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

1 Comment

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.

source:

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.

source:

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.

source:

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.

source:

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.

source:

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.

source:

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.

source:

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.

source:

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:

Watch Live: West Ham v. Leicester City

Leave a comment

Friday Night Football under the lights in east London. Beautiful.

West Ham United host Leicester City on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as David Moyes takes charge of his first home game as Hammers boss.

Leicester and Claude Puel will play on the counter and look to Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez for inspiration at the London Stadium, while Moyes is putting all of his faith in Andy Carroll.

After a defeat at Watford in his opening game as West Ham boss last week, Moyes could really do with a win to kick-start his Hammers career.

As for Puel, he’s had one win, one draw and one defeat from his three PL games in charge of Leicester so far but the Foxes have shown plenty of promise in those outings.

In team news West Ham are missing Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez through injury so Carroll starts up top with Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini supporting him.

Leicester start with Mahrez just off Vardy with Demarai Gray once again starting out wide in a 4-4-1-1 formation.

LINEUPS

West Ham

Leicester

FIFA reminds World Cup-bound Peru about government meddling

Getty Images
1 Comment

ZURICH (AP) FIFA has reminded the Peruvian soccer federation of rules prohibiting interference by national governments, one week after the South American country qualified for its first World Cup since 1982.

FIFA says the letter reacts to the “current draft of the Peruvian Sports Law” presented to a congressional committee last month. FIFA says the proposed text to lawmakers includes “certain items that, if implemented, would contravene the FIFA Statutes.”

In serious cases, FIFA can suspend a country’s national and club teams, plus officials, from international competitions and meetings.

Peruvian officials are due in Moscow next week for the World Cup draw.

Peru is not likely to be facing any action, but FIFA has promised to “continue to monitor the situation.”

PL Preview: Man United v. Brighton

Leave a comment
  • United have scored 19 goals, 6 wins from 6 at home this season
  • Brighton unbeaten in 5 games
  • Zlatan, Pogba, Rojo all fit for United

Manchester United host newly-promoted Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Red Devils aiming to keep their 100 percent home record in the PL intact.

[ MORE: Mourinho hits back at critics

Brighton are on a five-game unbeaten run in their debut campaign in the PL and Chris Hughton‘s side have settled impressively as they sit in ninth-place in the table.

Jose Mourinho’s United sit in second place but are eight points behind crosstown rivals Manchester City who are settling a rasping early-season pace in the Premier League. United and City clash at Old Trafford on Dec. 10 so Mourinho’s men can’t afford any dropped points between now and then.

In team news United are without central defenders Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, while Brighton have no new injury concerns.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on Pogba’s return to fitness: “Paul is still on this process where he cannot reach the fatigue limit, he cannot go more than 65 to 70 minutes because that’s when fatigue normally arrives and with so many matches consecutively we need to protect such an important player for us.”

Chris Hughton on Brighton’s mindset heading to Old Trafford: “There aren’t many teams at our level that are going to go there and win. You’ve got to play at a very high level and you’ve certainly got to have that bit of luck that goes with a win away from home at any one of the big clubs. But these are the days you’ve worked so hard for as a team and it’s what we got promoted for. What we hope to do is to make a good account of ourselves there and we hope we can do that.”

Prediction

I expect a big home win for United who are simply too powerful in attack for most PL clubs to handle. Sure, their direct approach gets criticized by many but they’re second in the PL table for a reason and Mourinho’s squad has extreme strength in depth in attack. 3-0 to the Red Devils.

Bookmakers odds on next USMNT boss

Getty Images
2 Comments

After Sol Campbell (seriously) threw his hat into the ring to become the next U.S. men’s national team boss, now seems like a good time to check in on who are the current names being mentioned for the role.

Campbell told ESPN that he is interested in the vacant USMNT role as the former Arsenal and Tottenham star is currently the assistant coach of the Trinidad & Tobago national team.

“I think there is a lot of soul-searching [for the U.S. to do]. I think the main thing you’ve got to look at [with] America is where do they go now? They’ve invested a lot of money, and I think sometimes you’ve got to look in different area,” Campbell said. “You can’t always look in the same places. Yes, they want to keep it local, and they want to keep as much in USA with the players and the staff, but sometimes you’ve got to open up. I think there’s guys around the world who could contribute.”

“Maybe not [people] on their hit list, maybe not on the paper list, maybe not on the agent’s list, but guys who probably could help them in different ways on the field: attack-wise, defense-wise. Who knows? If they came to me, maybe I could help them out. Who knows? But I think they have got to start looking in different directions.”

Campbell’s coaching credentials are obviously limited but the former England international asking the U.S. to have a global coaching search isn’t asking for anything which hasn’t already been done. See: Klinsmann, Jurgen.

Of course, there is no imminent appointment expected with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) presidential race happening in February 2018, so appointing a new boss between now and would be a big mistake if the coach’s philosophy doesn’t fall in line with whoever is the leader of U.S. Soccer moving forward.

Still, via betting site Oddschecker, it’s very intriguing to see some of the names being linked with the USMNT job. Here are the odds on offer…


Sam Allardyce – 1/2 favorite
Caleb Porter – 8/1
Gregg Berhalter – 14/1
Jesse Marsch – 14/1
Laurent Blanc – 14/1
Patrick Vieira- 14/1
David Wagner – 16/1
Peter Vermes – 16/1
Bob Bradley – 20/1


Sam Allardyce has already put himself out there with regards to the USMNT job and his vast experience leading club teams from ruin to redemption could work well in this scenario, even if Big Sam’s knowledge of Major League Soccer and the USMNT is vastly inferior to MLS coaches in the running.

Caleb Porter leaving his role with the Portland Timbers has led to plenty of intriguing reports and rumors but is he really the right man to lead the USMNT?

Other MLS coaches linked with the position are Jesse Marsch who continues to overachieve with the New York Red Bulls, while Gregg Berhalter in his uncertain situation with Columbus Crew could be a good shout, especially with his brother Jay playing a prominent role at U.S. Soccer.

David Wagner’s past as a USMNT player will resonate strongly with many involved in the American soccer community but he’s unlikely to leave Huddersfield anytime soon, and then there’s Bob Bradley on the list. Quite why he’s on there as he builds LAFC ahead of their debut season in MLS in 2018 says it all about these bookies odds.

Take it all with a hefty pinch of salt and expect no movement for a while as the USSF presidential election takes center stage over the next few months. When that concludes and a successor (more than likely) is selected to replace Sunil Gulati, then we should expect a new head coach to be appointed by the USMNT.

With no World Cup next summer or competitive games until 2019, what’s the rush?

We are talking about a nation which is not only 24th in the FIFA world rankings, but also one where the sport is growing an you get the sense a fine crop of players are bursting to come through and the 2018 World Cup could be the catalyst for significant change in the USMNT playing squad.

Time needs to be taken to assess who the best man for the job would be and, right now, nobody jumps off the page as the leading contender. After the World Cup next summer plenty of international coaches will become available as they come to the end of their cycle or they’re fired. In my opinion, why not wait until the end? Having an interim boss in charge for a friendly match in January and two more in March and June isn’t the end of the world and gives the U.S. plenty of time to make the correct decision moving forward.

This next hire is crucially important to the future of the USMNT.