By Riley Beveridge
Defence to Midfield
Like many Liverpool fans, I’ve been watching our pre-season friendlies and Europa League qualifiers closely over the last month, carefully examining what we can expect from Brendan Rodgers at the helm.
What I’ve seen and studied will be explored in full depth over the next couple of nights with a two-part analysis. I’ll preview Rodgers’ Liverpool by firstly explaining how the Northern Irishman plans to link defence to midfield. Then in part two we’ll look at the forward half of the pitch by telling you how the midfield translates into attacking chances for the strikers.
Today, I’ll be looking at the aspect of linking defence to midfield.
Starting from the last line of defence, Pepe Reina will be Rodgers’ first choice in between the sticks.
Reina is Rodgers’ perfect keeper – a great shot stopper but also capable with the ball at his feet. He’s a fantastic distributer of the football, and will act as a get-out clause for the back four.
Rodgers has often referred to his keepers as outfield players in their own right, stating that they must be able to act as sweepers in behind their defence.
Throughout the pre-season fixtures Reina, as well as Brad Jones and Peter Gulacsi, have received back passes and looked to set up plays. Usually Reina will opt to spread the ball out wide to his full backs, or pass to the deep lying midfielder (Lucas or Joe Allen) who will drop back to receive possession.
Lucas (and Allen, assuming he adopts the role he enjoyed at Swansea), will have space to work with deep in midfield, as the two centre backs usually spread wide to receive possession. Martin Skrtel or Sebastian Coates (both right footed players), have pushed wide right, while Daniel Agger or Jamie Carragher (capable left footers) have spread wide left. This has created the space for Lucas to run into in order to set up the play throughout pre-season.
By the centre backs spreading wide, Lucas or Allen will almost act as a third centre-half when Liverpool aren’t in possession, playing as the most central of the defenders.
This allows Lucas and Allen to be ball-playing midfielders while in possession, whilst acting as a solid defensive unit whenever they lose the ball.
This use of space and clever movement will see Liverpool have almost full control over a particular match.
It will enable Lucas and Allen to have loads of time to sit in possession and seek opportunities to pass forward, however it will also allow them to keep the ball when there’s no way they can press forward.
Then, when we lose possession, it makes us incredibly difficult to break down. This is because the defensive midfielder(s) will fall off to help the back four and to (hopefully) regain possession.
With the two recognised centre-halves pressing wide, it allows the full backs to act as wing-backs, streaming up the pitch to create attacking plays and additional width.
Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly are naturals in this position down the right, while Jose Enrique is equally as adept on the left.
Rodgers has also been able to implement an interchangeable system, which can easily switch between a 4-1-2-3 and a 4-2-1-3.
In the earlier pre-season fixtures in North America against the likes of Toronto, Roma and Tottenham, Rodgers played with the aforementioned 4-1-2-3.
This saw Lucas or Jay Spearing drop deep into a holding midfield position, while Steven Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam all rotated in front of the anchoring midfielder.
In contrast to last season, the 4-1-2-3 system has given Henderson and Adam more freedom higher up the field. Adam was handed a defensive role last term, while Henderson was mainly played in a wide position. However both have been allowed the opportunity to impress in more adventurous spaces this pre-season.
If anything, Shelvey has been the one who has gone back into a deeper midfield role.
However in the Europa League qualifiers and the final friendly against Bayer Leverkusen, Rodgers has used the 4-2-1-3 system to a devastating effect.
Lucas has partnered either Spearing or Shelvey in the more defensive minded midfield positions, although it’s likely Allen will replace them in the opening Premier League matches.
This has also allowed Gerrard to play in a more advanced role in midfield as the player just in behind the front three.
After watching Liverpool’s last three matches, I think we can expect to see Rodgers implement the 4-2-1-3 system against West Brom next Saturday.
Allen’s recruitment has further enhanced my belief that this is what we’ll see, as he is the ideal man to partner Lucas in anchoring the midfield.
So that’s my rundown on how Rodgers has linked the defence to midfield throughout Liverpool’s six matches so far. Stay tuned tomorrow for when A Liverbird Upon My Chest looks at how the midfield links to the forwards.