By Mihail Vladimirov.
A Question of Tactics is a new monthly feature, looking back over Liverpool’s recent performances tactically, considering any trends and developments and looking forward to the month ahead. It fills that space between the game by game analysis and an end of season review.
It is designed as an interactive feature to provide a regular opportunity for Subscribers to discuss their questions and observations with Mihail – see the end of the article for details of how.
This month’s questions posed by Bob Pearce and Daniel Rhodes.
Is it best to sit on a 1-0 lead, and look to counter, or should we always seek to dominate possession and score a second goal?
To start with, there is no universal tactical formula or approach that is always going to promise the ‘best’ solution. It’s all about match context, how the opposition is playing and what their strengths and weaknesses are. And all of this in relation to what your own team is better at.
Sometimes it’s too dangerous to leave a good team (or even a superior team) to have all the initiative in terms of possession and territory while your team simply sits deep and hopes to break forward. This would particularly be the case if your team is not so good at defending so close to the penalty area, being put under the cosh, and forced to depend on a ‘last ditch’ style of defending. Even more so if the opposition has the required technical and tactical tools to outsmart you by providing enough passing fluency and positional fluidity to simply overrun you from all directions, offering different and rotating points of attacks.
Other times it could be dangerous to continue being attack-oriented in search of a second goal. The risk here is that you leave too many spaces in behind and the opposition is capable to pick you off on the break. This is especially true if your defenders are either not the most mobile or the most technically adept, or both (which would suggest they might be more comfortable defending in and around your box rather than playing higher and leaving space in behind or asked to act as the initial ball-players). This may all be combined with an opponent that is traditionally dangerous on the break by having the players with pace and dribbling skills to hurt you within just a few passes and with quick transitions.
All of this illustrates my point from the start that there is no ‘best’ way that is going to suit you all the time, no matter the context, the opposition, and both teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
That’s why, now more than ever, it’s so imperative that the team must be equally capable of performing in both ways, and then adapt according to the occasion. These days this means it’s all about having the required tools to play several ways and adapt in-game to what’s actually happening on the pitch. This requires not only enough tactical potential and depth within the squad, but also a manager who is tactically adept, versatile and creative enough to formulate different tactical plans to suit the context and the opposition, both before and during each game.
The alternative is that your team is so specialised and so good at either always sitting and defending deep, or always searching one more goal, that you could count on that approach working maybe not always but most of the time. But there would be always the risk that over the time opponents might find a way to work around your main approach. And then you will be facing the dilemma of whether to continue looking one-dimensional and have to pray that not every opponent would be capable to work around your main plan. Or you will need to try to evolve in some way.
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