Behind the Paywall (w/e 14th November 2014)

Behind the Paywall (w/e 14th November 2014)
November 12, 2014 Chris Rowland

By Chris Rowland.

A lot of the best content on TTT is what no one outside of the subscriber-base gets to see. There’s a whole world of brilliant debate going on all day every day.

So let’s have a look at a few brief highlights of the conversations that have been taking place this week on the site’s many debate threads, starting with this from an article written by Paul Tomkins about Liverpool’s current state, called November Spawned a Monster; Liverpool’s Woes.

DaveC:

I just wanted pick up on the point about people blaming Rodgers or transfer committee depending on viewpoint or agenda. I noticed on this site in the aftermath of the game there were some pretty damning posts aimed at Rodgers and away from this site I encountered some hysterical reactions. I wrote a post questioning Rodgers’ pragmatism and finished it with the sentence: “He has credit in the bank but I think he’s spending at an unsustainable rate.”

And maybe this is paranoia but I know that people have different concepts of what it means to ‘support’ and some may well feel I go too far but I would hope I’d never give anyone the ammunition to accuse me of having an agenda or at least any agenda other than Liverpool Football Club being the best in England and Europe.

When I was in my teens, every season I would produce handmade tables of our fixtures and update them with results and goal scorers. [Sad, I know.  These days it’s all done on spreadsheets!]

In 1997 after suffering the ignominy of documenting a 0-1 home defeat to Barnsley I scrawled ‘EVANS OUT!  EVANS OUT!  EVANS OUT!!!!!!’ on my page. This would later become a source of embarrassment when a year later I found myself at the same University as Roy’s son, Steven whose recently dismissed father volunteered his services to coach our football teams and present our end of season awards ceremony.

I was awestruck meeting Roy in the flesh and listening to him speak, I felt gutted for him personally that he’d been removed from the club he loved.

I didn’t mean it. I was angry and impulsive. And stupid. And teenage. If that was today, I’d have been tweeting ‘EVANS OUT! EVANS OUT! EVANS OUT!!!!!’ rather than writing something on a piece of paper that no one would ever see until I was dumb enough to show my records to the son of an ex-Liverpool manager having forgotten what I’d written.

I was at Roy Evans’ last game as a Liverpool manager (joint-manager as it happened). There were no protests. No one was even angry. It was sad. We all somehow knew that this was going to his last game.  When he cried at his press conference, I welled up. Here was a Liverpool man who desperately wanted to bring success to his club but just hadn’t been able to.

When the axe fell for Houllier (or “the Frenchman” as Evans called him), I was relieved but not happy.  It wasn’t a triumph. It was sad. With hindsight I wished Houllier had simply not returned to the job following his heart surgery. That way, he’d have been remembered as a true great whose tenure was cut short rather than a man who tarnished his legacy and spent two years talking bollocks about plateaus, turning corners and 5-year plans. He was another Liverpool man who would have given his life to bring success to the club but just couldn’t deliver what he so desperately wanted.

Rafa… Dear God this is getting depressing! I was hurt most by his dismissal. It felt like we’d lost a battle against the owners and the war against the media. But worse than that – and this is the reason some supporters still pine for Benitez – it felt premature. It felt like he had not yet run his course. It felt like he still had something to offer the club. Evans and Houllier had reached the end of their runs. Rafa’s was cut short.

And this brings us to Roy Hodgson. I signed an on-line petition calling for his dismissal. I was glued to The Tomkins Times in those dour months desperate for any hint or hope that John W Henry was ready to swing the axe. When it fell I was so happy. With Kenny stepping in as caretaker, it felt like we’d reclaimed our club.  Hodgson was never a Liverpool man. He never gave a shit about our club. He was and remains an utter twat.

On the drive home from Wembley following our Cup Final defeat to Chelsea in 2011-12, discussion focused around the future of King Kenny. Six defeats in seven League games was a recent memory. Kenny couldn’t arrest the slide. And now he’d started Jay Spearing in an FA Cup Final against Chelsea. Andy Carroll nearly pulled Liverpool back from 2-0 down but alas goalline technology was not in use. But the abiding frustration was not over the quality of officialdom but over the fact that the in-form club record signing who dominated Chelsea for 35 minutes had sat on the bench until the 55th minute (alongside Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez) as the starting XI did nothing but slowly and inevitably lose. No one wanted Kenny Dalglish sacked. The words ‘Kenny Dalglish’ and ‘sacked’ should never feature in the same sentence when it comes to Liverpool Football Club. We did wonder if FSG had messed up by giving him the permanent manager’s job rather than thanking him for his sterling work as caretaker manager and sticking to their original plan. But what choice did they have when he’d done so well and there was such demand for him to get the job?

When the axe fell on Kenny it felt wrong and yet it felt justified after the season we’d had. It’s still something I’m not comfortable with and we can never say what Kenny might have done had he been able to carry on – ideally sticking to his playing principles rather than pursuing the flawed idea that crossing lots wins games.

But here’s the point of this post: when Liverpool managers get sacked, it is a genuinely sad thing. No one should feel triumphant about it. No one who loves the club should want it to happen. No one should call for it. If it needs to happen, it will happen.

The exception is Hodgson but he was only ever a Liverpool manager in title (briefly). He was the rotten egg left in our nest by the cuckoo quartet of Hicks, Gillett, Purslow and Broughton.

Rodgers nearly won the League last season. He was nearly a Liverpool legend in just his second season. He is currently failing in his job and questions are rightly being asked about his performance. We have to be able to ask questions about his performance and long-term suitability as Liverpool manager if there are any doubts. But that is very different to calling for his head. No one should do that.

Anyone doing that is impulsive, stupid and if they aren’t teenage they are seriously immature.

Rodgers is a Liverpool man. He desperately wants to achieve success for our club just as much as Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez and King Kenny Dalglish did. If his limitations ultimately mean he can’t do it, it will be sad for him and everyone concerned. But if the limitations aren’t his but the clubs (as I believe was the case for Benitez) then we need to be fair to the man and not scapegoat him. This is where the lack of transparency over the transfer committee makes it difficult to assess how fair to the man we are being.

Sacking a manager is not a punishment for a few bad results or team selections we didn’t like. It’s a last resort when you simply can’t see things improving to an acceptable level under that manager.

I’ve asked questions about Rodgers. I will continue to ask questions about Rodgers and I make no apologies for that. But first and foremost I want Liverpool FC to be successful and therefore I want Liverpool’s manager to be successful. If I think Rodgers is doing something wrong (from my amateurish layperson’s perspective) I want him to address it; not get sacked for it.

PJW:

Brilliant post mate. I think you come over as very fair and it’s clear you’re aren’t calling for his head. Like you say – questions are there to be asked. I think Rodgers fully understands this reality. I think all managers do. And Rodgers himself often notes that it’s a results business.

I remember Dalglish talking about ‘custodians’ – in reference to himself and the owners. Saying the club was the thing and they were just doing their best to look after it (one of the many many reasons to love and admire that man). I think that makes the point. We all love the club and want it to succeed, so want those who get and respect the club; who take it to their hearts (which entirely excludes Hodgson) to succeed. Certainly within TTT, but you get the same sense on TAW. Football has changed, but you feel we’re still broadly supportive as a fanbase (except the teenage twitter users!).

I posted yesterday about feeling sad at the moment and that’s because I’m worried Rodgers is in one of those periods when things can get out of control for a manager. I don’t agree with decisions he’s making but obviously he wants to succeed. It seems to me like he’s lost his way…

I think what fans could buy into is a rebuild; a midfield built around Can and Allen; more of Sterling and Coutinho (though resting them too), more of Markovic, Lallana. For me more of Lucas and Allen too. Less of Lovren. Less of Gerrard. And on this latter pointing – the NOW is the thing. We all wish time would stand still, but sadly I think Gerrard has to feature less so we can plan for life without him. If he’ll live with that, it could actually see him stay around for longer… But either way I think it needs to happen. I can’t speak for every fan but I just want things to be hopeful again with Rodgers. I know he has to make mistakes and learn from them, so while it’s a bit subjective as to how much Gerrard should play, his age is a fact. And based on other top aging players, one can assume he won’t be featured much/at all in 2 years time. So the future has to start somewhere.

It won’t be a sentiment shared by everyone, but for me how he builds – and rotating/not of Gerrard – matter more than where we finish. Because given us last season and Southampton this, I could well believe that a step back this season really could bring a big step forward next. But I think Gerrard needs to be a bit player in that, not a regular. Though truly I would love to be wrong on all this and some combination of Sturridge returning and a January buy/recall of Origi setting us off for more of the same as 13/14. (It’s just that the quite worrying stats of Dan and Beez suggest there is more wrong than just the striker situation…)

Beez:

Quality post, DC, and one that pretty much everybody on TTT would appreciate and support.

It’s funny, I’ve been ignoring the league table recently, yet for all our woes I’ve just checked it and we’re only four points off fourth.

We might have one fewer point than Hodgson did, but he was five points off 4th. Context is everything ;-)

Seriously though, this season is certainly not fucked beyond repair, but we need to get our act together before our floundering rivals do.

Paul Tomkins:

One issue that slightly worries me, which I’ve mentioned before, is the size of the signings.

We’re likely to have Sterling in the XI, and Coutinho too, a lot of the time. Allen also seems to be a Rodgers’ favourite, obviously.

Lallana, Markovic and Moreno are three new smaller guys. Rodgers played Can to cope with Chelsea’s size, and maybe that’s something that we need to look at more often, because we can end up being full of little nimble guys – which worked for Barcelona, but is harder to get away in the more direct English game. Borini is also a small-ish player, and we struggle to defend set-pieces as it is. Manquillo is 5’11″, so a bit in-between.

Lambert is a big unit, but too slow and not playing well enough. Balotelli and Lovren are big too, along with Can, so we did sign some bigger players. It seems we signed 50-50 between big and small players this summer, but maybe we needed to add a greater amount of physical players?

As I’ve always said, the big, quick and skilful players are the premium-priced ones. Chelsea and City have little skilful players, but they have more than their fair share of bruisers.

On Tuesday on the same thread, a debate broke out about defensive responsibility and who was most at fault for Chelsea’s winning goal on Saturday:

Macattack:

Many have suggested the need for a Defensive Coach. This does not necessarily mean it will be the panacea we seek; Steve Clarke had not had too great an impact when he was in that role. And neither does Rodgers want such an addition to his staff. That is fine. As he has suggested the players just need more time with him.

“More time?” We have heard this before. Rodgers is now in his third season; that is more than sufficient time to have established a defensive philosophy that would complement the much-touted ‘attacking philosophy’. Since the latter eludes us at this juncture of the season, it was ever more imperative that an effective defensive strategy was in place; less it reigns as the missing lego piece that completes the house.

Could the answer be frustratingly more simple than we think? Firstly, when we talk about ‘defensive errors’ it strikes me that you will never totally eradicate human error no matter how good your players are. Randomness will deal you enough of your fair share.

The nub of the problem is: do we have a strategy or model that compensates for those random moments? Play a ‘high line’; start passing the ball sideways across the park; err; then your opponents intercept and there you have it: no cover in defensive personnel which can lead to rare events such as opponents having a ’12  0’clock’ run on goal.

Witness the now infamous ‘Gerrard Slip’. Of course it did not lose us the title; that is just hindsight analysis imparted by lazy spectators curve-fitting an event to explain an eventual outcome. But recall another example: Skrtel’s misplaced sideways pass against City at Anfield; Tevez got the postcard and seized his opportunity for another direct ’12 0’clock’ run on goal. There was no cover; and for fuck’s sake, Skrtel, a centre-back, had made that fated pass whilst in the left-back position. (There are other examples but time prevents me from including them here).

But I return to a theme I keep posting about. If Rodgers wishes to resolve the defensive issues then he would do well to work on ‘Decision making’ with the use of heuristics with all team members – not just defensive personnel.

The first Chelsea goal. Oh my god, there is Glen Johnson cupping his balls as he makes a half-hearted attempt to intercept in the area. Shocking; and he must go. Contrast this with Gary Cahill; whilst we bemoan a stonewall penalty, the fact is he was prepared to put his body on the line for the team. For fuck’s sake, Johnson, the ball was on the floor; you are sideways on to the play, and you have the presence of mind to think: “Oh, must cup me bollocks!”.

The second Chelsea goal. You have the current hot goal scorer in the area with time and space enough to execute a shot. Moreno’s decision-making ought to have run on the lines of: that ball is not going to fall in my locality; he should then have changed tack and made his body useful in the danger area – pouncing on it like a fly on shit. He does not even have to get the ball – but merely to close down the space that obscures Costa’s vision. Witness Jags’ goal in the derby; where was the LFC player tracking a ball that fell into space outside the area?

I have already identified and posted about circumstances whereby the likes of Joe Allen and Henderson have turned their backs on an incoming shot. Unforgivable. I could go on; but I will not. Rant over.

Leaving you with my recurring question: can Rodgers defend? Soon, he will need to prove that he can.  And the answer need not be complex. Instil players with the need to have courage to block shots…body and bollocks on the line good sirs… and train them to improvise when the ball is not in their zone; so that they may put themselves in the area where space now needs to be closed down. Decision making is all.

Coutinho 2014

Whose responsibility for Chelsea’s winner? Plenty of contenders …

DuncanM23:

I actually think Moreno is in exactly the right place (on the edge of the 6 yard box, level with the back stick).  Unfortunately for him, after Mig deflects the cross, it hits Moreno and falls directly to Costa.  At which point Moreno attempts to close from goalside and spreads himself well and Costa scores. If that was Enrique, he would have been on the edge of the penalty area! :)

Unless the player in question is a direct danger from the cross (eg Palace last year where Flanno was a few yards off, and couldn’t block the shot due to that), being on the 6 yard box moving towards the ball is better than hanging on the shoulder of the attacking player is better IMO.  How many times do you see a striker and defender level when a keeper spills the ball, and the striker gets there first? There is also the small matter of Oscar (who ends up in the back of the net and actually obstructs Mig as he tries to recover towards Costa) – who’s supposed to be marking him?

Macattack:

I agree with your point Duncan.  Except to add that Moreno was far too slow to make his move, (decision making and improvisation behind the clock is futile); this allowed Costa to get the shot off which, yes deflected off Moreno with unfortunate consequence; but a second or so faster out to Costa and he has no room to get the shot away at all.

I think the problem was that Moreno’s position on the 6 yard box did not address the fact that Costa was beyond that very location.  An initial ‘right position’ absolutely changes in accordance with the location of where the ball lands – especially if an opponent has ample space in that position.

I also agree with your comment on Oscar.  You make good observations.  Oscar`s freedom of space is symptomatic of the overall failure to fill those holes.  Oscar could easily have been the eventual goal scorer; except it was not needed because Costa had become the key threat anyhow.

The salient point is: Chelsea had more than one option in terms of danger.  Our risk is elevated.  And it is not just in this game where we have incurred such situations.

DuncanM23:

I think Oscar was the key threat on the cross – Mig did quite well to stop it reaching him, but Costa got the second ball. The benefits of having more than 1 player in the box.

If you’re going to list the errors that contribute to the goal, I think Moreno is way down the list. Coutinho needs to make the ball or the player his, there needs to be better support for him if he’s beaten and to block the cross that comes in, and Mig should get a better deflection on the cross to take it out of the danger area. Then we come to Moreno, who could maybe have done better with both it hitting him and also closing the shot down. If we’re being hyper critical, I think he got his angles wrong and left the near post too open as well – there were a bunch of bodies around the far post so you have to try to get him to hit one of them. If you look at the players who have been exceptional at blocking shots (eg Carra Henchoz), not only do they put their bodies on the line, but they also get their angles right. I can’t see too many BR training sessions happening on how to block a shot though!

Daniel Rhodes:

And herein lies the problem with any analysis of defending. Whenever I tried to go through every defensive error last season (during the goals we conceded), a vast majority of the time it was possible to make two fair cases for each side of the argument.

We’re trying to pinpoint exactly what a human would and indeedshould be doing, in a split second.

You refer to Cahill Tony, but that was a shot from outside the box and he had more time to react, and in reacting in the way he did, he could have cost his team victory, that’s not brave or excellent decison-making, is it? Shouldn’t he have interpreted the flight of the ball better, and moved his feet quicker to block the shot with his chest?

Is Duncan right or Tony? Is Moreno at fault or is it Glen Johnson? Coutinho? Or Mignolet for attempting to cut the cross out? Or Rodgers for his tactical structure and instructions? Or was it brilliant CF play from Costa? Maybe the ball went out of play? Blame the official! So many variables.

Analysing defending is a minefield, and on-the-ball defensive errors are only a fraction of the total errors all defneders, on all teams, make in every game. On and off-the-ball. But if your team is set up to let the opposition have the ball, how much scope do the defenders have to make on-the-ball errors? Their GK always goes long, when they get the ball, they kick it long. So, they may not make any defensive errors according to Opta, but they rarely get the chance, because they’re hardly ever on the ball. Most of their work is done off-the-ball, staying deep, narrow, organised, keeping a line of four at all times, with a midfield four sat just in front of them, and full-backs that never venture forward.

Shaun G:

Willian should have been closed down before playing the cross field ball to the Chelsea left-back.

Johnson is far too close to his centre-back, leaving Coutinho to patrol the whole of the right side of the pitch. Coutinho should jockey better.

As Johnson is too far infield, once the left-back goes past Coutinho he’s free to enter the box and put in a cross under little pressure. Johnson is slow to react in the whole piece.

Mignolet can’t really catch it, Moreno should not let Oscar go by so easily, if Mig misses it Oscar scores for me.

Lovren is done by Costa’s movement. Costa makes a sprint to the area, draws Lovren to the space and then he drops off creating his extra yard before the ball even gets to Moreno.

The touch Mig gets on it flumoxes Moreno, he can’t adjust and thus giving Costa the time and space to smash it in!

Lack of forward press on Willian & Johnson’s poor positioning bigger problems for me, if they’re better I say the ball doesn’t get in our box to begin with!

Roller:

As I see it Johnson is the main man for letting that goal go in. A more half hearted attempt at closing down if Coutinho couldn’t stop the winger I haven’t seen for ages. It wouldn’t have been alright even in restitute training. Argh! Coutinho let the Chelsea player go way too easy past him. And Moreno. That was the second time he has laid down the ball perfectly for the opponent to score. But I guess shit happens. We have to improve when it comes to shit happening. Brendan!

Macattack:

Am enjoying this…the strength of TTT i.e. great debate. I honestly was not sure to post the above given I did not wish to incur the charge of being negative, or against Rodgers. To my delight, conversely, these are constructive disagreements which I welcome. Let us kick it about a while.

Is Duncan right or Tony? I really do not know. I accept my mood has been tinged with the psychological loss against one of the most despicable and detestable managers I have ever known. (See; I am not emotional at all :-) )

I suppose what we could all collectively agree upon is that, yes, there is a malaise within our defence and it is shared collectively across the team. But the ultimate question is does Rodgers have an answer for it?

I had thought of an article on these lines in terms of the question I keep posing: “Can Rodgers Defend?”  To date, I bottled out of it because such a piece gets you misconstrued as a ‘Rodgers Hater’ – which I most certainly am not.

Let me re-state my position. I do not dislike or hate Rodgers; by the same token I avoid the other extreme end of the scale whereby , and many did, people backed him with overwhelming optimism. The assessment of Rodgers, or any manager for that fact, must lie somewhere between those extremes; as we glean more information we can re-assess and then re-assess etc.

Daniel raises the matter of Cahill. And rightly so, he states that his blocked shots were not necessarily good decision-making because of the risk of incurring a penalty. On another day his luck may have deserted him.

But the main point I would emphasise is the courage to put his body on the line – something I think our players lack at times. I can almost hear Shankly saying to Glen Johnson:

“Son…they’re not your bollocks…they’re Liverpool’s”.  :-)

Beez:

What I find interesting about defensive errors is the following:

Both Lovren and Moreno have already made more of these for us in the league than they did in the whole season.

Why is this? I refuse to believe that they’ve become terrible overnight (not that Moreno has, but you see my point).

Is it the system we use? Pressure of playing for a bigger club? Or just bad luck?

When I look at Moreno’s errors that lead to goals (City and Newcastle away), yes he made a mistake, but without the anticipation of the forward then there’s no goal.

I don’t have an answer here, but I’m becoming more convinced that the system we use, including no proper DM, is at the root of a lot of the errors. We only made one at the Bernabeu, and I think that’s because we sat in deep with the closest to what we have to a DM playing in front of them.

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