Sunday, December 28, 2014


How the 3-4-3 Formation rejuvenates Liverpool (Ayo Anibaba, 12/27/14, Backpage Football)

Recently, due to injury and a run of bad results, Rodgers has been playing without a recognizable striker in a 3-4-3 formation. I believe that if Brendan Rodgers plays this right, he could turn around Liverpool’s season. This is because the 3-4-3 formation is a counter-attacking formation by nature.

When Liverpool broke with the ball last season, midfielder made penetrative runs into the opposition half, whilst the forwards stretched the back line with their runs, often into the wide areas. With the 3-4-3 formation, Liverpool can easily overload these wide areas and the opposition full-backs and cause confusion amongst centre-backs and full-backs as to who is marking who.

The 3-4-3 also offers pressing. The front three could press the centre-backs whilst the wide men of the midfield four could press the full-backs. If Rodgers wants to do this right however, he needs to select the right players and give players specific roles for the section of the pitch they are playing in.

The front three need to be the most energetic as they defend from the front. Sterling, Coutinho and Borini should make up the front three currently, and Daniel Sturrdige should replace the latter when he returns from injury.

When Sturridge returns, Coutinho and Sterling have to be on either side of him. They are clever players that will be in the space Jonathan Wilson calls, “that awkward pocket of space between the full-back, centre-back and midfielder.”

Sterling and Coutinho should be able to take advantage of this space to their full ability. Liverpool have many options for the wide midfielders, but I personally would go with Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana, as they offer creativity in going forward.

The centre of midfield should be made up of Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva. Lucas will offer reliable defensive cover and Henderson’s energy will be useful in winning the ball back.

The point of Lambert and Balotelli was to break down Chelsea in the second half if you didn't score three in the first.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


GK Bill Hamid Is MLS' Best, Should Be USMNT's Next (JOHN GODFREY, DECEMBER 21, 2014, ASN)

 The 24-year-old Virginia native managed a 1.13 goals-against average despite facing 110 shots, helping Ben Olsen's side overachieve its way to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Hamid is a gifted shot-stopper blessed with agility, size (six-foot-three, 225 pounds) and solid positioning instincts. He also plays a position that tends to favor experience over youth, evidenced by the three 30somethings (Howard, Guzan, Nick Rimando) ahead of him in the U.S. national team pecking order. With Howard on hiatus, however, Hamid becomes the clearcut choice to join the American troika of backstops whenever the national team convenes.

It's also time to clear our Dempsey & Jones.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Eight years after famous miss, New England Revolution's Jay Heaps on the brink of cathartic title (Andrew Wiebe, 12/06/14,

Jay Heaps knows better than most that fate can be cruel. In his case, repeatedly so.

Four times Heaps and the Revolution went to MLS Cup. Four times, New England left with nothing but second-place medal to show for it.

And while each game had it’s own agonizing moments - 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007 - none was more formative for Heaps than the wild 2006 final that included dramatic extra-time time goals from the Revs and the Houston Dynamo and a decisive penalty miss that will live with Longmeadow, Mass., native for life.

#LAvNE | Sunday at 3 ET | ESPN, UniMas and UDN in the US; TSN1, RDS2 in Canada
Now, eight years after Pat Onstad saved his tame effort to give the Dynamo the first of back-to-back titles and almost three years since he left behind a career in finance to pace the sideline, Heaps has a rare opportunity at redemption.

If MLS were better at marketing this storyline would be getting more play than Donovan's final game.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


What Liverpool should do with Steven Gerrard (JAMIE CARRAGHER, 11/28/14, THE DAILY MAIL)

If Liverpool had a penalty or a free-kick in a dangerous area, Steven is the only person I'd want taking it. He's proven that against Ludogorets and Everton this season. He is also the man I'd pick to play a killer pass and the one I'd back over anyone else if he was racing through on goal.

The issue, however, is that at 34, he doesn't get into those positions as regularly as he once did. Furthermore, the dynamic of the deep-lying role he occupied last season has changed as Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have not been around to provide outlets.

After his outstanding efforts last year, he has yet to reach the same levels – who has in a red shirt?

Steven is not a great protector of a defence. He's there to start attacks from deep rather than shield a defence as Dietmar Hamann or Javier Mascharano did for me. [...]

Over the next 18 months, Brendan will have to start to take him off and leave him out for his own good. People have questioned whether the manager has the resolve to do so but history shows he makes big calls. Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Pepe Reina and I will testify to that.

But that isn't a bad thing for Steven. Can you imagine the reaction inside Anfield with 30 minutes of a tight game remaining and seeing No 8 getting stripped for action? With space to exploit and energy to change the game, he could be a lethal weapon. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Steven Gerrard eager to see Emre Can make his mark at Liverpool (Paul Wilson, 11/22/14, The Guardian)

“I have always liked English football and believed I would be suited to it,” he says. “I think it is the best league in the world to watch, possibly the strongest league, too. The conversation I had with Brendan Rodgers helped sway me, I could see he thought highly of me, but to be honest as soon as Liverpool showed interest it was a no-brainer. What I like about English football is that it is very quick, very physical. You hardly have time to breathe. That suits my game, and I haven’t been disappointed. The one thing I learned very quickly is that you have to be physically 100% ready to play in England.”

Can’s Liverpool career did not get off to quite the start he wanted, with a couple of early injuries delaying his first-team progress, but he has now played against Real Madrid and scored a goal against Chelsea, so he is up and running. “The goal gave me a confidence boost, especially after struggling a little bit at the start of the season,” he says. “I was never quite 100% fit for the first couple of months, and as I say, in England that can be crucial.”

Speaking at the Academy facility in Kirby as part of a first team visit to “inspire, educate and encourage the club’s young players and reinforce Liverpool’s One-Club philosophy”, Can says Steven Gerrard gave him some advice before the Chelsea game. “He told me it was a big game but it was my turn to shine,” he says. “I see myself as a similar player to Steven but I don’t know if I’ll ever match all the success he has had. He has had a great career and is still playing very well. I like playing next to him, he helps me out and looks after me, like a big brother. I hear people say he is past his best but he is still very influential. I don’t think he keeps getting in the team because his name is Steven Gerrard. He gets picked because of his performances on the pitch.”

Sadly, no, it's his name now.  The problem is, you could bring him on ffor the final twenty minutes of big games and he'd perform well, but you can't pull him for the final twenty.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Liverpool FC manager Brendan Rodgers says outstanding Borini has staked a claim for Newcastle clash (James Pearce, 10/30/14, Liverpool Echo)

Brendan Rodgers admits Fabio Borini has staked a strong claim for more regular action with his contribution to Liverpool FC’s midweek Capital One Cup triumph.

The Italian striker hadn’t even made the bench for the Reds’ previous three matches before being handed a rare start in the fourth round tie with Swansea City.

Borini, who rejected a £13million transfer deadline day move to Queens Park Rangers having spurned Sunderland’s advances earlier in the summer, responded by producing one of his best displays in a Liverpool shirt.

Mr. Rogers seems to have confused himself early in the season.  Mario Balotelli was the guy you needed to break down Chelsea in the last twenty minutes last year.  Borini is more the striker for a game where you're attacking at pace, which is how the rest of the team is built.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Jordan Henderson: The evolution of Liverpool FC's vice captain (Kristian Walsh, 10/16/14, Lierpool Echo)

[I]t is forgotten just how promising Henderson had been at Sunderland – and then how he played too often, and too much out of position, in his first season on Merseyside.

He arrived at Liverpool as a midfielder who had created 83 chances in 2010/11 for Sunderland, aged just 20. He contributed in seven of the Black Cats' 45 league goals, made 1,334 successful passes and won 62 tackles.

But then he became a young player stationed out wide, scared to open up defences with passing, and limited in what he could do in the final third.

Henderson didn't simply develop – he evolved. Here's the five stages of evolution he has underwent during his time under Rodgers and how, gradually, Henderson has become the player he has.

Henderson arrived at Liverpool with a reputation of being a player with good delivery with his right foot, and with the ability to run from deep and cause problems in the opposition's area. But in his first season at Anfield, he scored just twice, contributed one direct assist and created just 31 chances.

When he was given his chance under Rodgers, he was moved from his deeper, peripheral role on the right, to a more advanced role, either central or tucked inside off the wing. Of his five goals scored, three came from late runs from deep, with his intelligence undoing the high defensive lines. He also assisted four goals and made 33 chances.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Shades of Oranje (Rowan Ricardo Phillips, 6/24/14, Paris Review)

Holland has, since 1974’s “Clockwork Oranje” team, led by Johan Cruyff, been the symbol of offensive football; that team, and the great Ajax teams of the mid-seventies, were the great global ambassadors of an offensive 4-3-3 formation. Those teams were coached by Rinus Michels. Michels, Cruyff, and Johan Neeskens then went together to Barcelona; Cruyff ended up coaching Ajax and Barcelona. To this day, both Ajax and Barcelona play 4-3-3. Doing otherwise is taken as a great affront; when a coach does that, however rarely, his days are often numbered.

But in the case of the Dutch National team, there are exceptions. One would be France ’98, when Guus Hiddink deployed a 4-4-2—four defenders, a midfield diamond, and staggered forwards—and the occasional 4-5-1 to great effect. Another would be now, with Louis van Gaal, whose tactical decisions have been more fluid and unpredictable. Holland debuted against Spain with a 5-3-2—that’s five defenders for a team famous for attacking.

As you know by now, Holland scored five goals in the span of forty-five second-half minutes. Spain didn’t know what hit them. In their next game against Australia, Holland again played 5-3-2. Australia had clearly studied the formation, and consequently Holland sputtered through the first half. In the second, they switched to the tried-and-true 4-3-3 and put the sword to the team from down under.

Now, against Chile, with everything and nothing to play for, more changes were afoot. Holland had to make due without one of their star strikers, Robin van Persie, who’s been suspended. Instead of making a like-for-like switch and simply replacing van Persie with another forward, they changed the entire formation, playing a 4-2-2-2 and subbing another forward, Dirk Kuyt. But they were playing him as a carrilero—a wide player who defends and attacks equally along a specific sideline—out on the left. Kuyt is right footed. The stratagem was effective: Chile hardly had a shot on goal. But the South American commentators were appalled. How could Holland just throw away their tradition? Holland should always want the ball. That’s the legacy of the orange shirt. And here they were just letting Chile have the ball to themselves.

Although Chile seemed a shade of the side that had been so spectacular during their first two games, a Chilean broadcaster in the booth, Luis Omar Tapia, paid the team a telling compliment amid the general distaste that was being expressed of Dutch side before them. To paraphrase, he said it was lovely to watch this Chile, as they were designed first and foremost to recuperate the ball, to take it from the opposition—most teams now, he said, didn’t emphasize this trait, and it was beautiful to see Chile do so. It was telling, but not in the way he intended: he’d implied that Van Gaal’s tactics were working on the pitch. Chile, to be effective, needed the opposition to have, or at least desire to have, the ball. Instead, Holland left Chile increasingly toothless with the ball. Holland’s second goal came on a corner kick—taken by Chile.

By the end of the game, Holland had won 2-0; once again, their best players had been expressive and decisive, and even the most romantic devotee of 4-3-3 could see the point. Van Gaal’s Holland will not here be burdened by its history, but will change as needed, even if they risk looking unattractive for large parts of a game.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Team Focus: Germany's Adaptation of the 'False 9' Can Steer Them to Glory (Ben McAleer, Jun 21 2014, Who Scored?)

Löw instead used Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller as the focal point in attack and despite having featured as a striker 8 times for Bayern last season, this is perhaps not his best position. Müller is best suited in the number 10 role, or out on the wing to cut inside and go for goal, but was flanked by Mario Götze and Mesut Özil against Portugal.

While it may not be an exact blueprint of the ‘false 9’ system Vicente Del Bosque deployed at Euro 2012, Germany’s approach still bears a striking resemblance to the Spain of two years ago. In Monday's win, Philipp Lahm and Sami Khedira operated as the two deepest-lying midfielders, similar to Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets in Poland and Ukraine, while Toni Kroos played the "Xavi role".

With no player attempting more passes (79) than Lahm and only Kroos (96.2%) enjoying a better pass success of every Germany outfielder than his Bayern teammate (93.7%) in the win over Portugal, Lahm is capable of matching the exploits of Alonso and Busquets 2 years ago. However, question marks remain over Khedira’s role in the team. The midfielder missed a substantial chunk of the season with a cruciate ligament injury and though he did not put a foot wrong in the win over Portugal, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s expected return may be well timed.

Schweinsteiger may not be a destroyer in the same vain as Khedira, but his passing and creative ability from deep renders him one of the finest players in his position, while his reading of the game means he needn’t use a similar approach as Khedira to break up play. Alongside Lahm, the duo can replicate Alonso and Busquets’ midfield threat from 2012 and with Kroos deployed alongside his Bayern teammates, the trio can pick apart any side on their day.

In defence, Löw opted against using natural full-backs in their Group G opener, instead deploying Benedikt Höwedes and Jerome Boateng at left and right-back respectively. The pairing made just 4 starts between them in the league and Europe last season at full-back, so the decision to field the duo either side of Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker can be considered an unorthodox one.

This is pretty much ideal for the USMNT's formation.  With the two defensive midfielders clogging the middle you spoil the false 9 formation--as witness Mourhino's success against Barcelona.  And with Zusi and Bedoya and Johnson and Beasley on the wings you put pressure on defenders playing out of position.  We won't need to beat Germany to move on, but we can.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


The Question: is this the end for tiki-taka? : The success of defensive rigidity and rapid counter-attacks against possession football hints at another tactical evolution (Paul Wilson, 5/04/14, Guardian)

When Barcelona first started to play tiki-taka under Pep Guardiola, they began to achieve unprecedented levels of possession. For the first time probably since Arrigo Sacchi's Milan almost two decades previously, there was a new philosophy about. This wasn't just a minor tweak of positioning, a tendency for one centre-forward to drop slightly deeper, or for the full-backs to push a bit higher. It wasn't a slight change of shape: it was a whole new style. [...]

Although tiki-taka shared with total football the high defensive line, the interchanging of positions and the sense that the game could be controlled through possession, its characteristics were far from total: everything became sublimated to the pass. The centre-forward became a false nine because that enhanced fluidity of movement and created additional angles to keep the ball moving; the full-backs played higher up the pitch than ever before; midfielders were selected in defence for their passing ability from deep; even the goalkeeper had to be able to play the ball out from the back.

For a time, football seemed not to know how to react. When Chelsea came so close to eliminating Barça in the Champions League semi-final in 2009, the assumption was that the great physicality of Premier League teams could brush them aside, yet Manchester United never got anywhere near them in the final. The semi-final the following year, and the defeat to José Mourinho's Internazionale, came as a watershed. Yes, Inter were fortunate in some respects, but at the same time there were spells in the second leg of that tie – spells the significance of which perhaps wasn't fully recognised at the time – in which Barça were reduced to endless sideways passing, bereft of imagination and verticality. Yes, Barça missed chances they would usually have taken and, yes, Bojan Krkic's late strike should have counted, but the lesson was there: radical possession football could be defeated by radical non-possession football.

In his controversial biography, Diego Torres explained the code Mourinho came up with at Real Madrid for handling games against high-class teams, particularly away from home:

"1) The game is won by the team who commits fewer errors. 2) Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition. 3) Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it's better to encourage their mistakes. 4) Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake. 5) Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake. 6) Whoever has the ball has fear. 7) Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger."

That's the theory Mourinho used in the first leg against Atlético and last Sunday against Liverpool. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Secret to Liverpool’s title charge is Brendan Rodgers’ ability to keep changing formation – and Raheem Sterling’s gift of adapting to his manager’s wishes (JACK PITT-BROOKE, 19 April 2014, Independent)

Liverpool’s march towards the title takes them to Norwich tomorrow, a different challenge from that posed by Manchester City last weekend, requiring a different approach, especially with Jordan Henderson suspended and Daniel Sturridge a doubt.

Brendan Rodgers will probably revert to the 4-3-3 system, which served Liverpool so well earlier in the season. This would mean a move for Raheem Sterling from his recent role behind the strikers back on to the wing.

For some youngsters, such versatility might be a curse, as they are moved around at their manager’s convenience. Sterling has confounded that and achieved something special. He has not only found his voice as a Liverpool player but done so in different positions, on either wing or at the tip of a midfield diamond. At 19 years old, he has become an indispensable man for the best team in the country.

That flexibility owes to a taught tactical intelligence that is vital for anyone who wants to play for Rodgers’ Liverpool. This season’s success has been based on the use of different systems – a 4-2-3-1, a 3-5-2, a 4-3-3 and more than one form of 4-4-2 – chosen to fit the opposition and the available players.

The philosophy and the style of play do not change, but the systems do. Staff at Liverpool speak enthusiastically about Rodgers’ hard work on the training ground and in meetings, instilling the players with the tactical intelligence and the knowledge of different roles. One of the benefits of no European football, as Rodgers admitted this week, is that he has more “coaching time” than expected, leaving him “able to get a few ideas into the players”. This helps them to respond to his tweaks between and during games.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Brendan Rodgers has put his faith in young English stars and I'd love to see his Liverpool side win the title (Ian Holloway, 2/16/14, Mirror)

[A] big part of the Liverpool success story this season has been made in Britain.

Steven Gerrard has continued to be inspirational, in a more withdrawn midfield role – his ball to send Daniel Sturridge free to score at Fulham in midweek was delivered with the kind of precision we normally only associate with ­pass-masters like Andrea Pirlo.

Sturridge has been as sensational as he once only threatened to be.

And the charge for the top has been made at a time when Glen Johnson has been injured.

All three of those players will be on the plane to Rio.

But the one thing that should warm every Englishman’s heart has been the form shown by unsung heroes like Jordan Henderson , Raheem ­Sterling and young Jon ­Flanagan.

Henderson’s rebirth  is a credit to him and his manager for not giving up on a player who had lost his way following a big-money transfer.

Sterling is out there terrorising seasoned ­international defenders.

Flanagan has played with an assuredness that is well beyond his 21 years.

These boys are the future of England – and let’s hope that future begins at the World Cup.

Rodgers is no different to any manager in that he is ­responsible only to the club that pays his wages.

But he is clearly committed to ­developing talent as much as recruiting through the transfer market. To give someone like Gerrard a new lease of life by employing his skills in a different role was an absolute masterstroke.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Liverpool's Jordan Henderson is better than you think - perhaps more effective than Jack Wilshere : Jordan Henderson's effectiveness has improved significantly during his short career, and he's the lynch pin in Liverpool's midfield (Ted Knutson, 2/14/14, Daily Mirror)

Speaking of potential England World Cup players, I would definitely have this kid on the flight. Even without Theo Walcott’s injury, Sterling would be my second choice for a right-sided attacker in either a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1, because he and Daniel Sturridge are two of the few English players that can absolutely terrify defences right now with both blistering pace and quality technique.            

The thing about Sterling that you must keep in mind is that he’s only 19. This sort of production at the top level for players his age is truly outstanding, and it’s also likely to improve as he gets older.            

He’s already an outstanding dribbler, and he’s much better at not running in to dead ends than he was last season. Additionally, Opta data shows that his key passing numbers look good and he does a lot of work defensively for a player who is primarily an attacker.            

His end product is also far better than what Andros Townsend has produced in his two seasons at the Premier League level. Sterling isn’t much of a crosser, but unless Andy Carroll is in the side, England’s attack isn’t really built for that type of game either.            

Whether Hodgson plans to start him or use him as an impact sub, Sterling definitely deserves to be part of the action.


Liverpool’s Chihuahua is clawing its way into the title race with Gerrard in the holding role and Suarez out wide… but can they finally be top dogs? (CHARLIE SKILLEN, 15 February 2014, Daily Mail)

The England captain has reverted to being a holding midfielder, dictating Liverpool’s play from deep. Gerrard was a defensive midfielder for the early years of his career, before excelling in a more advanced, free role in his prime.
Now the legs have started to wear at 33, a shift back into a defensive position may prolong his career by years. Proof that you can teach an old dog – Chihuahua or otherwise – new tricks, Gerrard has become more disciplined in how he plays to the advantage of the team. 
Deep: Steven Gerrard (No 8) anchors Liverpool's midfield against Fulham
And again: Against Arsenal, Gerrard was almost as deep as the centre halves
Anchor man: Steven Gerrard (No 8) is shows as one of the deepest players on the pitch in the matches against Fulham (shown in the left position map) and Arsenal (right) 
Look at Liverpool’s average positions from their last two matches. Gerrard (8) is one of the deepest players in the whole side, and vital to each win. Against Arsenal, he’s just about level with centre-halves Martin Skrtel (37) and Daniel Agger (4). 
Rodgers uses two attacking full-backs in Aly Cissoko (20) and Jon Flanagan (38) so it has been imperative Gerrard curbs his attacking instincts, retaining his position and hence the shape of the team.
His primary job is to dictate play and start moves, feeding the two advanced central midfielders, Jordan Henderson (14) and Philippe Coutinho (10).