Four, Four, Two Please

Posted by Rushian on December 29, 2006, 02:52:24 AM

A Boxing Day defeat at the hands of lowly Blackburn Rovers brought an end to an impressive run of seven games in the Premier league for Liverpool during which no goals were conceded.

Ewood Park provided the third instance in the last eight league games in which Rafa Benitez has fielded three central defenders. The pattern of play for Liverpool on all of these occasions has been three at the back when attacking and five at the back when defending, with Riise and Finnan acting as wingbacks. Three or five at the back is not something Benitez has used up to now with his Liverpool side and this begs the question as to why he has brought it in. Two banks of four have been adequate for the Reds in the vast majority of games under Rafael Benitez.

Certainly it took longer than we have been accustomed to for the Liverpool defence to display the solidity of previous campaigns, and goals were leaked with alarming regularity until the end of October. The central pairing was unsettled due to a combination of injury and rotation and it is easily possible that both Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia were suffering the fatigue of 57 and 58 domestic games respectively during the previous season.

The Arsenal debacle at the Emirates stadium spelled the end, for now, of the Carragher Hyypia partnership with Sami looking particularly pedestrian and Daniel Agger was restored, following his recovery from a broken wrist. A clean sheet followed and Liverpool were unlucky to not beat Middlesbrough after creating the majority of chances at the Riverside.

Only one change, Crouch for Bellamy, then saw a comfortable victory over PSV Eindhoven in the next game. A damaged hip saw Xabi Alonso miss the next league game and with a lack of defensive midfielders, Benitez adopted the inclusion of his three centre halves for the first time against Manchester City. Liverpool won a dour game 1-0.

The system had its next outing against Wigan at the JJB stadium. Liverpool had five chances in the first half and converted four of them. Craig Bellamy was fresh from the dismissal of his ridiculous trial and played like a man with an immense weight lifted from his shoulders. Bellamy almost single handed, gave Liverpool a comfortable victory in a game that was over at half time.

Three games with the 4-4-2 formation restored gave Liverpool three victories to nil. The only changes in formation during those three games were to bring in Hyypia for Agger and Gonzalez for Garcia in the game against Charlton where, I might suggest, a chance to boost confidence for those who were lacking a little of that commodity, was taken.

A head of steam was built up and then somewhat strangely three centre halves were employed at Ewood Park where, historically, Liverpool have a good record.

With confidence high, you would expect a buoyant Liverpool to stay much the same and take the game to a Blackburn side fresh from a humiliating 6-2 drubbing at the hands of Arsenal. That scoreline may have been slightly flattering to the Gunners but I suspect that on Boxing Day, Rovers were there for the taking.

Reverting to the three at the back formation may well have been down to the inclusion of Crouch with Benitez feeling he would give his tall striker more service by employing wing backs. It cannot have been about resting anyone who the manager felt was in need of a break because the core of the side i.e. Carragher, Agger, Riise, Finnan, Gerrard and Alonso play in either formation. The man who was rested, Dirk Kuyt gives the impression that he could, and more importantly would, run all day for the cause. He must have been disappointed to miss out. I donít believe players feel fatigue when the team is on a decent winning streak, even though Kuyt may be more familiar, at this time of the year, to a fortnight break.

As it turned out, Crouch got plenty of service and Liverpool should have been out of site by half time with the said forward failing to convert a host of relatively simple chances. Itís easy to criticise from afar but for a man of his size, Crouch is one of the least clinical headers of the ball Iíve seen in a long time.

There followed the inevitable sucker punch from Blackburn and then, after taking Crouch off with half an hour remaining, perhaps a return to 4-4-2 with Pennant or Garcia on for Hyypia would have freed up a somewhat static central midfield partnership, both of whom looked resigned to concentrating on covering the back five every time we lost possession.

That said, Xabi Alonso must have left the field wondering what he had to do to score. Furthermore all of this ranting is borne out of the frustration at being dragged back into the chasing pack which now seems destined to be a league of its own with the top prizes two Champions league spots.

A handful of points now separate the teams involved and Liverpool can do themselves a couple of massive favours by winning their next two fixtures.

We have not been as fluent with three at the back and I believe the Wigan game was just one of those occasions when everything went right and our opponents werenít going to score in a month of Sundays.

Bring back 4-4-2 Rafa. A team with confidence and form surely doesnít need to think too much about what the opposition is going to do. Two victories from the next two games would be delightful and pave the way for a very Happy New Year.

© Jim Brown 2006

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