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The difference between two derbies – illustrating the change from Benitez to Hodgson.

October 22, 2010



It was no surprise that Liverpool lost the 214th Merseyside derby given their woeful start to the season. No Liverpool fan, not even the most pessimistic of follower, would have fathomed such baffling results and such perturbing performances on the field given the strength of their squad at the start of the season.

With some trading-up and trading-down from both Rafael Benitez and Roy Hodgson over the past couple of seasons, the majority of the Liverpool team still remain from the title challenging season of 2008-09. Crippled by the Hick’s and Gillett’s unwillingness to service the promises they provided when they took over the club, Liverpool stumbled around the Premier League last season, like a common drunk who is just about on their last legs before slumping face first into the bar.

Nevertheless, even during this turbulent period, Liverpool have managed to save face in Merseyside by having a good record over their neighbours. David Moyes admitted before the match that his team’s record against Liverpool was frustrating. Moyes speaks the truth here; from twelve Premier League Merseyside derbies, Rafael Benitez oversaw 8 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses – an impressive record in a game where it is often said that “anything can happen – it depends who wants it more ad nauseum ad nauseum” and “you can never predict anything in such a game.”

On the run up to the latest league Derby, Everton hadn’t won one in the last seven matches. Roy Hodgson should have had confidence in his squad to continue such a run. This confidence was unlikely to be shared by anyone who has seen the performances of Hodgson’s Liverpool side and Everton were likely to seize their chance and notch up a needed win against their homebody.

But to start, a look at English football reporting lexicon

Match reports that follow a Derby follow a familiar trend; there are usual hints towards the losing team ‘wanting it less’ or the team ‘lacked the passion and adrenaline. Such phrases are often hackneyed and rarely describe the actual match situation, throwing any real observations out for worn-out and banal expressions. It’s alarming how many military-based phrases are used in football reporting; such parlances are only used because it has fit with the English idea of football being ‘a battle’ where ‘no men can hide’. Such mutterings are hyped-up beyond belief when it comes down to a local rivalry, with my favourite phrase being ‘he’s the type of man you need in the trenches’ – what utter twoddle. Whereas football in Europe is seen as a mobilised version of Chess, in England, military metaphors are rife and illustrates the strength of one particular team and any mention of tactical problems are often not noted. When it comes to a derby, Rafael Honigstein has it right when he says “in England, tactics is another word for weakness.”

I don’t accept the nauseating excuse of Liverpool lacking passion or desire; these players have played at the highest level and don’t bottle it as some commentators would lead you to believe. There is a proper answer to why Liverpool lost at the weekend and it’s to do with Hodgson’s organisation of his team.

The main criticism of Hodgson has been his complete turnaround in the way Liverpool play without the ball. Hodgson’s Liverpool aim to sit deep and keep their shape – this is no surprise, it is well documented that Hodgson’s training methods are primarily based on team shape and defensive structure

Such methods are a stark contrast compared to Liverpool’s pressing game under Rafael Benitez, who if there was a ‘Arrigo Sacchi Fan Club’, he would undoubtedly be the first one to join, giving him to a free Saachi face-mask as well as a year’s membership. Not only did fans like Benitez’s proactive methods, the team reacted well to the constriction of space and forcing the opposition into mistakes. This made Liverpool notably hard to play against; Wesley Sneijder, after Real Madrid’s 4-0 loss at Anfield in 2009, stated how difficult it was to see Madrid players amongst the wall of red shirts that surrounded him every time he picked up the ball.

Such philosophy has now been dismantled and Liverpool’s new defensive mantra is around keeping a deeper line, which has a knock-on effect in all areas of the pitch. This was clearly illustrated in the Derby.

Liverpool deep defensive line

By playing a deeper line, it results in there being larger spaces in between the midfield and defence if the game is stretched. In the shot below, the gap between Skrtel and Meireles is so big it even allows Yakubu to stand beneath them without either of them touching him (a cheap shot, I know). Such large gaps allow Everton to pass around and keep possession in dangerous areas of the pitch without much disturbance.

Yakubu illustrates how large the gap between midfield and defence sometimes is

Keeping with the terminology of the recent CSR, such a deep-line has a multiplier effect. Firstly, as mentioned already, it allows Everton plenty of time to and space to find a teammate because of the space available to them. Secondly, when Liverpool win the ball-back, they’re starting from a deeper position without an obvious out-ball – this is because the midfielders are now so deep that passing the ball to them will place them in a precarious position where they will immediately be put under pressure. With midfielders now deeper to help protect the back-four, it leads to a huge a gap between them and the forward line meaning the direct ball to the centre forward will be fruitless. However, such route one ideas are the only sure-fire way of relieving the pressure and Liverpool often went long, an act that fans do not revere to.

Everton had the right idea in the first-half, they looked to press and put real pressure onto the Liverpool back-line and midfielders. Without Daniel Agger, Liverpool look nervous at the back and Everton really made Martin Skrtel and Sotoris Kyrigakos wish they had brought a second pair of undies to Goodison Park. This pressure from Everton led to Liverpool passing it around at the back in a useless fashion, or hoofing it up to Torres for try and make something out of it.

Everton's relentless pressing in the first-half

A look at the Guardian chalkboards shows how Liverpool’s defence passed amongst themselves, rarely looking to the midfield in the middle of the park. This is especially illustrated in the first-half where Liverpool have a non-existent midfield. With Everton pressing so ferociously, the Liverpool defence had little choice to try longer balls, bypassing the midfield.

By dropping so deep, it leads to an unbreakable cycle of inviting pressure, smashing it long, losing the ball, allow the opposition to keep possession and then when they win it back deep, the cycle starts all over again

In the first 20 minutes Liverpool only passed the ball from inside Everton's half two times.

In the opening twenty minutes, Liverpool only attempted two pass whilst in Everton’s half. Such a statistic just goes to show how Everton penned Liverpool into their own half. This was a product of playing such a rigid defensive system where midfielders are now so deep they cannot link the play.

Another aspect of the Derby was Liverpool’s lack of invention and penetration when they actually have the ball.

David Moyes admitted just as much after the game, stating:

“After we got the second goal, I was happy to concede possession to Liverpool. It wasn`t a problem. They haven`t been scoring. One or two were too close for comfort but we also had opportunities on the break to get a third goal.”

It’s a clear indictment of the problems suffered by Hodgson’s Liverpool when a team isn’t worried about whether Liverpool have the ball or not. Some may have seen Everton’s tactics in the second-half as them trying to give Liverpool a lifeline but for those who have the displeasure of watching Liverpool this season know that creativity and penetration are not attributes that can be aligned to the Liverpool class of 2010-11.

Examining the second-half passing chalkboards from Liverpool shows a dreary trend – that the ball only moved sideways. There were only three successful balls into the box throughout the whole game. The chalkboard reads like a flightmap to and from London Heathrow and it just illustrates the lack of invention, creativity and confidence infused within the Liverpool players at the moment. Without a plan of attack, Liverpool found themselves launching it into the box in an act of desperation.

Flightmaps are just as interesting as Liverpool's passing chalkboards

Looking back to previous seasons…

For Liverpool, such trends are in stark comparison to the Merseyside match-ups seen in previous seasons. The following section will look at Liverpool’s 2-0 win away at Everton last year.

There was little difference between the way the teams lined up and Everton’s off-the-ball methods – they pressed high up the pitch and kept a high line.

Liverpool on the other hand looked a completely different team both on and off the ball. On the ball they moved with purpose and obviously had a game-plan. Their movement was quick and penetrative, helping to provide a base for Liverpool to keep possession and control the match, something that cannot be said for many of Liverpool’s games under Roy Hodgson.

There are marked differences in the use of wide players in this 2-0 Liverpool win. Both Kuyt and Aurelio stay predominantly wide and high up the pitch. This stopped Everton’s full-backs getting forward and joining the midfield or looking for the overlap further up the pitch. This allows Liverpool’s full-backs, Johnson and Insua space to run into and join the midfield and time their runs into the final third.

Aurelio (red) and Insua (yellow) were a great attacking threat last year

These two players had a great influence over the game, constantly getting forward and pinning back Everton’s wide midfielders and making it hard for them to build from the back or support the Everton forward line if they went direct.

However, as with Everton’s win this year, the crux of the victory was Liverpool’s ability to win the ball back high up the pitch and cause mistakes. An examination of the interceptions in both games highlights the differences in philosophy between Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson.

This pressing high up the field was also compounded by Liverpool’s high line and offside trap that worked well against Jo. This approach is vastly different to the one employed by Roy Hodgson.

For the players and the fans, such pressing psychologically affects the game. A team are wary about being closed down so they’re more likely to play a footballing version of ‘hot potato’ – constantly moving around without taking much responsibility in fear of making a mistake. Last weekend, Everton had time to think and make their mind up about where they wanted to send the ball.

This Liverpool pressing had a knock-on effect, it allowed the front four to stay forward and expect a pass from midfield or defence. A marked problem in the derby last weekend was Joe Cole’s defensive duties and lack of opportunities to play higher up the pitch. His passing chalkboard shows how he spent vast majorities of his time helping the defence and trying to get Liverpool out of tight spots. This resulted in Torres having no support and nobody to link up with. In the previous year, Fabio Aurelio stayed wide and looked to link up with his fellow attacking trio.

Joe Cole's extra defensive work

This is a condensed version of events over the two games and just illustrates some of the differences between the two managers and the way they set up to play in a Merseyside Derby. It is a worry that Roy Hodgson believes his methods from Fulham can be replicated with the same “success” at a bigger club, he has shown a distinct lack of flexibility and understanding of how to manage the Liverpool squad and adapt his methods to players at his disposal.

This match was not lost on accounts of lack of passion or any of that nonsense, it’s just simply that Liverpool were hindered by Roy Hodgson’s overly defensive and negative system that has continually negated the attacking talents of this Liverpool side.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam permalink
    October 22, 2010 3:55 pm

    Great, great read

  2. October 22, 2010 4:25 pm

    A very good breakdown of the match. It would be interesting to compare how counter-attacking teams avert this problem of playing out of their half. Don’t teams like Man. City and Chelsea get back and defend in numbers? How are they able to achieve the balance of defending and going forward?

  3. Eddie permalink
    October 22, 2010 4:32 pm

    This must be one of those ridiculous websites Hogsbottom warned us about.

  4. October 22, 2010 4:57 pm

    Benetiz’s tactics were very successful against teams who wanted to play but they struggled against teams (like Fulham) that sat deep. Liverpool’s results against the rest of top four were usually the best. It was the dropped points against teams near the bottom of the league that stopped Liverpool winning the league in 2009 and ultimately lead to Rafa’s departure.

    Now what I don’t understand is clearly what to improve the team needed a plan B for these troublesome teams (originally Rafa had tackled this through Crouch but he left) so why did the board appoint a manager who had never demonstrated a way of playing against these teams.

    Getting Fulham to play deep whilst opponents attack and hoping for a counter attack is one thing but with Liverpool, good teams are to well organised to fall for this and less good teams still sit behind the ball and Roy’s teams are just not set up to break down teams playing this way.

    At the moment when we play the ball out of defence there’s only two places it is going, to the striker or the player behind him. That’s predictable, the opposition know where the ball is going if they want it intercept it and if the forward player does receive the ball they’re still a long way from the opositions goal with a lot of work to do.

    I know the media tend to be anti-foreign managers and Rafa did stir the wasps nest of the LMA. The board seem to reacted to this as though this was the problem and not the issues on the pitch.

    H&G causing the club to be a seller of players was the main problem last year but also look back at their predecessors and how many great player LFC missed out on for the sake of an extra £1M.

    • October 23, 2010 3:37 am

      Well, there was a large rumour about how both Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher both wanted Benitez out, and Broughton granted their wish. They both stated they wanted an English manager. Now, whether this is true or not is a different matter and I guess we’ll never know, but there seems to be some weight to it.

      • femi permalink
        October 24, 2010 12:13 am

        This is something I sort of felt was the reason Rafa was let go. Unfortunately, both of these players will never win the premiership. Carra in my opinion wanted Rafa out because he was offered only one year extension while he wanted more. Remember Hypia was offered same contract and that made him leave. Carra could not see himself playing less and consequently moving to another club. He got his wish and the club is suffering from their selfish request. I love Liverpool tso much that now, i do not care anymore. Don’t know why Gerrard and Carra hold so much power. Does it have to do with them being captain and vice captain or being local lads? Is it a coincidence that after Arbeloa and Xabi had a bust up with Carra two seasons ago that they left?

    • Mark permalink
      October 23, 2010 5:18 am

      I think the problem is only one that could be solved with the addition of one or two players with the ability to breach the opposition’s defence on their own, either through strength and speed or skill. It was the ability to buy those players which was curtailed by the witholding of transfer funds during the end of Rafa’s reign. I personally believe that either Aquilani or Johnson’s added presence during the 08/09 season would have seen us able to manage to break down at least two of the sides who held strong against us that year just through providing that extra impetus we needed when both Gerrard and Torres were marked out through sheer weight of numbers and our remaining attackers did not have what was needed to make the break through. The way I see it is that the foundations were definitely there, it was a matter of making a couple of adjustments before such a problem was fixed.

  5. October 22, 2010 5:17 pm

    Interesting piece, thanks.

  6. October 22, 2010 5:21 pm

    Excellent piece. Can you tell me what programs you use to capture the images? Also, do you take the games from your tv to the computer (and if so what program is that) or do you just have them on your computer?

    • October 23, 2010 3:38 am

      I just use the snipping tool from Windows to take snapshots off the match.

      I have the games on my computer so I can just watch them again and I analyse them from there.

  7. Daniel North permalink
    October 23, 2010 2:56 am

    In respones to P carpenter ,
    Its wasn’t the tactics that was wrong vrs the so called bottom teams why Rafa didn’t win those games. It was because he never was 100% backed with the 35 odd mil to go buy a world class winger with. He always got drips and drabs of transfer kittys and he had to gamble on players , IE babel and hope they would turn into something better. He was forced into by the board to gamble our chances on winning the prem. He lost and got sacked in the following season unfairly I think in my heart of hearts if in 2007 Rafa was given 40 mil just in one chunk one season we would have won the prem that year.

  8. Ken permalink
    October 23, 2010 2:59 am

    Please send this article around the web, so our half-wit fellow fans, lazy ex-player turned journo could read it. Of course they are what theyare, either deny it or say you don’t know shit. Pathetic.

  9. hwk permalink
    October 23, 2010 9:25 am

    “in England, tactics is another word for weakness.”
    “who if there was a ‘Arrigo Sacchi Fan Club’, he would undoubtedly be the first one to join”

    really great to read. thanks!

    but what David Moyes said remembered me of what German manager Löw said after the Germany – England match at the World Cup.

  10. Matt permalink
    October 23, 2010 10:01 am

    think you find Everton beat Birmingham at St Andrews (where noone had won for over a year) 2-0.

    If you cant even be bothered doing the most basic of research the rest why bother at all?

  11. October 23, 2010 10:34 am

    Brilliant read and analysis. Until we get rid of the waste of space that is Hodgson we are going nowhere but down.

  12. tsmed permalink
    October 23, 2010 11:06 am

    Excellent in depth analysis.

  13. Kenno permalink
    October 23, 2010 3:30 pm

    Amen ..

  14. Lola permalink
    October 23, 2010 4:42 pm

    I’ve seen a lot of Liverpool games this season and it seems to me like Hodgson is still trying to find his best eleven. He’s already tried so many different midfield/defense/forward player combinations. He’s also already used 4-4-2 , 4-5-1, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. It’s staggering. I think the thing he’s looking for the most, but what he still hasn’t found is balance. It’s like when he plugs one hole, another hole somewhere else starts leaking.
    For instance when he plays Lucas he achieves a bit more patient passing, but nothing too penatrive and Lucas is probably the one player in the league who loses as much challenges as he wins. When he plays Gerrard in midfield, he gains more creativity and attacking drive, but Gerrard is truly horrible at marking/closing down opposition players. He seems to slow in the head and he often has to resort to a sliding tackle down the touchline. The midfield becomes too open too often when he plays there. Poulsen and Mereiles also have their pro’s and con’s and they’re still so new to this league as well. (I’ve seen a lot of critisism about for Hodgson about Poulsen, but if Torres, Lucas or Kuyt would only be judged on their perfomances this season, they too would be considered a waste of money.)
    Hodgson has a similar problem in defense, the same dilemma Benitez struggled with last season. If he plays Carragher at right-back, they at least become a bit more defensively solid, but Carragher offers the team zero in attack and in general passing composure (If you play him centrally, he’s a liability full-stop). IMO, Liverpool have zero reliable defensive players. They don’t have any in defensive midfield or in defense, bar the goalkeeper. They’re probably the one team in the league who lack a top-class, dependable outfield defensive player. Mascherano has been a tremendous loss.
    In attack Torres reminds me of C.Ronaldo in his last season with Man Utd, someone who seems disappointed they didn’t get the transfer they wanted. N’Gog is a good poacher, but much too clumsy to hold the ball up and there’s not a single adequate wide player in that Liverpool squad. The players they choose to use in wide areas are all too old or too slow.
    I’ve seen a lot of opinions/articles who put it all down to Hodgson and his tactics, but I’m afraid that means you’re in denial a little bit. Liverpool’s team has been in decline ever since Alonso decided he wanted to go to Real Madrid. Him and Mascherano were such an extraordinary strong midfield pairing that it papered over the cracks. They truly carried that whole team and even almost won the league! Mascherano covered up a lot of faults that were already there in defense and Alonso’s magnificent passing ability always allowed for there to be plenty of possession in the attacking third of the pitch. His incisive passing offered those slow wide players a lot more time on the ball and every one of them has been found out without it.
    Hodgson can’t fix these fundamental flaws in the players. Even if Liverpool supporters think he can. The only thing he or any new manager can achieve is (what most other league managers seem to do), is to make them at least a better sum than their parts. But the reason I believe Hodgson isn’t managing that, is that there is a large mentality problem in the team. I think they’ve been allowed to get away with underperforming for too long. It’s like when you’ve been out sick (or even have just skipped) for a couple of days and the morning you come back to work your boss comes up to you all sympathetic and says that he’s not expecting too much from you that day. No way that you’re then going to give a lot of effort, even if you’re 100% better and full of energy. When you offer someone an excuse to underperform, it’s only to be expected that they’re going to use that excuse to do exactly that. Benitéz gave them that excuse last year when he claimed (to cover up his own failings btw) that expectations had been to high and that the title was always going to be nearly impossible. He gave his team a finger, but they took the whole hand and since then Liverpool’s players have stopped giving it their all. You could see it last year when they never really looked in control of a match anymore and were always in danger of giving up a lead or giving away a late goal and you can see it this year with the lack of pressing. Maybe that’s become less since Hodgson, but they’ve stopped going the extra mile long before his arrival.
    I wonder why now, when the excuse has been removed (no more undermining owners), that Liverpool still seem to lack that energy and heart. It’s probably because circumstances have changed in the meantime. For everyone. Liverpool supporters were against Hodgson from the beginning because he was a symbol of their decline. They didn’t want to accept the idea that they were going to be stuck in mediocrity for a while. They couldn’t swallow that and it is like something their bodies are violently trying to reject. Although the decline won’t stop this season, Hodgson leaving can’t fix that unfortunately.
    Circumstances have changed for Hodgson too. I imagine he came into the job thinking that it had been Benitez’s conflicts with everyone that had stopped the team from reaching their full potential last season. For instance even though I can’t remember a single good away performance from them last season and it seemed like any adequate team they faced beat them at least once (Everton were robbed at Goodison last season.) But despite their awful away form, they still performed decently at home. So Hodgson probably thought that he only had to come in like a captain in and steady the ship, focus his men’s heads on the task at hand. Then he quickly realised the true level of the players and saw that Benitez had actually done a pretty commendable job of holding that mess together last season. He then started talking about what a battle it was going to be. Now, the circumstances have changed again and things have become too big for him to handle. Because on the one hand he has the new owners who’ve brought a long renewed hope, but on the other hand it’s already too late because he has a despondant team sitting in nineteenth place. IMO it’s useless for him to stay on for any longer. Now that Hodgson’s in a position to he has to start demanding more from his mentally weak players, but they will suddenly accept that from him.
    Liverpool’s players need someone new to guide them forward and shake off their bad habits. I think they either need a very strong disciplinarian like Van Gaal or an amazing man-manager like Gregorio Manzano. Problem is that most of those types of managers already occupy cushy jobs. I don’t think Rijkaard or Pellegrini would be helpful right now (they’d be better coming in, in the summer with a clean slate). Both of them play teams that are very attackminded and Pellegrini’s trademark is the freedom he gives his creative players. That’s not what Liverpool need right now, they need someone who will fix the fact they don’t have any reliable defensive players and to find them a system that will finally give them a bit of balance again. The problem is I don’t think a manager who can do this exists.

  15. tress permalink
    October 23, 2010 7:47 pm

    Excellent article ! Very well documented and written. Clear and correct. Someone send Roy this article please.

  16. Red permalink
    October 23, 2010 9:51 pm

    Well written and spot-on.

    The tactical vacuum Hodgson has created is transparent to everyone apart from him, it seems.

    No he’s confirmed that he has no intention of doing the gentlemanly thing and quitting (he’s clinging on for his £3million pay-off) we must swallow the bitter pill and kick him hard up the arse.

    Jog on, Roy lad.

  17. Roland permalink
    October 24, 2010 8:35 pm

    Excellent article Tim! I have seen quite a few tactics articles about teams that press, but none have ever talked about how to adequatley press? Could you do so? Thanks

  18. October 28, 2010 11:47 am

    Great work man. Your articles keep getting better and better

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