Last night I hunted down a clip on my 501 goals DVD. It’s Liverpool’s Craig Johnston talking sometime in the 80s about Liverpool’s approach:
“It’s the simplicity of the game that Liverpool play that’s so amazing… You get the ball at your feet… And you see players like Phil Neal and Sammy Lee—and see them five yards away from you—and they’re calling for the ball, and I think: ‘Well that’s too easy!’ I mean, who wants to see that sort of thing? But I find myself giving it to them simple. And they’ve already seen something happening further on and I sort of latch onto what they’ve seen onto. And, you know, that’s the way they work: in little triangles. But it’s the simplicity of it that’s so baffling.”
A great example of an athlete fumbling over words, trying to figure out what he’s trying to say as he says it… and stumbling onto the thing that makes something so great. Here it’s the little triangles.Phil Neal finding Johnston finding Sammy Lee finding Johston as play weaves up the pitch, as space is created and shifted and chances open up, seeming so simple. How I’ve longed for them in the current Liverpool side. We saw this during the best parts of last season. Exchanges between midfielders and wingers and full backs ending up at the feet of strikers who put it away. But this season such flow has been largely absent. But something switched on in Liverpool against Blackburn. It was dazzling if you were watching closely.
The build up to the first goal was a series of triangles, remiscnent of what Johnston was talking about. Lucas found Dirk found Stevie found Yossi. All simple passing that ended with Yossi holding up the ball in the area and passing to Stevie who pushed it into space for himself and scored. The key here is that the players created space for each other by moving the ball quickly and cleanly. Nobody spent too much time dribbling and allowing themselves to be shut down. They maneuevered so well and efficiently that by the time the ball came to the next player that man had plenty of space to work with and make his move.
Even when we weren’t scoring, the ball was constantly being shifted to a man in space and a dangerous attack looked imminent. (It was so exciting when this man was Maxi who played the best I’ve seen him since he came to England and was constantly wide open on the wing) Ultimately, Blackburn didn’t know what to do with us. They were never going to score from open play. In the end they just hacked away their frustrations (at Lucas’s face and Maxi’s chest, for example). They were fortunate to finish with all their players still on the pitch. I’m confinced the ref accidently packed two yellow cards in his pocket that morning and left the red back at the house. Awkward.
And though it was only a 1-2 victory, it felt like so much more, just because Liverpool were playing well as a team. The chemistry was there. The triangles were there. So today against Wigan, I’m hoping for signs that the Blackburn victory wasn’t just a good day out. That this kind of chemistry and movement has been switched on and Liverpool will go on a run of good form (and hopefully good results). I want to see the little triangles. I like Steven Gerrard in the middle, orchastrating this kind of thing. He’s got the vision to find the next man in the best space. But if we’re playing well enough, Rafa can put him anywhere and it will work. As long as the players create space for each other and keep the ball moving, the simplicity can be devastating.