Saturday, 15 December 2012

Match Report - "15-12-12 Liverpool vs Aston Villa"

Lambert win the tactical battle on this one through a clear knowledge of Rodgers, Liverpool and, more importantly, Suarez.

The tactics for his defense were simple. When the ball was in Liverpool's half, Benteke and the midfield were very energetic, maintaining high pressure to worry Agger and, particularly, Skrtel. Skrtel did not have a good game against Benteke. Typically Skrtel does act as more of a Sweeper, but this time he was often left entirely exposed by Johnson and Agger.

In the Villa half, the Villa team sat deep in a 5-4-1, denying Gerrard and Suarez space between the lines due to the extra man at the back and forcing the ball wide, where Liverpool's wide men had no choice but to cross towards Suarez. This was tactically astute. Chelsea beat Barcelona in much the same way, knowing that a cross towards a quick, short dribbler is horribly ineffective.

Though unlikely to be tactical, Shelvey seemingly made a point of coming inside, getting into the same positions that Gerrard and Suarez were aiming for, but this hindered rather than helped. While Shelvey is a better header of the ball, it resulted in less space in the middle and Downing then had to cover the entire left flank. This left Skrtel even more exposed against Benteke when the ball broke quickly.

Halfway through the first half, Shelvey and Sterling were swapped over, which seemed a strange move to make for Rodgers. With the ball being played wide, Sterling was on his stronger foot to cross for Shelvey, who could head the ball. The other way around was never going to work, but perhaps this was an attempt to get Glen Johnson more involved in the game.

Defensively, Benteke ran Liverpool ragged, and the poor positional discipline of the Liverpool players resulted in a lot of frustration being added to this. For Benteke's first goal, Suarez had received the ball on the half way line, tried to break free by back hell dribbling, and lost the ball. After that, it broke quickly, Allen lost his man and Benteke put the ball past Reina from range. Reina was either unsighted or his knees buckled, but either way, he should have stopped that ball.

The second goal was remarkably similar. The ball goes in to Benteke, who drifts wide. Skrtel follows, while Agger tries to cut off the pass. At this point Allen is marking Weimann, but sees Downing overlapping Skrtel into the middle and decides to let his man go. Once again, the man Allen loses is the one who scores.

This, quite simply, was a goal conceded through fear from Martin Skrtel. If he had let Downing take over marking Benteke, he could have easily been into position to stop the pass, but he had clearly been instructed, as a tall, physical defender, to stick to the tall, physical striker. It didn't work out. Allen loses his man, and the rest is a very smart finish.

The third goal once again features fear from Martin Skrtel, only this time he was terrified of making a tackle. Benteke got into his head good and proper.

Where did Liverpool go wrong? Well there are many small ways. Johnson was too obvious. Sterling as well. Both tried to go wide and cross to nobody, or jinked inside and passed safe. Downing was much more inventive, and was the best player Liverpool had on the pitch by far. Lucas was never sure whether to get on Benteke or not, and Allen was peripheral in attack and absent in defence. Gerrard, once again, proved a shadow of his former self. The presence of Henderson, a late second half sub for the still recovering Lucas, worked in Liverpool's favour, given that he and Allen then started to hold in tandem, limiting space for Benteke and providing Skrtel with some actual support, but it was far too late.

Liverpool dominated the match, but were forced into taking half chances due to excellent defending and goalkeeper positioning. When the ball went the other way, their midfield abandoned the defence, and Shelvey in particular offered nothing to the Liverpool cause. Overall though, Rodgers made some poor choices, particularly bringing on Joe Cole to offer width when what they needed was speed down the middle to try and catch the Villa defence off guard. Lambert won the tactical match-up this time, and the win, in the end, was well deserved.

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