
Chelsea also had the following to say in a very similar statement:

In light of recent incidents at the stadium there will be much attention on the fixture and especially on the conduct of supporters from both clubs. We understand this is the first time a game of this magnitude has taken place there and we are looking at West Ham United and the local authorities to deliver a safe event.

As previously announced, we requested the maximum allocation of seating for visiting fans, which under this competition’s regulations is 10 per cent of the stadium’s capacity (approximately 5,700 tickets in this case) but regrettably we were only allowed 5182 due to the EFL granting special dispensation to West Ham for this competition.

We wanted a larger allocation so as many Chelsea fans as possible could enjoy what promises to be a passionate occasion. We appreciate there is a long-established rivalry between these two London clubs but we ask all supporters to remain respectful and refrain from any form of offensive or discriminatory behavior. Please do not travel to the game if you do not have a match ticket.

If any incidents do occur, avoid becoming involved. A vast CCTV operation will be utilized both inside the stadium and over a wide area in the vicinity. Even if arrests are not made on the night, the police will work with the clubs to identify and arrest individuals. Chelsea will ban any of our supporters shown to be involved. The policing operation will include transport hubs on the routes to and from the stadium.

Kevin de Bruyne out injured for Man City; Pep to rotate

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Kevin De Bruyne of  Manchester City shows his frustrations after a near miss  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Kevin De Bruyne won’t be the main man at Old Trafford this time.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave? ]

De Bruyne, 25, starred in Manchester City’s 2-1 win at bitter rivals Manchester United last month in the Premier League but ahead of the EFL Cup last 16 clash between Manchester’s two clubs, Pep Guardiola confirmed that the Belgian international will play no part after picking up a calf injury in the draw with Southampton on Sunday.

Speaking to the media, Guardiola also confirmed that Pablo Zabaleta will be out, plus Vincent Kompany will likely play a part.

“Kevin, no way, he cannot play,” Guardiola said. “Pablo I think cannot. Vincent I think he can but I don’t know today. I need to see training and regeneration [before making a decision].”

Guardiola also confirmed that he expects to give some of his squad players a chance to play despite the desire to win the big derby game.

“We are going to rotate. Some are going to play. I need to see the players today in training and after we will decide the team,” Guardiola added.

City’s squad is still ridiculously strong with the likes of Nolito, Fabian Delph, Kelechi Iheanacho and Aleix Garcia all set to play a big part in the cup tie.