Many fans (myself included) were baffled when they saw Kenny Dalglish’s line up for the match against Stoke on Wednesday and I must’ve jotted down 5 or 6 possible formations after studying the teamsheet. It reminded me of when Rafa Benitez was manager and the press would joke about his ‘rotating’ and the fact you could never quite guess who he was going to pick.
While this may be frustrating for the media, I find it refreshing and think it can only benefit Liverpool FC if opposition cannot second guess the manager. It makes us a lot harder to prepare for. This is in stark contrast to the style of Roy Hodgson which was as rigid and predictable as seemingly possible. Last night Kenny picked a team featuring six players who are defenders by trade as well as Lucas, Raul Meireles, Gerrard and Kuyt. Anything but predictable then..
At first I suspected we would see a 4-4-1-1 with four tall defenders in Martin Kelly, Martin Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger making up the back four to combat the aerial strength of Stoke. I then assumed the attack minded Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio would play on the wings as many fans have hoped they would do. It turned out I couldn’t be more wrong and instead of a more conventional formation we saw a 3-4-2-1 that turned into a 5-3-1-1 when defending (which wasn’t very often).
The formation looked something like:
Once I got my head around what the formation was I started to understand why Kenny had selected the players in their respective positions. It was obvious that Kyrgiakos was selected to combat the supposed aerial prowess of Stoke and Kelly and Johnson’s roles as wingbacks were designed to help the Reds hit the Potters on the break. On paper it appeared to be quite shrewd, Stoke typically play with Fuller and Carew/Jones up front and take advantage of set pieces to great effect. What Dalglish didn’t know was that Tony Pulis had chosen to rest Kenwyne Jones and Rory Delap leaving Stoke void on any attacking threat besides the isolated Jermaine Pennant.
Stoke lined up 4-5-1 and decided to put 10 men behind the ball from the very start. With Liverpool also set up to counter attack this meant the game became very congested in the centre of the field with the Reds struggling in the early stages. As the game went on though the merits of the new formation began to show and we saw some great passing moves involving Aurelio, Lucas and Kuyt, who had one of his best games in a long time.
Another player benefitting from the new system was Daniel Agger who was afforded the licence to bring the ball out of defence and make those graceful runs forward that are becoming so typical of the Dane. Agger’s penetrating play proved to be the extra dimension the Reds needed and led to the opening goal as one of his marauding runs led to him being brought down by Salif Diao. Steven Gerrard took the resulting freekick which deflected into the path of Raul Meireles who took the ball under control and lashed in his 3rd goal in 4 games.
Lucas Leiva is another player who is thriving in the Kenny Dalglish regime and his quiet yet effective performance allowed Meireles and Gerrard to roam behind the lone striker Kuyt. Once a player that caused Liverpool fans to flinch when given the ball, Lucas is now one of the most reliable and composed midfielders in the division. Stats showed that his pass success rate was 89% which underlines just how comfortable the Brazilian has become in possession. His new found confidence on the ball can surely be credited to Dalglish whose pass and move principles have also allowed Meireles, Agger and Johnson to thrive as footballers instead of cogs in Hodgson’s rigid machine.
Debutant Luis Suarez had to settle for a place on the bench but he made up for lost time in the second half as he made an impressive 25 minute cameo. What I noticed straight away was the quality of his movement and his constant aware ness of who was around him. One of the biggest problems for Liverpool in recent years has been a lack of movement off the ball in attack, which has meant the Reds have struggled to break opposition down on numerous occasions. Considering the former Ajax man had not even had a chance to train with his new teammates it made his performance that bit more impressive and is a testament to his natural football ability. He capped off his performance with a goal, though his finish was perhaps his worst touch of the match. Suarez burst through the Stoke defence and rounded Begovic before scuffing a finish in via a deflection and the post to give the Reds a 2-0 win.
Overall I think things are looking a lot rosier under Dalglish. The defence has been sorted out and three clean sheets on the bounce show just how big an impact Kenny and Steve Clarke have had. Players are now enjoying their football and appear willing to play in any position or formation for the manager, which is the complete opposite of under Hodgson when players didn’t even want to play in their favoured positions.
With Agger fit and firing, Stevie and Meireles getting towards their best, Lucas improving all their time, Suarez just getting started and Carroll still to return things are looking good for Liverpool. Long may it continue and long live the King.