This team needs a kick up the arse

Posted by lachesis on January 22, 2008, 10:09:32 AM

You know, Bill Shankly made himself in the image of Vince Lombardi. Indeed, Shankly's most widely quoted quip owes it's airing to the inspiration of the American football coach:

Quote from: Bill Shankly/Vince Lombardi
"Football is not a matter of life and. death, it’s far more important than that!”

Indeed it was probably from the 1964 tour of America that Shankly learned of the Green Bay Packers due to their recent winning media coverage. Both of these, men who took control of clubs and made them more that could be imagined under their leadership. Built in their image and founded on their passion, both Liverpool and the Green Bay packers were catapulted from relative obscurity firmly into the limelight. Both men did not stoutly believe in the need for over complication of how to win a game:

Quote from: Bill Shankly
“A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are.”

Quote from: Vince Lombardi
“Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.”

The similarities between the two are amazing, in terms of leaderships, their socialist approach to games:

Quote from: Bill Shankly
“The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That's how I see football, that's how I see life.”

Quote from: Vince Lombardi
“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”

right down to their influence on their teams colours and kit. Shankly with the famous red kit which is now synonmous around Europe, and Lombardi with the green and gold monopoly.

Both sports have changed immeasurably since these mens time, both sports with global appeal, both areas where the sport is secondary to investment and marketing. Is there any room in todays game for those honest players who are comitted, passionate and fight for every game? There's a political argument that socialistic thinking and men make the best football managers, with todays society consisting of selfishness and moral values abandoned, with the revolving manager door swinging every 10 minutes - one has to wonder if this approach is still prevalent in all but a few managers.

Football Managers like Jock Stein, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough, Peter Taylor even Alex Ferguson are all old school socialists. A modern day equivalent would be someone like Paul Jewell, who still has a lot to prove but in my opinion has a great chance to go onto bigger and better things.

If anything, these managers have instilled their identity and ideas within their teams, coupled with passion and a fighting mentality that saw them exponentially in most cases become larger than the sum of their parts.

It's no secret that Rafael Benitez has come under criticism from some quarters of the Anfield faithful for being over complicated, analytic and preoccupied with his opponents threats rather than concentrating on his own teams strengths.

This is all fine, and even the small games need a tactical approach on how best to break down a 5 man midfield or the best way to move a team about by square passing before delivering the killer touch, but do we, as a team lack the motivating and mental assurance/arrogance that the likes of Wenger, Ferguson and Mourinho instilled in their teams. Humble champions is a phrase never uttered in football and it's for a reason. Champions and winners don't have to answer to anyone, they go out with a declaration and stamp their authority on their opponents.

This is not beyond our team as we have seen on countless occassions, but all too much we peter out after about 15 minutes with no direction or guidance, and half the players look as though they need a rocket up their arses. Rafa is always talking about the 'team' and it's cohesion, options and fitness. The fact is for all the talking and speaking about instilling the belief that the team is a unit, there is far too much individualism running through our team.

Dirk Kuyt's scoring rate has dropped alarmingly this season, most cynics point this to him being crap or they've been proved right that he isn't Premier League material despite being our highest league scorer in a number of years last season. They don't see he's playing with a selfish strike partner, who although has been a revelation, is not on the cutting edge of clinical and does make bad choices as when it is feasible to shoot and when he should pass.

Torres will learn in time, he has come from Atletico, worshipped as the jewel in their crown and their saviour, their chosen one. Much like Fowler was acclaimed in the mid 90's. He is used to doing things on his own for himself to the benefit of the team. However, this was playing for an Atletico side that was at best mediocre and so his choices often didn't affect the outcomes of games or were not as important when looking back. Of course there are times like Middlesborough away when that will get us points, but there are times when it is detrimental to the team as well.

Not that Torres is the only culprit, but in his case it is easier to highlight. Riise is another one who loves to go it alone, quick glance, no-one within 20 yards, spanked at goal. Gerrard is another, although he has got much better with time and trusting certain team mates. The worrying thing is that for roughly 30 goals scored, we have one player in the assists chart with 7 and that is Gerrard (data taken from http://www.4thegame.com and highlights the top 21 assisting players in the premier league. The list ends at but does not continue past 4)

Then we have the fringe players with intelligence, those like Finnan, Pennant, Kuyt, Alonso who have been so dominated in this team, they are prone to just pass the ball on, be a middle man and give it to the players they feel should be changing the game and then feel their contribution within the team is over, instead of pushing themselves to be included in our matchwinners. Players like Kuyt, Finnan and Alonso especially, who have it within themselves to punch out of the comfort zone they are in at the moment.

Rafa's attack philosophy and mentality is built around 'direct passing', which is quick, accurate and incisive. This doesn't mean 5/6 yard 5-a-sde passes either. A direct pass can be hit 40 yards into the channel for Torres to run onto. It's about scoring goals with the least amount of passing. Which is another problem coursing it's way through our team.

I'm continuing this after last nights result, so this is not a knee jerk reaction but an amalgamation of certain things which look to have reached a plateua in terms of going forward. One statistic everyone points to is the shots for column, with Liverpool always seeming to have a plethora of shots on goal within the game, leaving most people scatching their heads on how we lost. Make no mistake, for me a goal scoring opportunity is about creating a chance so clear, the odds of scoring are firmly weighted in the strikers corner.

Let me take you back to the Man City game, a game which we absolutely put City to the sword and dominated a team that played for a draw. There were not too many clear cut chances created even that night, which leads us onto the praising of Hart. There were perhaps 2 'real' chances in the game which Hart saved well, the rest was meat and drink for a goal keeper in reality, especially from a team that is expecting to push the top two for the title.

Yossi was a summarisation of the problem yesterday, after scoring he couldn't complete a 5 yard pass for the majority of the game, which left him to usually scamper infield along the 18 yard line and lose possession from a tackle. The assist by Kuyt was sweet, and that was because we had some slight movement. Just as the fringe players expect the talents in the team to go solo, as soon as we get a goal, the team seem content to rest on their laurels. We can keep possession, pass square and backwards and have little passages of outstanding one touch passing, but when we hit 20 yards from goal, we hit a brick wall. We are a threat, make no mistake but in real terms, our bark is far worse than our bite.

You see, in teams like Arsenal or United, if their big game players don't step up, then others will attempt to. For example, if Evra was to find Giggs had wandered infield and was not available for a pass, and their was a bit of space in front of him, he would move into it himself. Contrast that to our own team, when there's at least 20 yards for either Finnan or a central defender to move into, and they choose to try and play a 40 yard long pass. This is fine if you have the players to make that sort of pass, but when it is just being hoofed back to the opponents then you have to question this approach.

Where does this leave us then? Does the blame lie with Benitez? It's difficult to call, on the one hand when teams have a go at us, we can really destroy teams, but those who are organised and difficult to break down seem to baffle us, like trying to multiply 45 by 8 will baffle a 10 year old. There seems to be a lot of work done with regards to team covering, and defensive positioning, which in most games completely nullifies our opponents. I wouldn't worry too much about Martin O'Neill, ever since the days of Leceister, he has set his teams out that have been difficult for Liverpool to overcome. I think we need to focus on the finla third now, the intelligence of movement and running, and more importanly work with those players that need it on their decision making because at the moment it is shocking, and therein lies our problem.

What we deem our most influential attacking players, Gerrard, Yossi, Torres, Babel and Pennant to name a few make really bad choices. Part of the mancs success is that they have listened to Ferguson, who is now playing our own brand of football, and has been doing for some time.

"Receive the ball and pass it to someone in a better position", was at the core of our football. Well, that quote there highlights exactly what needs to be done, how often is someone in a better position than ambling past the halfway line, or lining up on the edge of the box, and on those rare occassions we get in behind teams, how many people are in better position in the box that are making themselves available for a pass? Which forces our more influential players to go it alone.

Another area of play where Liverpool are too individual is the pressing of opponents. Villa yesterday, to their credit and to a man, showed how team pressing can work. They never let us settle, and kept pressure on for long periods without making too many real challenges. Again it's in stark contrast to our own team, for example, Mascherano will harry in midfield and forces the ball to go back, Kuyt will close down the defender who plays it wide, and then that's the end of the pressing. Where you would expect Kewell or the left back to be all over the opponent at this point, there is only space and that is why we rarely have concerted pressure but lots of comfortable possession.

At the moment, we are playing in small pockets of players. The defence defends, but the full backs rarely advance to support the attack. The central defenders look to get rid of it by lumping it forward, instead of advancing to meet the midfield, and thus oppress the opponents.

At the moment I see us as a team of components, that don't quite fit together. We are not fluent, and the transition between defence and attack is nowhere near as effective or breathtaking as that of attack to defence. We are not far off, but my greatest fear at the moment is we need a motivator, because when things aren't going right, you need that ability to fight, and bumble a goal in off someones arse, or have the ball ricochet around the box for 3 minutes and eventually go in a la Blueshite - something which we lack at the moment, but Chelsea had.

With the acquisition of one or two key replacements this team can go on to greater things, they have to believe in themselves. More importantly they have to want to believe in themselves, and lastly Benitez needs to believe in his team.

Jorge Valdano said:

Quote from: Jorge Valdano
Chelsea and Liverpool are the clearest, most exaggerated example of the way football is going: very intense, very collective, very tactical, very physical, and very direct,"

"But, a short pass? No. A feint? No. A change of pace? No. A one-two? A nutmeg? A backheel? Don't be ridiculous. None of that.

"If Didier Drogba was the best player in the first match it was purely because he was the one who ran the fastest, jumped the highest and crashed into people the hardest. Such extreme intensity wipes away talent, even leaving a player of Joe Cole's class disoriented. If football is going the way Chelsea and Liverpool are taking it, we had better be ready to wave goodbye to any expression of the cleverness and talent we have enjoyed for a century.

Those who did not have the talent to make it as players do not believe in the talent of players, they do not believe in the ability to improvise in order to win football matches.[/i]

These are strong words, and a warning that may need to be heeded from The Philosopher of football. There was a systematic approach to games from Chelsea and ourselves, and right down to the set piece against Chelsea that Agger scored from, it was as if both Mourinho and Rafa have a book of 'attacks' or 'plays' they instruct the team to use, at which point we can return to one of the above quotes which is:

Quote from: Vince Lombardi
“Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.”

And you could never fault Mourinho on that aspect. There are a few things to put right within the team, but we can do worse than start with installing the belief, passion and carmarderie that is missing.







(c) 2008, Lachesis

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