This is the post I promised Valdemar II, the winner of the World Cup predictions thing who asked for:
“A post about the possible starting elevens and alternate formations for [this] season”
Well, the transfer window wasn’t closed at the time nor was the squad finalized so I thought it would be better to hold off it. Which ended up being a good call since we didn’t sign Cuadrado after all.
Now that we have a couple of games under the proverbial belt, I figured there’s enough material to work with to give a brief overview of the beginnings of the Lucho era. That, and I’ve been slacking so I hope Kevin, blitzen, Lev and co. don’t revoke my membership.
What I find really interesting this season is the glut of (very good) tactical posts and blogs available on the ‘net these days. (That includes here, Kevin print/tvscreens for the win!). I don’t know if it’s just Barca-centric or if it extends to other teams, but it’s very impressive. As for me, that means rather than give a broad overview I’m simply going to list bullet points of the pros and cons from this growing project Lucho’s begun. A little snapshot if you will.
Except he hasn’t played it yet so it’s really Liverpool!Suarez
Let’s start with some of the Good:
- A healthy Neymar. I don’t think any more needs to be said. He’ll go from strength to strength, as will his connection with Messi. I fistpumped so hard after his Granada hattrick. Exciting times ahead with these two.
- With the addition of Rakitic we have a player that opens up a lot of doors to try new things, so much so that it probably deserves its own post but that’ll come with time. His tracking back against Granada, if I recall correctly, to save a certain goal being conceded warmed my cold, cold heart. He also allows a new possibility of a Xavi on the left side of the midfield if needed and more Xavi is always welcome. Lately, we’ve seen Rakitic more on the left when Xavi’s in the lineup, though.
- The return of competition. While I don’t agree with everything that comes with the rotation Lucho’s implemented, it’d be difficult to deny the presence of players that can leapfrog each other into starting positions is not a welcome thing. Whether or not some of these players can truly replace the players they’re challenging for a spot is a bit more questionable, though.
- Youth. I won’t lie, I didn’t really expect Lucho to use Munir, Sandro and Samper as much as he has, but it’s a credit to them and all the hard work they’ve put in. More importantly it speaks of how well they’ve taken advantage of the chances given to them. Lucho can sit them, but they hang around because what they offer is consistent and quite useful. There’s the usual warning of restraint as with all youth players, but they’ve been fantastic so far.
The Bad has been documented
mercilessly meticulously like only we cules can do, so I’ll keep it small misgivings:
- Set pieces takes first spot, surprising absolutely no one. PSG was a good enough example of this, which Kevin has detailed here.
Why is Bravo starting over ter Stegen
- Giving the ball away cheaply. Mathieu is one of the biggest offenders in this area. It leads to giving up chances that so, so avoidable. Sure, it’ll get better over time and all that jazz, but man does it make me want to beat my head against a table. Or more accurately, beat their heads against a table, but I’m afraid Pique will start bleeding.
- I wrote a bit about positional play here. While it’s not as bad as it was under Tata, it still needs some work.
Suarez is the kind of striker that thrives between channels, making runs behind or across the defense. With gaps between defenders common in England, if the Liverpool providers can thread the ball through those spaces, the chance of Suarez scoring is extremely high.
The great part of watching Liverpool is when you see the influence Pep’s Barca has had on them. Brendan Rodgers is a firm believer of the total football philosophy and has integrated it into his Liverpool side (and before that, his Swansea side). You see the pressing in numbers, the triangles, the interchanging forwards… Granted the sample of games I’ve watched so far has been pretty limited to the big games, particularly the 5-1 defeat of Arsenal in February of this year, but it’s wonderful to see.
Speaking of big games, did you know Suarez spent most of his time on the right wing during them? His role was one of provider to Sturridge, who was often center, and Sterling on the left.* Does this mean his influence drops off to augment the other two? Not at all. In these games Suarez tended to be the best player on the pitch.
[*Though depending on the game Sterling drops deeper behind Sturridge and Suarez, turning into a sort of CAM, not unlike the role Messi has at the moment, which I suppose is where the comparison (though it’s more like similarity) between the two is coming from. I think Sterling is actually a fantastic player who is “unfortunate” to be English at a time where there’s a dearth of players like him in the country. thus leading the media to hype him like whoa. But anyway.]
Before this turns into ‘Let’s break down Liverpool tactics’ type thing, let me highlight specific skill sets Suarez has shown to be in his repertoire that will come in handy for us. I’ve mentioned the provider role, but let’s go more into detail with visuals.
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: February 08, 2014
Suarez didn’t score in this game. He came close a couple of times with an audacious free kick and a volley that smacked off the crossbar but was ultimately kept off the score-sheet. He also had a hand in almost every goal Liverpool scored. After the match his role and end product was often compared to Messi’s in La Manita.
In the first half Liverpool are up 2-0 within the first quarter of an hour. Liverpool win the ball off Arsenal through pressing with the help of some lackadaisical Arsenal passing.
The ball is lobbed forward to Suarez. He one-touches it into the path of Sturridge.
But two minutes later almost the exact same scenario repeats itself and this time Sterling puts it in the back of the net to make it 3-0.
A great day for Liverpool. But let’s not dwell too far in the past. Up next:
Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City: April 13, 2014
A pivotal game for Liverpool with regards to the title race they [spoiler alert] ultimately didn’t win. It was an exciting game to watch regardless so I’ll try to embed the video after the printscreens.
Suarez gets himself booked within the first minute for a late rash challenge on Demichelis. In the next play Liverpool win the ball, Henderson lobbing it forward.
So to recap: Gets booked for a rash tackle, then holds off two players and threads a perfect throughball for Sterling a minute later. Suarez in a nutshell.
Anyway, because both Clichy and Demichelis were pulled into Suarez’s proverbial orbit, as well as Javi Garcia, that allowed a large gap to open up that Suarez and Sterling take advantage of.
City come the other way. A nice passing game around the edge of the Liverpool box is ultimately hoofed up field by Liverpool fullback Flanagan. Suarez, running full tilt, back flicks the ball right to Sterling with one touch.
Thus the counter begins.
Sterling plays around with Javi Garcia for a bit before dishing the ball to Sturridge, who is now on the left.
Strurridge then tries to thread the ball to Suarez, but it doesn’t reach him and is deflected for a corner.
What I liked about this move was the Suarez’s touch, the speed of the counter, the interchanging positions. When I see this, I think of Neymar on the right, Messi center, Suarez left… It’s easy to substitute and move around the players, imagine how it’d be like for us.
Now onto the final game of this soiree.
Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: April 27, 2014
AKA The Slip
The purpose of this game is not to bring up painful memories of Liverpool fans. I wanted to watch a game where Suarez plays against a narrow, low block team. That way I could see how he does when his pace is made moot (by defending deep) and his favoured channels plugged up (by playing narrow).
It went as well as you’d expect.
Unlike Arsenal and Man City who both played open games, Chelsea had no such illusions. Liverpool as a team struggled. Sterling dropped deep but it was for naught. With no space in the middle, the ball often went to the wings where Liverpool fullbacks lobbed in cross after predictable cross to no one. Deja vu, eh?
Having said that what good chances Liverpool created usually had Suarez involved in some way. Once again in the provider role he sent in a couple of great passes into the box for Coutinho that weren’t capitalized on. Chelsea on the other hand had chances in stoppage time of both halves that they put in. Thus, 0-2.
I didn’t really enjoy watching this, probably because I see Barca flounder like this enough as it is, which is why this section is notably shorter than the others.
We have a hybrid RW-CF that we’ve desperately needed for some time now. He has the strength to hold off defenders, the versatility to play multiple positions, the skill to play through his teammates under pressure. The background he has as a former Ajax player, as well as playing a system similar to our own in Liverpool makes me think he’ll have an easier time adapting than usual, but that’s just conjecture, really.
Suarez coming back obviously has implications for Pedro since it’s basically a straight swap with Suarez adding much more. I don’t think he will start over Pedro right away. He’s not match fit, nor is he sharp enough, but over time he’ll take over the position.
Now this next bit will sound like some Football Manager business but please bear with me. Since the whole Cuadrado thing didn’t work out and we can’t sign players until 2016, I wonder if Lucho could convert Pedro to RB. The RB role that Lucho wants isn’t a typical one anyway. The player need to have a high workrate to keep up with the demands of bombing up and down the flank, needs to be able to take on players (possibly beat them with a dribble) and be able to combine with the right winger effectively.
Montoya is the “play-it-safe” type. You know what you get with him, and it’s not what I described above. He’s solid, reliable but not outstanding. That has its good points, too, of course, but as RB is a cornerstone of the kind of football Lucho wants Barca to play, Monty loses out. Moving on to Douglas, admittedly we only have one game to judge him by, but against Malaga we needed him to take on player. He didn’t. Could be nerves, could be that it’s simply not his game, could be that he’s simply not good enough. Either way, that’s another name tentatively crossed off the list. Bizarre, considering he’s a new signing for that position…
That leaves Dani. Unsurprisingly he’s the one with the most minutes. The problem with Alves right now is he doesn’t have the dynamism he had before. Does that mean he sucks? No, considering he’d be exactly what we need if he were a couple of years younger and a better dribbler.
His crosses on the other hand... Alves is the best option out of what we’ve got, a rhombus in a square hole if you will. But he’s one player and we can’t play him every game.
I understand not wanting Munir to launch up into being the second pick for RW, and I’m not advocating that, but as it is we need to find some kind of solution for this right back problem. I’m not saying it will be a permanent conversion like with Alba but say a cup game comes around and we’re up 6-0 on aggregate…
As for Adriano and Alba: Alba’s got speed which can often compensate for his mistakes when playing against smaller teams. As seen against PSG, when playing against people as fast or faster than he is, it’s a different situation altogether. Adriano, on the other hand, combines with Neymar more, cuts inside and is generally more attack minded. Mathieu playing LB is definitely a game changer and I’d love to see him play more there in the future.
So potato, potahto.
[HT: @Emenderk for the pictures, MOTD from which I printscreen’d stuff.]