A simple concept—start quick, and the opposition won’t know what hit them. Start slow, and it’s hard to get going when needed.
Each does have its merits and faults when it comes to football. Start quick, you can create more chances offensively but risk being too open defensively. Start slow, and you can lull the opposition to sleep but also risk putting yourself to sleep.
The idea is to find a balance between the two.
Analyzing yesterday's derby, we definitely suffered from a slow start.
There was far too much east-west ball movement and not enough north-south. Both sides lulled themselves to sleep trying to “possess” the ball. It was the most boring derby I’ve experienced since becoming a fan (circa 2007).
I was waiting, along with the rest of my fellow Reds, for the game to takeoff, but it never did.
There were attempts to make it exciting: Ibe rattling the post, our defense, at times, trying to turn the game into a skills competition at the back, and then the 80th minute peacocking melee.
Upside, Rodgers has found a formation that has given us that balance of transition between offense and defense that we have so craved. Four consecutive PL clean sheets defensively and creating plenty of—or at least enough—opportunities offensively.
Our problem is finishing those chances we do create. The build-up is fluid but once we cross that white line of the 18, the “football IQ” drops below the curve. Instead of continuing the simplicity of our approach play, by looking for and playing the space, we go for more touches and one more pass than we should and the vision becomes tunneled. We stop to admire our passes instead of continuing forward to receive the ball.
There were moments yesterday that our front line, average age of 20 years old, looked like veterans of the game. Then there were times that they looked like the youngsters they are. They were all key to creating the better chances. But then there were opportunities missed to play the ball or run into space that would have given us even more. I put the lack of vision and the hesitation down to age but then I also credit the fearlessness they seem to possess to their youthful exuberance.
Our defense is the same. There is no doubt in my mind that Sakho and Can are part of the future “spine”. There are times when they show the no-nonsense intelligence that the legendary defenders possess. And then there are moments of pure insanity. I don’t care how strong you think you are, trying to take on two against one is never good odds. To complicate that further by trying to show off your “Skill Skool” tricks, can leave you on a blooper reel and worst of all, leave your team down a goal.
The four best chances we had: Ibe hitting the post, Gerrard’s acrobatics, Ibe setting up Moreno who instead of putting his foot through the ball, somehow Rabona-ed it away from goal, and Can’s opportunity from the set piece. We all know he has a cannon shot but he stuck to the script on that one and crossed the ball. Wish he would have done a rewrite and just unloaded on Robles.
All of this points to a promising future, the problem is we need results now. We have stabilized, but I view Saturday as another opportunity missed. An opportunity missed to start and end with purpose. An opportunity missed to inject some energy into a “season-defining” period of games to that dream 4th spot.
All the teams that are vying for 4th are hitting stabilizing form at the same time. Tottenham, Arsenal, Southampton, Manchester United are still on the schedule to be played. This is our opportunity to create some separation, for better or worse. If we continue with slow starts, these games will pass us by. All is not lost, but we definitely have to jolt ourselves out of the mental malaise that was the Liverpool Derby.
Our defense is the most solid I’ve seen it look since Rodgers came in. Can, Skrtel, Sahko, and Mignolet have found a way to communicate with each other and it is working. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
It will be interesting to see who Rodgers brings in if Lucas’ injury is long-term and how that alters the formation. No one can deny that Lucas has been a huge part of our stabilization. While we would miss Coutinho’s craft, if he is carrying a knock, Brendan did bring in a lot of cover for his position and has even converted a few players to that position.
I look forward to seeing more of Jordon Ibe in the next few weeks. I also welcome the return of Daniel Sturridge to fitness and can’t wait until he can start games again. He won’t be the end-all-be-all solution to all our offensive issues but he is a big cog in the engine.
Here’s hoping we can get that engine to start faster out of the blocks next game.
Note: Since this blog was originally written (Sunday), it has been confirmed that Lucas will be out for a "spell". However, Coutinho is healthy enough to participate. So, managers....To the tactics board!