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The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same at Liverpool

We have now seen Liverpool play a few times under Roy Hodgson and the most surprising thing about their season so far is how familiar it all feels. Their only win this season in the Premier League has been at home against West Bromwich Albion, a team destined for a relegation dog-fight. Of Course in the other games 3 teams who finished in the top half of the table, the disappointing aspect has not been the results (which could’ve been predicted) but the manner of them.

Tactically Liverpool have lined up in the same manner as they have over the last 4 years under Benitez. The 4-2-3-1 formation is not something Unique to Benitez but his style of play was distinct. The ‘2’ part of that formation would be 2 defensive midfielders (ignoring Xabi Alonso’s advantage in his ridiculous passing range), which is precisely how Hodgson has the team playing. The problem with this is that when placed against a similar formation or one where the other team are packing the midfield is that it can get bogged down in the middle allowing the defence to plug any gaps and not allow any space behind them for Torres’ searing pace to exploit. Hodgson cannot be blamed for how teams play against Liverpool, much in the same way Mancini cannot be blamed for this at Man City, however the key is to adapt your own tactics to overcome.

As the game dragged on at St. Andrews Liverpool dominated possession but did not have a single clear-cut opportunity. It was a familiar sight as it was something that happened under Benitez frequently, it was their inability to break down teams at home that ultimately cost them the title in 2008/9. Hodgson had shown at Fulham that he was adept at changing his team to suit the situation it was this flexibility that allowed his Fulham team to get to the Europa League final. However at Fulham his team was usually the underdog who could expect the other team to put pressure on them higher up the field therefore exposing themselves at the back. At Liverpool it is a different game, teams will try to bring Liverpool forward and exploit their lack of pace at the back.

On the player front Liverpool still rely (too) heavily on three players. Steven Gerrard ( who is now playing better for his country than his club), Fernando Torres (who is far from his imperious best) and Pepe Reina (who has won back one of the two points he dropped on the opening day). It is too early to judge the worth of new players yet but on first impressions Liverpool have regressed since even last season. Christian Poulsen was very quiet at St. Andrews and because of his lack of movement, passing and energy seems to be a step down from Javier Mascherano. Raul Meireles was lively but ineffective and Milan Jovanovic does not have the pace necessary to be effective in the Premier League. If Stephen Carr can keep him quiet then it is promising when Liverpool meet better clubs. Maxi showed Liverpool fans what they are missing in Dirk Kuyt as Liam Ridgewell was able to move forward effectively with little worries about the Argentinian.

If anything personnel has been the only thing to change for Liverpool over the previous seasons as players have left for big money with their replacements either being crocked or inferior. Liverpool lined up in 2008 for a match away from home against Blackburn with Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano supporting Steven Gerrard. This afternoon it was Lucas and Poulsen. Yossi Benayoun and Robbie Keane sat on the bench, today it was Babel and N’Gog. This is not a comment on Roy Hodgson who has been left this problem from the previous management and the current owners, speaking of which.

In the board room things haven’t changed much at all. The news this week regarding Liverpool’s ownership has been good for the fans but bad for the club. Bloomberg report that RBS has moved the Liverpool owners loans to their Restructuring team, whilst this doesn’t mean anything immediately a deadline is approaching for repayment or modification. A prospective buyer of the football club could take the loans off RBS and demand payment from Hicks & Gillette’s enterprises and try to seize control this way. In effect this would not be a clean process with many different permutations for the club, too many to go into here. What the entire thing means though is that Liverpool Football Club is still being crippled from the inside out with the machinations of Hicks, Gilette and their banks.

Liverpool had a decent result this afternoon, a draw at St. Andrews is not something to take lightly. However their performance overall was pretty poor; Birmingham had a simple game plan, get the ball in the air and it was effective. Liverpool by contrast tried to move the ball through midfield, however as they passed the half way line it often turned into 4 on 8 and they couldn’t get any clear cut opportunities. In the end a draw was probably a fair result but should it be something Liverpool settle for this type of result was exactly that which had some sections of the Liverpool support calling for Benitez’ resignation.

From my (neutral) perspective I expected more from Liverpool this season, as I watched the game this afternoon I was struck by the negativity on display. Chelsea and Manchester United who Liverpool used to consider their peers both played away this weekend but both played attacking football, for Manchester United it came back to haunt them as they tired terribly at then end of the 90 minutes. United in particular have shown flexibility in how they play opting for one forward against Everton but using two against Fulham. With a lack of progress on the field and off it so far for Reds fans this season it has unfortunately been more of the same from their club.

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  1. Robert

    September 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    4-2-3-1 sucks. lets get a 4-3-1-2 and see what happens.

  2. M.Garcia

    September 13, 2010 at 3:19 am

    Sorry Chris but you haven’t really absorbed a thing I’ve said. As a neutral, it wouldn’t be fair for me to rip into you too badly but here are a couple of additional things to point out. One, and biggest among the factors is Joe Cole being gone since about 42 minutes of the first half against Arsenal. Second, and if you read Jonathan Wilson’s inverting the pyramid you’ll have a greater appreciation for my next point, the 4-2-3-1 formation isn’t really as rigid as the 4-4-2. It constantly shifts depending on the personnel. The reason he used 2 holding midfielders against BC was because of the statistics from last season and the fact that they’re damn good at St. Andrews. I can’t stand personally the thought of 2 holding mids but today, a point was the objective not Arsenal free-flowing football. Konchesky was playing his first game in red, Johnson was playing his normal “never defends bombing forward” self causing poor Carra to run all over the place covering for him, Stevie was not where he’d like to be because Jovanovic was running all over the place into his space and other’s, Kuyt was hurt and his replacement Maxi just doesn’t have the pace or quality any more, and Torres was isolated for large stretches because of this. All that makes a huge difference. Depth is obviously key. Would you suggest a 4-4-2 then? A 4-3-3? The reality is that the lack of depth and injury/suspension/newness of key personnel gave Roy only one choice…and it got him a point today. If next week, he does the same thing, then your points have much more punch. In fact, maybe this article was written a week early. Next week, if he plays Torres up front, Cole just off him, Stevie Gerrard more centrally with Miereles, and one holding midfielder either Lucas or Poulsen take your pick, with Babel or Jovanovic wide, and a back four of Konchesky, Agger, Carra, and Johnson, I’ll be a happy LFC supporter and I’m pretty confident the style of play comparisons go away. If not, go ahead and slate me.

    • Chris McQuade

      September 13, 2010 at 5:29 am

      I have read Jonathan Wilson so i do appreciate where you are coming from. However the 4-2-3-1 which Liverpool play/ed has been quite negative. Perhaps the lack of Cole is a feature but seeing Lucas and Poulsen line up informed me of how the game was going to be.

      Tactically my view is that Liverpool shouldn’t stray too far from the 4-2-3-1 the 2 part should not be two defensive midfielders but instead something akin to the Mascherano- Alonso (nowadays the Busquets-Alonso) axis. However flexibility would be key to continued success. United got a goal from Fletcher this weekend, Chelsea 2 goals from Essien (only one from open play). I prefer pace but it’s not essential (see Kalou & Anelka). As I said Hodgson has come from a team where teams thought they could win to a club where they don’t want to lose. To get around this there just have to be more changes at the club.

      Though i will reserve Judgement on Hodgson and Liverpool until later in the season when Cole, Torres, Gerrard have played consistently.

      • Simon Burke

        September 13, 2010 at 9:24 am

        I think you’re right on the formation Chris, I think anyone who plays at Birmingham should be more attacking. Birmingham are draw specialists and dont concede a lot of goals. They dont get forward too much so I’d not play with 2 holding midfielders. Birmingham do get those results though…

      • Paul

        September 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

        An unfortunate setback for Roy is that he has not had all his midfielders available for any match yet this season. Cole was suspended and Meireles looked OK in the last 15 minutes but probably isn’t fit for a total 90 (assuming he took a post world cup break and missed practices while sorting out the transfer) This leaves Poulson and Gerrard who will definitely play and the choice of Lucas, Spearing or Pacheco for the last center mid spot. As much flack as Lucas gets, I would rather play him than have to blood a cup squad player by giving him 90 minutes at Birmingham.

  3. M.Garcia

    September 13, 2010 at 2:42 am

    The real problem with Liverpool is the same problem the other 19 teams have already faced or will face at some point this season. That is the petulant blogosphere knee jerk reaction instantaneously without much reflection and inciting defensive comments from supporters driven into madness upon reading said knee jerk reaction.
    No team is given more than two weeks to sort things out when things don’t go exactly as they should. No one will say it with Liverpool but I will. “exactly as it should” as it pertains to LFC means competing for titles. This year it is no different except it is masked in a “competing for 4th” wrap. When I heard Hodgson was managing, Joe Cole was coming to town, and on top of some decent bargain buys like Poulson, Jovanovic, Konchesky, and now Miereles, I’m doing what every LFC supporter thinks in the back of their head and heart, i.e., with a bit of luck in the injury dept., a few results strung together, a few points dropped by the competition, and we’re challenging for the title.
    Problem is, it’s a bit more complicated than that. We’ve got more internationals than I think any other team in the league (that means less time to recover, prepare, and integrate), a load of new players to integrate, a system that Roy doesn’t even know suits these guys best at this point because guys are out through injury (Kuyt), suspension (Cole), form (Torres getting there), etc… Good Lord, give Roy and the boys about 5 more games to figure this out. But that won’t happen will it?
    There will be people quite naturally jumping to conclusions, saying we’re the same team playing the same bad football as last year. That’s a totally ridiculous thing to say after 4 games and after all of the factors I’ve just pointed out. Don’t worry LFC supporters…at least until 10 games or so and we’re still talking about the team playing like last years. I’m pretty sure if we get the same result next weekend as we did today, the blogosphere will be singing the praises of Hodgson finding the magic formation. And if we win?….yeah, bollocks it is, all of it!

    • Chris McQuade

      September 13, 2010 at 2:52 am

      This wasn’t a diatribe for or against Liverpool. It’s not a comment on their season so far, what it is though is an observation that very little has changed at the club despite all the ‘changes’ over the summer. Hodgson hasn’t strayed from 4-2-3-1 the same system that Rafa used ineffectively. It doesn’t get the best out of the players involved, in my opinion. Which is the real story.

    • VillaPark

      September 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

      Technically, we would have seen Liverpool either give up a late goal with a poor defensive play in the final ten minutes if this was last season. Or they would have scored, but then given up two straight goals or at least a bad equalizer in stoppage time when they should have gotten 3 points.

      At the very least, the defensive problems have improved.

  4. Gaz Hunt

    September 13, 2010 at 12:24 am

    This isn’t the Liverpool I knew growing up. Nor is it even the Liverpool of two years ago that did so well.

    But we all knew that, right?

    I think everything I’ve seen so far has been a step in the right direction since last year. The most important thing for me is that Liverpool improve the shape and defensive abilities – in that respect we’re doing alright.

    A point at Birmingham isn’t anything to get excited about. However, Liverpool’s rivals for that 4th spot will have to work hard to get a point away to Birmingham too.

    Also, we don’t look too exciting right now but you have to give a team with a new manager and (off the top of my head) four new, starting signings a few more games to get going.

  5. boringarsenal

    September 12, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Roy was foolish to leave Fulham, a nice mid-table club with a grand old stadium in Craven Cottage. Why would he need the grief of managing the Reds slide into mid-table obscurity?
    This reminds me of the lean mid-60’s years when the New York Yankees were in the wilderness. Roy, say it ain’t so?

  6. Not - Chris McQuade

    September 12, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    There is a reason why this site never gets more than 20 comments unless they talk about Fox Soccer Channel or the difference between British and American.

    Really I would not take a website where the bloggers actually talk about how they can fast forward games before they spend the 5 or 10 minutes it takes to post half the drivel up here.

    The idea of research on this site is going on ESPN and seeing what the comments are saying.

    • Chris McQuade

      September 13, 2010 at 2:59 am

      Graters gonna grate.

    • VillaPark

      September 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm

      At least try finishing your sentences with some sort of point that makes sense. Is that too much to ask?

    • VillaPark

      September 13, 2010 at 12:31 pm

      I should also point out the irony of your comment saying that the site never gets more than 20 comments when your comment is actually #22. Dolt.

  7. brn442

    September 12, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    The main concern for me as I watch Liverpool this season, is the overall body language of the team….. they are playing as though they’ve already acknowledged that they don’t have a chance in hell of winning the league much less finishing in the top four. The team is playing as though there isn’t any pressure to win anything this season minus the (paradoxically) loose and attractive football as compensation.

    That urgent sense of fighting for maximum points for every match doesn’t seem to be there so far this season. Torres doesn’t seem to be bothered, Janovic just seems to run and run – just for the sake of it.

    Of course that should change next Saturday at Old Trafford but probably only until the last whistle before they return to their early season malaise the week after.

  8. Rant

    September 12, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    New manager
    Kuyt injured
    Cole suspended
    Torres in bad form
    Konchesky first game
    Meireles first game
    Poulsen & Jovanovic new
    Maxi, Lucas, Jovanovic, should not even be starters
    Club up for sale
    No money

    Draw at St. Andrews where they were only defeated 3 times (of 20) last season (15%)

    We nearly beat Arsenal except for Reina making a mistake

    We got beat by Man City (they spent over 100million in summer, we did not even get to use all the money we got for our players)

    Meanwhile some LFC supporters have such a hard on for Rafa still that Roy will never do anything right.

    Konchesky has been getting made fun for the past month, suddenly today the hypocrites are hoping he is not injured bad.

    Roy has been labeled the owners puppet, yet when he speaks out, they then accuse him of covering his own back.

    Then the fascination with Aquilani, if only he was available today!!!, another conspiracy by the club according to some supporters. Of course Aquilani never gets injured and it is impossible that he wanted out of England.

    Just like Mascherano, he was Liverpool through and through. He also got ran out of the club. They even forced him to say that he was learning Italian after Rafa left for Milan and they even forced him to give interviews saying his wife wanted out of England.

    Half of them secretly want the club to fail just so they can say “I told you so”

    • The Gaffer

      September 12, 2010 at 8:02 pm

      Rant, you make it sound like Liverpool was playing Arsenal or Manchester United today. Yes, there are a lot of issues with the team right now as you listed above, but this is Birmingham City, a club that even despite all of the current injuries a team like Liverpool should beat. The Brummies are a good side and a tough team to beat, but Liverpool lacked creativity today. It’s not as if the team doesn’t have a world class side.

      If Pepe Reina wasn’t the goalkeeper today, Birmingham might have won 2-0 or 3-0.

      The Gaffer

      • VillaPark

        September 12, 2010 at 8:42 pm

        Last I checked, the goalie is one of the key eleven players on the pitch for a team. He did his job and Liverpool ended up with a point at Birmingham.

        I could see this sort of article if Liverpool had lost. Yes, it would have been repetitive since there was an article like this about Liverpool’s struggles every other week last season. But they didn’t lose here. We know that it might be a struggle for them to improve on last season’s result, which was a 7th place finish in the league table.

        Shall we expect ANOTHER of these articles if they lose to United next Sunday too?

        • Simon Burke

          September 13, 2010 at 9:15 am

          Gaffer – you are so harsh on Birmingham. You say Liverpool should beat them so I took a look at the 18 game run.
          Chelsea didnt win there.
          Man United didnt win there.
          Arsenal didnt win there.
          Everton with Donovan didnt win there.
          Man City didnt win there.
          Tottenham didnt win there.
          Liverpool last year didnt win there.

          I did not see an article slagging off United or Arsenal or City for failing to beat a team that in your own words “but this is Birmingham City, a club that even despite all of the current injuries a team like Liverpool should beat”. Of the top 8, only Villa in a derby game actually won there – who exactly should beat them? I’ll be expecting an article slagging off each side that doesn’t win there this year if this is to be fair. Liverpool drew, they didn’t lose. They may not have played well but were denied a clear as day penalty in the first half.

          Last season there were just so many Liverpool are finished articles – this is just more of the same and far too early to have any serious foundation considering that Birmingham at home is a fixture that causes everyone serious problems.

      • Rant

        September 12, 2010 at 8:58 pm

        Oh yeah, I am comparing BCFC to Arsenal or Man United because I pointed out Birmingham’s home record???? That MUFC, Arsenal, & Chelsea all went and did not win at St. Andrews last season means nothing but Liverpool going there and not winning means everything even with all the issues the team has.

        World class side? Lucas gets made fun of even by LFC supporters, Konchesky is a mid-table type player, Jocanovic & Maxi we got on free transfers, Poulsen was a Juventus reject.

        So yeah, 1/3 of the team could be considered world class, we got absolutely no depth, and any person world class probably is already planning their exit.

  9. Andre

    September 12, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Their absence highlights how good Xabi and Mascherano were in that “double 5” system. It will be very, very difficult to find a pair of players that can function at the same level in that set up.

  10. Jay

    September 12, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    So Chris, does this change your thoughts that Liverpool will finish in the Top 4 this season? Based on what I saw today at St. Andrews, I see Liverpool comfortably in the Europa League slots. Not that a draw at St. Andrews isn’t a decent result, it is a tough place to play, but the WAY the draw happened, with Birmingham completely shutting down Liverpool and Reina single-handedly keeping them in the game with some world class saves.

    If Liverpool play this way against a better quality team, such as Tottenham or one of the true title challengers, the result will be very evident to the fact that Liverpool has brought in similar style players for those that left, but of decidedly lower quality.

    • Chris McQuade

      September 12, 2010 at 6:34 pm

      My opinions will never change! Not until the next match that is. 4th is truly up for grabs. It’s between Spurs, Citeh and the Pool but we knew that already.

      Liverpool have played City away, Arsenal and Birmingham. Chelsea have played relegation fodder and stoke. It’s not over but the point is i’m frustrated to see the 4-2-3-1 and the same style of play as Benitez, I expected different, not better.

  11. baba matkeshwar

    September 12, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    i agree with most of what is written. Truth be told there is no good manager left in England. It is always overrated managers like redkanpp and hodgson. Liverpool needs to be taken over urgently by some superrich fellow who can infuse some funds into the club and they then need to bring in a good coach…..someone like Hiddink maybe.

  12. Froggyfra

    September 12, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Gotta agree with Andrew. Looking at the set-up, formation & pattern of play, you would think Rafa was still coaching the team. Meireles gives us some hope, he has a nice touch, and with Joe Cole back next week, there is some light. But please please, can someone tell Roy to burn Rafa’s notes. And maybe put SG back to where he can get on the ball, and keep Lucas away from it!!

  13. Niccolo

    September 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I’m actually sort of optimistic about Liverpool. I think that if they work hard enough, they can retake their position among the top four.

  14. andrew

    September 12, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    2 holding mids and gerrard behind torres does not work. it looks like we have not changed anything is rafa still the coach? another long season ahead

  15. Browny

    September 12, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    And… Every idiot who writes a blog or for a paper,talks crap about Liverpool.
    This sort of thing can be said about most teams.. City spend 0000000000000’s and they drop points… Nothing. Utd.. Nothing..
    Liverpool make a profit 4 windows running and get silly digs made because there isn’t massive improvement.
    Why would there be? Also brum are unbeaten at home in 18 games now! Which pretty much means nobody has beaten them at home.. So why not say that Birmingham are hard to break down or give them credit.
    Nooooo… Liverpool Liverpool Liverpool

    • Chris McQuade

      September 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm

      Birmingham’s home form isn’t news. Birmingham were excellent though but this wasn’t a match report. City have been written about this weekend, United too. The story for me watching the game was Liverpool’s lack of change.

      The same formation, the same reliance on players and the same results. I just expected different.

      “Liverpool make a profit 4 windows running” – Surely the transfer window is not for making a profit but improving your club by reinvesting the money from Tickets/Merchandising. This is what Arsenal try to do. If you were to run Liverpool as a business and players as assets to improve and move on, the owners are still doing a terrible job:

    • The Gaffer

      September 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm

      Browny, to prove there’s a balance, here’s just one of many articles that have been published on this site recently criticizing Man City: And here’s one criticizing Man United:

      Perhaps if Liverpool started playing better, you would see more positive articles about them on this site.

      The Gaffer

      • Simon Burke

        September 12, 2010 at 6:51 pm

        Maybe there should be an article praising Birmingham. So many football sites and footy twitter accounts accentuate the negative and only pay lip service to the positive. This may not have been the best Liverpool performance ever but I think its fair to say a point at St Andrews isnt all that bad. 18 games unbeaten at home. Where are the other 17 articles criticising the other opponents. I can see why Liverpool fans are irked.

        • The Gaffer

          September 12, 2010 at 7:15 pm

          I think Birmingham City will be covered on tonight’s episode of the EPL Talk Podcast.

          The Gaffer

        • Chris McQuade

          September 13, 2010 at 2:58 am

          Birmingham were only better than decent. Liverpool didn’t pose much of a challenge. Roger Johnson and Stephen Carr were their best players by a mile, although Craig Gardner was named man of the match.

          The story for the evening as I seem to be repeating myself is that Liverpool haven’t changed from last season to this except in the players available.

      • PJ

        September 13, 2010 at 6:19 am

        Liverpool are in a transitional period, we do need time for new players to gel as browny said.. You guys need to give Brum some credit in their form at present cos 18 matches unbeaten at home is good for their club. The positives us Liverpool fans can take from this is, we took a point from a fixture that has proved a draw for the last few years. if we lost, then there would be alot more negative talk.. But the result was certainly accepted by LFC fans due to current situation. Expect them to build o this an amalgamate the new guys. Joe returns to the team as his ban is over. Let show our support for the MIGHTY REDS..

  16. Simon Burke

    September 12, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Liverpool have a lot of new faces this year – I’d judge them in a few weeks. A draw at Birmingham isnt a bad result considering how many teams couldnt win at St Andrews last year. I think Liverpool will far better but they have some gelling to do.

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