By Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.
Free Friday is our round-up of five extracts from articles or comments that have appeared on the site during the past week. Just to show what we get up to here behind the paywall!
Duke Silver on Monday, discussing the importance of a good defence:
Every successful team has a good defence. Mourinho’s original Chelsea side were solid, Wenger inherited a mean back line and Houllier and Benitez were always difficult to score against. In recent times, Leicester’s unlikely title last season was built in a very average but tough and organised back line led by Huth and Morgan. The two teams leading the race this year both have superb defences. The managers built from the back
Since the Hodge era, we’ve become extremely lightweight in that area (starting with the sudden melting of Reina). Our title push in 13/14 was completely undermined by the 50+ goals we conceded and since then we’ve been leaking close to 50 each year
Until we properly prioritise our defence in the upcoming transfer window – I think we’ll continue to be also-rans.
Tony McKenna returned to TTT with this fantastic analysis of the importance of defending well:
Prior to the Palace game, Liverpool had already incurred a statistic that, historically, had negated chances of a top 4 finish.
Yet, it is one we do not consider with the same watchfulness allocated to the sexier dimension of the game. Quite possibly, this underlines a cognitive bias where seduction reigns most supreme: scoring goals is where the allure of glory and esteem beckons most significantly. Indeed, we celebrate and eulogise a goal far more emphatically than the credence we would allocate to a defensive block or save from a goal keeper. Statistics for the latter, if recorded, are never committed to long term memory; nor freely rattled off during debate and discussion. However, they help to save and secure points gained over the whole season.
Liverpool had conceded 40 goals before the meeting with Palace. Over the last decade teams that finished in the top 4 had mostly conceded less than 40 goals; often considerably less. Of course, there are the odd anomalies: for example, under Rodgers Liverpool finished second with their goal being breached on 50 occasions; the fact that they scored over 100 obviously counteracted to facilitate the runners up spot. But that is just the point. Attention paid towards the strengths of a meaner defence may have actually helped the reds finish as Champions for the season.
A lack of regard for the importance of defence fails to heed the message from `The Numbers Game` whereby Anderson and Sally write about the two dimensions of `light and dark`. The former relates to attack whilst the latter signifies defence. There may be another reason why we fail to appreciate the importance of defence:
“Football is not alone in its neglect of understanding and valuing defence. As Bill James, the godfather of baseball statistics, pointed out: `Defence is inherently harder to measure. And this is true in any sport. In any sport, the defensive statistics are more primitive than the offensive statistics. It`s not just sports. It`s true in life. It would be true in warfare and true in love.” (The Numbers Game: page 133).
Despite the difficulties presented we must endeavour in the quest to fully appreciate the value of a robust defence and measure its significance. Whatever the size of the task, we must never spare it scrutiny under footballs microscope. Possibly, we did so.
Christmas 2016 saw the fan base discussing a title win – never mind a top 4 finish. Then 2017 arrived, heralding what we might now call a season of two halves. Maybe a cautious question should have dominated and even tempered our hopes: `What are our defensive qualities?`
For far too long Liverpool have failed to achieve stability in terms of defensive personnel: players who have had the quality, plus consistency of form, to deliver what it takes as a defensive unit to succeed in the English Premier. If we got excited about winning the league, we also ignored the fact that we were doubtfully juggling the merits of those who should staff our Number 1 position. And with Milner deputising as left – back, whilst dutifully and admirably, we may have forgotten that his stint was exposing us as being bereft in this very position.
As it now stands, Liverpool are at the disposal of what other teams do if there is any chance remaining of a top 4 finish. Most poignantly, United now loom as mathematical favourites, in the context of games in hand, to exceed our final point accumulation. Even more interestingly, it is a curious thing to reflect on how United have achieved this status. They have only scored 50 goals this season – poor by their standards; with form at Old Trafford also being poor by the same high standards.
But, and this is the nub, they have only conceded 24 goals all season. This not only puts them in and around par with Chelsea, (29); Spurs, (22), it has also compensated for scoring just 50 goals all season. Light and Dark.
Mourinho gets to be called pragmatic. He is also negative. He plays unadventurous, non exciting football. And he certainly employed nullifying tactics against Liverpool recently; successfully so. Generally, he has probably got United in the best possible position they could have been during his first season in charge. Mourinho`s strength, one dare says, is to find an antidote for fashionable methods; to be different; to be away from the crowd. He has always done it this way.
“The maps we make of football depend on playing style. After Barcelona`s success in 2011, more and more clubs adopted their approach. In the Premier League, Arsenal, Liverpool, Southampton and Swansea City all began to play a decentralised game with rapid passing. However, during his time as Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho found a way of neutralising and defeating `tippy-tappy` teams by crowding the box with defenders. And in Chapter 3 we saw that even Barcelona fell dramatically from their perch in 2013 when Bayern out-pressed them.” (Soccermatics, by David Sumpter, page 130).
Big Sam`s pants were crowded post the Liverpool match. He is also a Manager who relishes finding the antidote to how footballing teams like to play. Happily informing the media about Liverpool`s weaknesses, particularly in defence, he identified the tendency of wing backs to push far forward; leaving the two, slower less mobile central defenders exposed to ambush. He also spoke of our susceptibility towards set pieces. It was a battle plan that worked.
Similar plans implemented by the likes of Burnley and Bournemouth this season, have also counteracted our style of play. We must address the paradox of why we perform well against the top teams; yet all too often flounder against those in the lower half of the table. Does our style of play absolutely suit those teams? Spurs are still contesting the title even though they have failed to match our prowess against the EPL higher echelon teams. Obviously, there is huge value in points to be gained lower down the scale.
The flaws in our system are common knowledge. We must become less predictable. Towards this outcome we must apportion as much significance to the attributes of a masterful defensive style of playing; as we do to the notion of swash buckling and attacking football. We must embrace defensive statistics and their implications. We must debate them. We must celebrate defensive blocks and saves; noting which players achieve them mostly. We must then be in the market for the best possible defensive players we can buy.
At times, in certain games – or at intervals during certain games – we may need to revise our commitment towards attacking and exciting football. It does not have to be a case of total compromise. Even the greatest rock and roll bands get away with the odd ballad or two. Overall, we must make defence sexy. Light and dark.
If not? As if you needed reminding: Liverpool have developed a propensity for gifting easy chances to opponents. We must stop making matters hard for ourselves. Apply the balance: Defence is the best form of attack. Attack is the best form of defence.
“Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack.”
MikeH on Wednesday questioning Liverpool’s transfer policy:
At what point does the transfer committee get questioned about buying Soton players? I know all sorts of caveats can/will apply but regardless of that if VVD happens that will be 6 players from 1 club? As a proportion of our number of acquisitions and percentage of our budget,it’s a big number.
I was aware of Mane, VVD and Lovren before they moved for the princely sum of 30m combined. We will have paid 102m.
If I was running this as a business I would have serious questions about the breadth of our coverage in the transfer universe, should I hire someone from Soton, our structure for development that we are prepared to give them a return north of 200% in absolute terms in no time at all.
I expect the level of dysfunctionality that existed while BR and Transfer committee were fighting it out to improve. I believe Klopp’s record for development and clear tactical ideas will help.
However, it’s like we’re saying these are the best we can find having scoured the world. That is patently rubbish.
In the mid 90s, the City saw the rise of the quant and algorithmic traders. Bright guys using tech and analysing big data to trade better. These guys were bright but it didn’t stop them from being stupid too at times. The first few years were marked by good ideas but without an understanding of what was important. I’m now involved in several businesses of this nature in other industries but these basic principles still apply. That’s where we are in football, I think we’re in the foothills of data analysis and player recruitment. We need guys who are not only smart but are able to draw all the strands together whether it’s tactical suitability, injury record, personality, mental fortitude-is this what a great Director of Football does?
I’d be worried that they’re just not quite good enough. Obviously this isn’t fact. However if I think about the world of football and all the players that inhabit it then I add Liverpool’s financial firepower … the probability that a large part of what we need resides at Southampton will be close to zero.
One day Klopp will leave. Klopp left Dortmund but Zorc is still there. The structure for finding, procuring and developing youth are still visibly there. Will that be the case at Liverpool or will we fall into the Ferguson/Wenger trap-just leave it all to the big guy he knows what he’s doing?
That is a really terrible way to run anything, it does not lend itself to longevity and that is exactly how we have to think if we are to get back to the top and be a perennial contender.
Bob posted this quote from an interview with Ezra Klein about social media and its insidious impact on our consciousness
Paul, I read this interview with Ezra Klein earlier today and thought at the time that you’d find it interesting. Then when I read this article I felt it was time to share.
Oh yes, it’s an interview with Playboy (and so proving the cliché that the articles are interesting).
Let’s just say I haven’t looked at my Twitter mentions since 2012.
You have more than 1.6 million followers. Do you worry you’re missing out?
No. It’s the opposite. I think Twitter is negatively addicting. Same thing with Facebook. It’s fine to look at it sometimes, but those kinds of information are built to make you addicted. They are built to form habits. They are built so you feel if you haven’t checked in in the past hour that you will miss things forever. Meanwhile, the book on my nightstand is always going to be there, so it’s easy for me to justify not picking it up.
Twitter is bad on a professional level too. It creates this herd mentality for journalists. Everybody is getting the same information, so they’re all going to think the same things. I’m trying to pull myself back to books and papers and research. I’m challenging myself to spend an hour a day in the morning quietly reading a book and getting ideas and reporting. It is hard to do, but it’s important. It’s funny, though, because I’ll sometimes retweet people and they’ll come to me afterward and be like, “You turned my Twitter account into a sewer for 12 hours. Thanks a lot, dude.”
What’s your relationship with Snapchat?
I like Snapchat, but it’s a very idiosyncratic interface. I think that’s why people over 40 can’t figure it out. People were wondering how the IPO could soar the way it did, but I completely understand it. Like a lot of these technologies, Snapchat is valuable not because of the interface but because so many people contribute to it for free. Facebook and Twitter, the same. Uber similarly. That means the company gets to know a lot about you, and the technology becomes more useful as it learns where you are, where you’re going, where you’ve been, where you might want to go.
Who needs Russian hackers when Facebook knows your every move?
The hacking problem is insidious and something I think about every day. I open my computer and a red bar on my Gmail comes up that says Google believes it has detected state-sponsored hackers trying to break into my account. It comes back every couple of days. I’m not the only journalist this happens to. This is a real thing. I’ve talked to Google about it. There’s a lot I do around internet-security hygiene that I wish I didn’t have to do, but these are the times we’re in.
Your wife, Annie Lowrey, is a political journalist too. Do the two of you ever go on media fasts?
Well, in my job I really can’t take a news fast. I have to know what’s going on.
But you must need breaks from all the noise.
Annie will sometimes look at Twitter at night in bed, and if I know Twitter is open near me, cortisol floods my bloodstream. What’s happening? It’s amazing to me how physiological my response to that stuff is now. I see it and I can feel my blood pressure spike.
We all feel it at times. This can’t be good for society.
The constant diet of social media is like dumping toxins into your veins. I think it’s a genuine threat to news and to some of these platforms. I don’t know how long people will voluntarily expose themselves to things that make them feel so bad. The incredible levels of conflict, confrontation, controversy and outrage—if the conversation doesn’t get more productive, I think there’s going to be an exhaustion point.
Below is a short film called ‘Saturday’ and written by Mike Forshaw. It has been viewed at various film festivals, including Sundance, but they were unable to upload it online until recently because of the media blackout on Hillsborough.
The film, written and directed by Mike Forshaw, is a fictional account of how the Hillsborough stadium disaster unfolded for one family living in Merseyside, England. The tragedy that occurred on the terraces of Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989 in Sheffield, England, claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool FC supporters there to attend the FA Cup Semi-Final. Nearly thirty years on Hillsborough remains the biggest sporting disaster in British history. Yet although the loss of life has been well documented, the immediate impact on the families in Merseyside – who watched helplessly at home as the tragedy unfolded on their television screens – is often overlooked. SATURDAY provides a unique, emotional perspective of Hillsborough by setting this short away from the scene of the disaster, and observing the drama through the eyes of an 8-year- old child, played by newcomer Harrison Vaughan.
Articles published this week on The Tomkins Times:
Post-Match Analysis: Crystal Palace (H) by Daniel Rhodes. All the stats and data from yesterday, if we can bear it.
The Old Boys’ Pen – a European Match to Remember. Recollections of formative European nights.
IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Liverpool Must Nab Keita, At All Costs by Daniel Rhodes. Scouting the RB Leipzig midfielder.
We Need to Talk About Football (Podcast and More) By Paul Tomkins