Liverpool 1 Hearts 1 (2-1agg) Eye Witness Report

Posted by Veinticinco de Mayo on August 31, 2012, 12:10:26 AM

Ties like this one must be a real headache for managers.  The desire to blood youngsters and to rest first teamers for bigger games as opposed to the fear of the repercussions if your understrength side cock it up. The situation further complicated by the existing narrow advantage and the tendency that induces to simply hold on to what you have.

Rodgers heterodoxy (thanks Yorky) ensured that we fielded a team that was both strong but also extremely experimental.  The formation was the increasingly familiar 4-3-3 but with some counter-intuitive twists.  Carragher got another run out in defence alongside Skrtel, who was presumably being given a chance to exorcise a few ghosts from last week.  Kelly continued at right back and Downing started where he finished the City game, at left back.  The marvellously absorbent Joe Allen was the base of a midfield three with Gerrard and Shelvey.  Up front debutant Adam Morgan and Jordan Henderson flanked Luis Suarez in a front three.

Hearts started the brighter but despite the best efforts of the travelling Jambo hordes, who were entertaining in a shithouse small town club kind of way, the first half was a fairly disjointed and drab affair.  Liverpool were unable to control the game in the manner we would have liked but were still creating, and missing, all the opportunities.  The second half started in a similar vein but when Sterling replaced Morgan it somehow lifted both team and crowd and we were treated to a period of sustained and controlled pressure during which we really should have put the tie to bed.  We didn't and we became slipshod and allowed them back into the game.  We only snapped out of our torpor when Reina, who had not made a save all night, decided to preserve that stat and make the visitors feel at home with an impromptu impression of Alan Rough.  We awoke and almost immediately, Suarez who had been pretty poor for most of the evening raced onto a through ball, held off the defender and rifled under the keeper from a tight angle.  It was the hardest chance he had all night and the sort of goal we've not scored since that Spanish kid left.  Cue sighs of relief all round. Job done. Hearts are deservedly applauded from the field and their fans seem surprisingly made up at this draw and exit at the hands of a minnow that is no longer famous and will win fuck all. 

The predominantly low key nature of the game gave me plenty of time to sit chin in hand pondering what Rodgers was trying to achieve with this selection.  By the time Reina enlivened proceedings I thought I had had a moment of clarity so here are a few thoughts on the more counter intuitive selections he made and what we can perhaps learn from them for the future.

Downing at left back
So far so good. He never really put a foot wrong, his positioning was good and he competed for headers.  The real bonus is that he looks far more of an attacking threat overlapping from fullback than he does when playing as a winger.  It plays to his strengths, he no longer has to beat a man, just run onto the ball and cross it.  Clearly there will be greater tests of his defensive acumen than Hearts but I think we will be seeing him there quite regularly.

Why are Suarez and Gerrard not flanking a proper number 9?
You see them there in every tedious pre-match team sheet and I have thought myself that our ideal formation would see them there in front of a midfield of Allen, Lucas and Sahin.  Clearly we are not going to see that for a couple of months now unfortunately but judging by the team selection against Hearts we may never see it.  If Rodgers used a debutant centre forward, an out and out poacher, on the right while keeping Suarez in the middle then you have to assume that, huge signing today excepted, that is where he will be playing all season.  Similarly, if he is going to select Jordan Henderson as the left forward in preference to Gerrard and play Gerrard in midfield in preference to Henderson then it is safe to assume that he sees Gerrard's role in the midfield three.  Why?

I have deliberately avoided all the boards before writing this but I presume the usual suspects are already hinting at dark forces in play, about Gerrard refusing to play anywhere else.  I don't believe that for one minute.  You ask Andy Carroll how ruthless the new manager is.  In fact, you could ask Jamie Carragher too.  Or Stewart Downing. Or Charlie Adam. 

I think the principal reason is tactical.  We label his formation as 4-3-3 when in reality it is only every really that at kick off.  When we are attacking then the fullbacks push forward and overlap, the centrebacks spread and one of the midfield drops deep, with the ball we play 3-4-3. When the opposition pushes us back then the two wide forwards are responsible for tracking their fullbacks and helping our fullback.  Something Henderson did excellently for Downing in last nights game.  When defending we play 4-5-1.  Do we really want to see Suarez tracking back and covering for the left-back?  Are we not better leaving him up on the shoulders of the defenders so they can never rest?  Has Gerrard got the youthful energy or indeed the tactical discipline to continually shuttle back and support Glen Johnson? 

I felt sorry for Adam Morgan, the step up to your first team start is hard enough as it is but to do so in a position that is so unfamiliar must be doubly so. In the end he had a couple of bright moments but he was not involved anywhere near as much as he needed to be.  It has to be said though, that even when having a stinker, as he did for much of the evening, Luis Suarez constantly terrorises defenders and should be allowed free reign to continue to do that without the shackles of tracking fullbacks.  We just have to hope that he regains the finishing form that he showed for Ajax.  Two goals in his last two despite not playing that well in either.  Perhaps he has?

Gerrard is bound to be more contentious.  I have wondered myself recently whether he has what it takes to fit into a Rodgers midfield where ball retention is the key. After watching him for 90 minutes though I think we have perhaps become blinded to his qualities after seeing him play in dysfunctional midfields for too long.  He is adapting his game, happier now to play the simpler pass and it is easy to forget just how brilliant he still is at quickly closing down players and stealing possession in dangerous areas.  Several times this evening we were treated to the exhilarating sight of Gerrard in full cry steaming forward after stealing possession and driving the whole team with him.  It is a rare quality in football and something that is otherwise lacking in our central midfielders. Playing him deeper allows him to exploit that space in front of him and bridge that gap between the midfield and the front three. I predict that is where we will see him this season, and I predict that with the security of players like Lucas, Sahin and Allen behind him and unfettered by having to be the hod carrier for the likes of Adam and Cole we will see our best season from him for a while.

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