Free Friday: A Clash of Caution, SAS Signals and Owen’s Cliched Fantasies

Free Friday: A Clash of Caution, SAS Signals and Owen’s Cliched Fantasies
October 12, 2018 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Friday


Posts selected by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.

The idea of this round-up is to give you all some idea of the range of debate on the site. If you’d like to be part of our troll-free community, there’s a ‘Subscribe’ tab at the very bottom of the page.

1 – Thundyr reflecting on yet more lame TV punditry:

I think the Twitter “over-reaction” to a home draw against last season’s record-breaking champions can be summarised by Michael Owen’s post-match commentary.

<paraphrased> “Frankly, I was very disappointed in this game.  All that talent, the best and most expensive players in the world, and it ends with very few chances created.”  (Or something like that anyway – forgive me, I have one of the worst bouts of man flu I’ve ever experienced and am writing this through a haze).

I feel that Owen’s summary of the game quite clearly demonstrates his utter incompetence as a pundit. Actually no, I take that back. Pundits are paid to fill time with false platitudes, cliches, and fantasies of how they would “turn this game around”, and in this regard Owen is at least as exceptional as the rest. If understanding football was part of the job description, Owen, like most of his peers, would be out of a job.

A football team is not “the best attacking players and some other guys to make up the numbers”, which seems to be how Shankly’s immortal words about a piano are interpreted these days. Lovren made two outstanding tackles in the second half that stopped a player being one-on-one with Allison. Both defences made vital interceptions at full stretch when opponents were in prime position to pull the trigger. Against weaker opposition, the quality in attack possessed by these sides would have turned those instances into goals and wins. But not these two defences. City and Liverpool have conceded six league goals between them after eight fixtures each. Liverpool haven’t conceded at Anfield in the league since February. If you wanted to set the bar for defensive solidity, well, you can’t go much better than that! In fact, only Chelsea [5] have conceded fewer goals than the City+Liverpool total (with Wolves [6] and Spurs [7] the only other sides with single-digit goals against). David de Gea has let in 14, for perspective.

So are we really surprised that the two sides struggled to break one another down? No, or at least we should not be. Pep set his side up to play with a very cagey attitude – safety first, lest we concede three in half an hour again! How often was Kyle Walker even in our half? The start of each half saw us put them under pressure, but they soaked it up like champions should. And when they came at us, we did likewise. VvD’s penalty foul was the standout mistake from the game, but an over-eager Mahrez (who, like Sterling and Aguero, has never scored against Liverpool at Anfield) put too much pressure on himself and bottled it.

One chance. In 90+ minutes of high quality football where it was a case of an irresistible force meeting an unmovable object. Just like last week at Stamford Bridge.

If Owen, and the Twitterverse, can’t see that two elite defences nullified all that attacking talent, and can’t accept that it’s part of the game, then they should look at themselves hard in the mirror. We always get heavily criticised when we can’t break down a double-decker bus defence employed by a side that isn’t interested in winning, but it is clearly too hard to appreciate that one doesn’t need to park the bus to defend well against the best attacking players. Both sides were trying to win yesterday, but both sides were also  aware of how extremely dangerous their opponents were in transition. It was a hard-fought draw underlined by the respect these teams and managers have for one another, and that is right. Pep got burned three times last season for underestimating our attack. I don’t think anyone is about to underestimate our defence now.

Unless you’re a pundit, of course.

2 – Graeme Riley developing the theme of trying to measure fixture difficulty:

Just how difficult has Liverpool’s start to the season been? And how have we performed, given the difficulty of the start.

TTT has previously taken a look at RPI (Rating Percentage Index) in the past, but as background I’ll give a brief description of the way it works. In American college sports, there are so many different colleges that it would be impossible for every team to play each other and so a system was designed to be able to compare teams who play different numbers of matches against different quality of opposition.

Each team’s results are added together but assigned a weighting of only 25%. A home win in this case is given a score of 0.6 and an away win a score of 1.4, reflecting that it is more difficult to win away from home. A loss is given a zero rating in every case. Given the American aversion to ties (or draws), there is no consideration given to these as they simply do not occur (or so rarely as to be ignored) and so unfortunately, we will have to do the same here, effectively leaving a draw as the same as a loss. You either win a match, or you don’t. The points gained are then divided by the number of points available.

Where the calculation becomes more difficult, is that a second component is then added. The same scoring methodology is calculated for the opposition team’s results, this is then added with 50% weighting to the first team’s score to reflect just how good the opposition have been.
In a final calculation, the difficulty of match of the opponent’s previous opposition is calculated and assigned a 25% weighting to your score.

So we have 3 elements – how well have you done, how difficult were your opponents and how difficult were your opponents’ fixtures. Clearly the higher your combined score, the better you are doing against expectations. The maximum score is 1.00, but even if you win every game, this is likely to drop as the quality of opposition will drag your rating down.

I will slightly deviate from the methodology for one piece of the calculation however. Normally, this will take place to cover a whole season and so at any point during the season, all previous rankings are retrospectively taken as the year end position. Instead of this, I have calculated the RPI based on matches to date and then used this for the next match without restatement. This, to me at least, gives a better feel for the rating based on current form and most importantly quality of opposition at that point.

The impact of this change can be demonstrated by looking at the top three teams, Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool, who are locked closely together within 1% of each other under the full season method. However, based on the cumulative method there are some significant changes.

So how does this measure up? Looking at the table after 8 matches in each season since 1992-93, we get a feel for how well Liverpool are doing in reality this season. The low point, naturally, was 2010-11 when the rating stood at 0.19, reflecting the dire start to the season and lack of success against the likes of West Brom, Birmingham and Blackpool where only 1 point was won between matchday 5 and 8. Indeed, out of all clubs, this ranks in the bottom 10% of worst 8 games starts to a season.

At the other end of the scale, Liverpool’s best start to a season was 0.50 during 2008-09, a run of six wins and two draws even if the quality of opposition was not at it’s best. Above this come just three other wonderful starts to a season by other clubs, Chelsea (0.56) and Man Utd (0.52) in 2009-10 and at the top of the tree was Chelsea’s 0.565 in 2005-06. So clearly any score above 0.50 is excellent, having occurred only 6 times across all clubs so far. Indeed Man City’s start last season was good but not spectacular, rating at 0.48 with a series of easy wins, the most difficult being against 10 man Liverpool and a struggling Chelsea side.

So this is the context behind the current season, which sees table toppers Man City rated at 0.38, Chelsea coming in at 0.40, both behind surprise success stories Bournemouth (0.42) and Watford (0.42). Ahead of these are Spurs, rated at 0.46 and so only just below the pace set by Man City last year. However, top of the pile come Liverpool…..with a record, all time Premier League rating of 0.57.

Hopefully that puts into some perspective the relative disappointment of successive draws against the top two teams. So not only is it a fantastic start for points gained by the club, it also reflects the best ever return given the quality of the opposition faced.

3 – Jeff on the importance of coaching and developing not just young players but all players:

To me the problem in England is that for all practical purposes managers and their coaching staffs do not know how to develop young players. In addition, I would argue that managers have no idea how to help so called established pros become better players.  They believe that they are under such pressure to win matches that the whole idea of developing young players is simply something that they have no interest in which means they have no idea how to develop players. What makes Jürgen Klopp such an interesting manager is that he showed at both Mainz and Dortmund – which had just emerged from a financial hell – and he is showing in Liverpool with players such as TAA and Gomez and Robertson and certainly last season with AOC that he knows how to not only develop young players but also to help develop established pros.

To me the model in the world of transfers is to look for young players who will become better players at the club thanks to Klopp and Liverpool’s coaches and if you do not see a young lad out there that you rate you pay what it costs to bring in a high end established talent.

I know everyone here watches Liverpool play and I am confident that many here watch not only Premier League football but football from say Germany or Italy or Spain or Holland and on and on. I look for young lads who I think have talent and who MIGHT fit into how Klopp wants to build Liverpool. I believe that there are quality players all over Europe who are under rated because they play for the wrong clubs or any number of reasons and to me this presents an opportunity for Liverpool. I try to bring out names and I hope and trust others will.

4 – Javelin on the signals for set-pieces and the SAS

This article helped crystallise an idea which has been forming in the back of my mind regarding Liverpool’s corners. What if there is one central philosophy regarding corners that we employ? One central tenet. One key aim when taking corners:

Seek to cause chaos in the opponent’s box/penalty area. Then rely on individual ability to score goals.

Think about it for a moment. As the article makes clear we are using several different clearly defined patterns of movement for corners. So this is a well thought out team strategy rather than any on-the-spot improvisation. Yet when we try to determine patterns we come up empty. Why?

Because if you use a set pattern then someone else can identify it and figure out how to stop it. But how do you counter a strategy of deliberately causing chaos? You can’t. Because it’s chaotic.

Create enough chaos in the opponents penalty box and goals will come. Perhaps not as elegantly as by a set piece specialist picking out the head of a top defender. But that kind of direct threat is easier to predict, easier to counter. And is exactly what teams often set up to defend against.

There are many ways to create this kind of chaotic in-box situation. And we have seen Liverpool employing many different styles, tactics etc to achieve this. All to keep our opponents guessing. And the beauty of this is that once in a while your corner taker may see an opportunity for an old fashioned “pick out the tall defender” type corner. But since it’s only occasional, it adds to the chaos rather than detracts from it. It becomes less a predictable threat and more of yet another problem they have to worry about.

“Nice theory,” (I hear you say), “but what about the hand signals that are clearly being given by the corner taker? Doesn’t that imply a pattern that can be deduced and then countered?” Not necessarily, for two reasons:

The first is that the hand may signal a pattern deeper than we’ve been looking. It doesn’t mean “inswinger coming in” as much as “break in all directions just before I hit the ball”. For example. Once again, adding to the chaos and unpredictability.

The second is that the hand signals may be disinformation. “They’ve got to mean something!” No, they don’t. Their purpose could simply be to confuse the opponent. Make him think that he’s facing something specific. Make him second guess himself and hesitate.

To illustrate this point, consider the SAS. Yes, the real SAS, not Suarez and Sturridge. The Special Air Service is now known as one of the greatest commando style organisations in the world. But early in the Second World War it was just another madcap idea from an eccentric Scotsman to cause chaos on the North African front. A small scale unit was created to test out the theory and was named “L detatchment”. Why “L detachment”? Because if the Germans discovered the existence of a unit named “L detachment” then they would naturally assume that detachments A-K also existed (which they did not). And would then have to waste time and resources figuring out what these phantom units were and what they were up to.

Like I say, disinformation. Keep your opponent guessing. Confuse him. Make him hesitate. Make him second guess himself. Cause chaos in his penalty area. Then rely on the attacking instinct of your own guys (who know that an opportunity may arise, if not what that opportunity is) to score goals.

Not exactly a simple plan. But cunning, and tough to counter. Sound plausible?

5 – Pierce the Pranker:

This is similar to the chaos type prank we did before leaving school. One of the lads got 3 chickens and numbered them 1, 2 and 4. The teachers found the three chickens but then spent hours looking for non-existent chicken number 3.

Articles published this week:

Monday October 8th:

Post-Match Analysis: Manchester City (A), by Daniel Rhodes.

Time-Wasting Man City Show Huge Respect To Liverpool, by Paul Tomkins and Terry Dolan.

Tuesday October 9th:

Liverpool’s Set Piece Shenanigans: Cornering the Market or Riding a Lucky Wave?, by Daniel Rhodes.

Wednesday October 10th:

Liverpool v Manchester City – Tactical Analysis of the Clash of Caution, by Benjamin Magnusson.

Thursday October 11th:

‘Steven Gerrard: Make Us Dream’ The Beez Review