Category Archives: Tactic Talk Tuesday

Big Andy, Little Luis, King Kenny in The Liverpool Circus


Andy Carrol Liverpool Football English Premier League

#bigandyliverpoolnumber9

This is undoubtedly Liverpool’s poorest season in the Premier League era. Prior to a ball kicked in earnest the ingredients seemed well balanced: a Kop hero at the helm, significant investment in on-field talent and a promising blend of youth and experience. How things have changed…

At FFTD we have certainly shared in the tribulations of Andy Carroll as he has stumbled through his first Premier League campaign on Merseyside as if being led by Jose Enrique’s daughter while blindfolded and on stilts. The sympathetic view regards England’s most expensive player as a work in progress and a scapegoat for a typically scathing media. Others have pointed to his exorbitant price tag as a negligible factor; something uncontrolled by Carroll creating unrealistic and impossible to fulfill expectations. Whatever the paradigm, A. Carroll is the laughing stock of the world wide web and the emblem of anti-Liverpool sentiment (accompanied by Suarez) much to the chagrin of reds across the planet.

Big Andy was snatched in a desperate last ditch deadline day scramble for a ready made Fernando replacement. While 35 large was excessive even for a league spiralling out of financial rationality, many pundits listed his arrival from Newcastle as a favourable dealing: strong, pacey, good feet and a devastating left peg – Peter Crouch times 5. What was to ensue is common knowledge, but we feel critiques have been continuously amplified out of proportion. Commentators should disregard his price tag for now, as that figure will be amortised over the entirety of his Liverpool career, and instead focus on the deeper-seeded problems at Anfield.

Compared to the good ol’ days on Tyneside, Liverpool’s number 9 has faced worse service than at a Fawlty Towers inspired B & B. Persistent injury complaints to Stevie G and the disappointingly ineffective Charlie Adam have curbed the stem of incisive delivery into forward lying positions. Indeed, the return of Gerrard has afforded Carroll with his best opportunities in a red shirt, and therefore his most promising displays – using deft touches to release the ever-dangerous Suarez. The Carroll/Suarez partnership has been a rarity across the season in a bane for supporters. The pairing is certainly still in its infancy, but has shown fleeting moments of endeavour and adroitness. The flourishing Rooney/Welbeck attack should be an archetypal blueprint. Most tellingly, Suarez, seemingly not someone to give plaudits lightly, is on record with:

 ‘I hope Andy plays with me all matches, he helps me in game’

In their pairing up front, King Kenny has a platform on which to build a more telling challenge next year. This year’s missing piece, rather than efficiency in front of goal, has been creativity in the middle together with the absence of Lucas to provide some solidity in front of a struggling back four (but that’s for another inquiry). Forthright transfer dealings could arrest their worrying slump towards mid table and replace the substandard, such as Downing, with genuine European talent. An attacking marshal in a central role as well as a crafty winger with trickery and a turn of pace are on top of the Anfield shopping list. To give them a hand, because we know they’re reading this, we’ve selected an eclectic mix of some realistic options for the Reds. If this doesn’t propel us into the upper echelons of footballing analysis…

Gaston Ramirez

It is surprising that more gossip fails to circulate one of Europe’s finest prospects in the 21 year old Bologna midfielder. Ramirez may be suited to the English brand with his powerful 6 foot frame and ability to legitimately fulfill a role without the ball. Gaston has continuously been compared to Kaka since bursting onto the scene, in terms of his graceful flair on the ball and his reportedly unflappable temperament. This trait would be a welcome asset to a growing collective of ill-disciplined players led by the pest that is Suarez. A number of other factors point to this deal being successful: Ramirez continues the Uruguayan flavour and should connect with Suarez and Coates, something that should not be understated, at just 21 he fits with Dalglish’s commitment to youth in his recruitment ideology and finally, a bid of £16.3 million is rumoured to be in the bolognaise stained hands of Bologna already.

Estimated Price: £16m                                                                          Rating: 8/10

Scott Sinclair

Sinclair has been at the fulcrum of an eye-catching season from the Welsh Premier League newcomers this season. 7 goals in 22 appearances is noteworthy enough, but he is ensconced in the top 10 for chance creation and assists across the league. While new arrival, Sigurdsson, may be a more convincing option, we think the Icelandic starlet will go to a bigger club with Champions League action, leaving Sinclair as a realistic investment. There are a number of drawbacks however. First, Sinclair’s strength is his penetrating runs from the left towards goal, more so than his delivery from wider areas, something Liverpool could use more desperately. Second, he has flourished in a 4-3-3 abundant with crisp passing and committed movement, two things that do not necessarily fit Liverpool’s attacking idiosyncrasies. Worth a look though.

Estimated Price: £6m                                                                            Rating: 6/10

Younes Belhanda

This Moroccan midfield maestro is a genuine contender as a long-term replacement for the ageing Gerrard. England’s biggest clubs have been lining up for Belhanda’s autograph for some time now, with the Montpellier man seen as a long term replacement for Scholes at United and previously Fabregas at Arsenal. But apparently, Liverpool are finally beating these clubs to something. Younes knows his way to the back of the net too, with 12 goals to accompany his 6 assists in his 30 games in Ligue 1. Newcastle have shown the worth of French imports in their midfield and if John Henry is to break the bank this year, it would be difficult to move past Belhanda. Prepare to see this name in your gossip columns over the months to come.

Estimated Price: circa £20m                                                               Rating: 9/10

Belhanda Montpellier Liverpool Zidane

A talent not to be ignored...

Matt Jarvis

Some of my Liverpool supporting friends have bemoaned that Jarvis is just the sort of player their club will sign – and we tend to agree. 2012’s Charlie Adam, Jarvis is too good for the championship, but too expensive for the mid table club he deserves. Instead, Kenny will come to the rescue, signing another overrated Englishman without any considerable raison d’être. Jarvis is the definition of the word “useful”, but offers little more, and his signing would mark a step sideways at best. While he has been more prolific than Downing, with 7 goals for the debacle that is Wolves, this prospect would be scant improvement to the squad. This will happen – just you wait.

Estimated Price:  £4m                                                               Rating: 4/10

Royston Drenthe

England’s visiting Real Madrid player, adorned with a simply stunning given name, has shown glimpses that would fulfill Liverpool’s lacking. Drenthe is a consistent nightmare for defenders, something that Anton Ferdinand, most particularly, would substantiate. While not necessarily a weakness on the red half of Merseyside, Drenthe adds a set piece menace to accompany his attacking repertoire. On the negative, Royston saves us from a half-hearted attempt at defending by keeping this element completely absent from his game. Additionally, he seems easily flustered on the pitch, a quality that in tandem with the child-like Suarez could be too much to bear for a restless fan base. If the Everton loanee is considered as a replacement for the departing Kuyt, then two more opposite propositions would be difficult to find – something that, along with his lackadaisical attitude, could seriously hamper any efforts to endear himself to a Kop favouring hard-working and dogged performers. Off-field issues may be noteworthy.

Estimated Price: Free                                                                                 Rating: 6/10

Junior Hoilett

If the PFA’s prize for young player of the season was a genuine accolade (maybe youth was determined by years playing professionally, rather than years of age) then Blackburn’s biggest weapon would head the list. Without even a mirage of attacking support from his contemporaries, save the Yak’s three game mid season rich vein of form (HAH!), the Canadian has been a clear standout amongst the shambolic on and off field season served up by Venkys and Steve Kean. Liverpool seem an appropriate destination for the championship-bound Hoilett, but several clubs will be throwing their cheque book at the out of contract winger. With his 3rd season of English football under his belt, Mr Hoilett could be the best possible option to Liverpool’s woes.

Estimated Price: Free Transfer                                                          Suitability: 9/10

 
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South Africa 2010 round up so far and what’s still to come..


With just the final round of group games remaining there are only 90 minutes of World Cup 2010 left for half the teams. Lets take a look forward to the remaining games and reflect back on what’s happened thus far.

Anelka & Domenech -the men at the center of the French controversy

In Group A it would appear that both Uruguay and Mexico have all but secured their spot in the final 16  and a draw between the two of them tonight would see them both go through. However a draw for Mexico would see them finish 2nd in the group meaning a show down against Argentina in the next round – obviously not ideal, so it makes for an interesting final game and gives a glimmer of hope to both the rainbow nation and a largely underwhelming French side. For South Africa, it appears they will be the first host nation to fail to emerge from the group stages and for the French it would be a travesty if they actually scrape through. They have been beyond disappointing thus far and clearly their much publicised internal problems are effecting the performances on the pitch – there must be plenty of Irish fans around the world who cant help but smile – fair play I say!

The Webmaster suggests Mexico will have the goods tonight in a narrow win which will see them top group. Hopefully the narrow defeat will still leave Uruguay in 2nd spot leaving them the unfortunate task of facing Argentina. South Africa and France to draw sending the French team to their holiday destinations, where they clearly want to be, and leaving the South Africans to join the rest of the country in the stands; blasting on Vuvuzelas.

Maradona's faith pays off - Higauin hits a hat-trick against South Korea

Moving on to Group B Argentina are sitting pretty at the top of the group and as long as they avoid defeat tomorrow they will go through in first place. Two pretty solid performances so far see them on 6 points and gives them an opportunity to give some of the remainder of the squad a run out tonight. The Greeks face the tough task of needing at least a point from the game against Maradona’s men to stay alive. When you combine their inability to score with the class of the Argentinian outfit their chances look slim. It is also likely that South Korea will handle any fight from Nigeria and go on to win their final game.

The webmaster predicts Argentina will make light work of the Greek side, recording another win and topping the group on 9 pts leaving them to meet Uruguay in the next round. Whilst Korea’s victory will see them finish in second place and through to the final 16 to face off against Mexico.

Capello brings squad together - time to perform!

Group C appeared to be the easiest group of the lot and the fact the likes of England and the USA have struggled highlights the disappointing nature of the tournament so far. Admittedly USA were robbed of a victory against Slovenia, with an outrageous ruling out of a late winner – the ref had almost blown the whistle before the free-kick was taken. Unfortunately unlike the webmasters’ predictions, England have reinforced their status of chokers with two disappointing performances against USA and Algeria. Despite the poor performance so far, a victory against Slovenia will see them sneak through, so all hope is not lost. There also appears to be a rift in the English camp, a claim that the players have denied, but there is no doubt the pressure has mounted on Capello and his men and they certainly need to turn it around against Slovenia.

The webmaster suggests that both England and USA will pull of a victory in their final game leaving USA in 1st place ahead of England on goal difference – meaning England will face the tough task of Germany in the next round.

Have we seen Harry for the last time?

Mathematically anyone in Group D can still make it through, making for a very interesting last round in the group. Germany started off so well with a convincing victory over Australia but were then shocked in the second game by a determined Serbian side who managed to pull off a very unlikely victory, especially after a poor performance against Ghana. Australia have been on the receiving end of two arguably harsh red cards that has put a massive dent in their world cup campaign. After a disappointing effort in the first game they came out against Ghana with a bang. Everything started so positively and grabbing an early goal put us right back in the mix, but Kewell’s red card and the resulting penalty really put us under the pump. In all fairness Australia still deserved to win the game and really did a fantastic job with only 10 men for such a long period – if only Wilkshire actually tried to score instead of passing to the keeper, things could have been very different. Personally the webmaster felt Ghana were very disappointing – surely they had to try and go for the win against a 10 man Aussie team especially knowing a win would have secured their spot. They now face the task of coming up against Germany in the last game.

Based on the performance against Australia, the webmaster sees Germany recapturing the form they showed in the first game and brushing aside Ghana with ease. This will leave qualification open for Australia to pip both Ghana and Serbia at the line. The webmaster cannot decide between a draw or Australian win, but either way it will then come down to goal difference for the team in 2nd and 3rd.

Sneijder Celebrates after scoring against Japan

Moving on to Group E: we see the Netherlands who are one of only two teams that have already booked their spot in the  final 16 – along with Brazil. The dutch have had two solid performances but have definitely not hit full tilt just yet and will be banking on the return of Arjen Robben to spark some more life into the side come the knock-out stages, if not against Cameroon. Japan and Denmark face off in their last group game which could prove to be an exciting one with the winner going through. A draw would send Japan through most likely in second spot as long as Holland can secure at least a point against a Cameroon side that hasn’t really turned up.  Cameroon are already knocked out of the tournament after two lacklustre performances against Denmark and Japan and are just playing for pride against the Netherlands in the last game.

In the view of the webmaster Netherlands will progress in first place after another victory over Samuel Eto’s Cameroon, setting up a likely round of 16 battle with defending world champions Italy. Japan should be able to at least draw their game against Denmark which will see them against Paraguay in the next round.

Something tells me we wont see this again - thank god!

In Group F we have seen Paraguay almost sew up their spot in the final 16 with impressive performances against Italy and Slovakia. In their final game they are coming up against a resilient New Zealand  team who are determined not to lose, however as long as they avoid defeat they will go through in first place. Captain Ryan Nelsen has proved a colossal force at the back for the All Whites making them very tough to break down. Incredibly, if New Zealand could pull off another draw as well as Italy drawing with Slovakia with the exact same result the decision of who goes through will come down to a drawing of lots!!! This is because New Zealand and Italy will be tied on points, goal difference, goals for, goals against and the result between them was a draw – ridiculous but here’s hoping!  Alternatively if New Zealand win they will go through anyway. The current world champions, Italy, have been a massive let down so far in a world cup which has highlighted below par performances from some big teams. They have been highly unconvincing but will still get through with a victory over Slovakia in their final game. For Slovakia their is a glimmer of hope, should they beat Italy they will progress alongside Paraguay.

Whilst the webmaster would love to see 0-0 draws in both games so we can draw lots to see which of New Zeland and Italy will go through (you know you want to see that!), it appears unlikely and if it happens both games would be rather boring. Rather the webmaster suggests Paraguay will beat New Zealand and Italy will beat Slovakia sending Paraguay to meet Japan in the next round and Italy to face off against Holland.

Portugal celebrate one of their seven goals

Moving on to Group G, where we have Brazil who have already qualified for the round of 16 but could lose out on first place if they lose to Portugal in the final game. Brazil overcame a very determined North Korean outfit in their first game before a more convincing display against Ivory Coast in the second game. They will however be without Kaka in the game against Portugal after a sending off on the back of a ludicrous second yellow late in the game against Ivory Coast. Whilst Kaka has been largely disappointing thus far, his presence will still be missed. Portugal on the other hand started quite poorly against Ivory Coast, where they barely posed an attacking threat, but lifted to another level last night as they humbled North Korea in an embarrassing 7-0 victory. They were simply electric once they got going last night in a performance that has seen them almost guarantee a spot in the next round. Even if they lose to Brazil in the final round it would take a huge win for Ivory Coast over North Korea to swing the goal difference back in their favour. Ivory Coast had started so well against Portugal and in the view of the webmaster were unlucky to not come away with 3 pts from the game. A disappointing result against Brazil coupled with Portugal’s massive win last night has virtually put an end to The Elephants’ campaign. North Korea are already knocked out of the world cup  and will be determined to show their worth against Ivory Coast in their final game.

The webmaster feels the Portugal/Brazil game could be too close to call and could possibly end in a draw which would suit Portugal as I’m not convinced either will want to win, with the reward for coming first, a showdown with pre-trounament favourites, Spain, in the next round. Ivory Coast should have the goods and defeat North Korea but will still bow out due to goal difference.

Gelson Fernandes celebrates a shock winner against Spain

Finally, Group H is left in quite an interesting position. Chile currently sit top of the group with 6 pts, but are still a chance to miss out on the knockouts. They come up against Spain in the final game where a single point would confirm top spot for the Chileans. For Spain it is virtually a must win game as if they fail to win and Switzerland can secure victory over Honduras, the pre-tournament favourites will be on their way home. In what has been the upset of the tournament, Spain managed to lose their first game against Switzerland. They dominated possession but just could not manage to put the ball in the net. A comfortable 2-0 victory last night over Honduras has put them back on track, but Chile pose much more of a threat and Spain will need to step it up quite significantly to secure 3 pts. For Switzerland last nights result was a disappointing one however a victory over Honduras by 2 goals or more should send them through irrespective of the result in the other game. Mathematically Honduras could still go through in 2nd spot should Chile beat Spain and Honduras pull off a big victory over Switzerland, although it appears unlikely.

The webmaster suggests that Spain will overcome Chile in the final game and that Switzerland should also beat Honduras in their final game which will leave Spain, Chile and Switzerland all tied on 6 pts. This will then come down to goal difference to work out who finishes 1st and 2nd. If both Switzerland and Spain win by 1 goal that would see Spain top the group on a better goal difference with Chile and Switzerland tied on goal difference, goals for and goals against and Chile would go through due to their result between each other (1-0 to Chile last night). Leaving Spain to face Portugal and Chile to face Brazil in the next round – PS I might have got this wrong.. feel free to let me know if I have!

So despite some uninspiring games so far we are getting towards the business end of the competition and hopefully that will bring about a more attacking brand of the beautiful game, more like what we got to see last night from Portugal. The webmaster just has three requests for the remainder of the world cup:

  1. the ref’s stop being so trigger happy or rather whistle happy – we have seen far too many yellow cards, some resulting in red cards for really poor decisions
  2. no more diving – I’m so sick of seeing these prima donna’s diving around for absolute rubbish, its plain embarrassing and brings a lack of class to the game we love so much – the webmaster would love to see a straight red card be given for diving, if we impose that for a few matches diving will never be seen again!
  3. no more complaining about the damn ball – it’s a ball, it’s round –> KICK IT! preferably into the goals..  if you’re a keeper –> CATCH IT OR STOP IT! quite simple.

Laughable..

Webmaster over and out.

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Yoann Gourcuff – changing roles in changing times


Following the group A profile on France passthesugar has done a little bit of research into one of their more anonymous, yet outstanding, prospects – Yoann Gourcuff. Gourcuff is in a cluster of footballers who haven’t quite reached the lofty heights of a Messi or Ronaldo, but have seen their stocks rise considerably to the point where a breakout World Cup could see them become household names. After all, nothing like the World Cup can start the rumours of 7, or even 8, figure transfer rumours and if you can never be considered an all time great without World Cup success on your resume.

The much maligned Gourcuff left Milan and a frustrating spell where he never fully lived up to they hyped expectations for Bordeaux on loan in 2008. At Milan, the Frenchman had been hampered with injuries and consistently left out by none other than Carlo Ancelloti who preferred Kaka. At Bordeaux Gourcuff had an immediate impact, helping the side to the double in France and become a European force. Their defeat to Lyon in their impressive Champions League was a bitter disappointment and may be attributed to a long and continuous spell of football for Bordeaux which has left Laurent Blanc’s squad’s lack of depth on show. The Les Girondins have been one of the form sides for the majority of the past two years, and it is only recently that they have let their ascendancy slip to the advancing Lyon.

Gourcuff had much to do with their rise to prominence. He is a proper, old-fashioned playmaker, who sends purists into a flurry every time he is on the ball. There’s little pizazz or showy tricks in his repertoire (think Ronaldo and Messi), but Gourcuff consistently shows that creative football does not automatically mean flair. However, recently, Gourcuff has been poor, particularly in their Champions League exit. In this piece, we’ll show that its more due to the the demise of the classic number 10.

In 2009 Gourcuff was employed by Blanc in an advanced, central role that gave him freedom to sit in behind the frontmen and push forward regularly. Many observers hoped that his role might prefigure a renaissance in the kind of traditional playmaker whose decline in recent years has ben a keen source of regret to purists who salivate for patience and wit.

“I think we’re losing that position, that number 10. It feels like there are none left and that’s a great pity,” said Lionel Messi in an interview with FourFourTwo magazine in August last year. “Football is harder now; it’s more physical, there is more contact. It’s a shame. Number 10s were players who participated more in the game, got a lot of the ball and who made the game beautiful.”

Recently, however, the sparkle seems to have worn off. Their definite slump may be attributable to their stubborn formation. It’s been mentioned previously by passthesugar that football has evolved dramatically over the past two seasons, with the now antiquated 4-1-3-2 and 4-2-3-1 being swamped by the new wave of modern set ups. Their main nemeses, Marseille and Lyon both opt for a 4-3-3. Against the traditional 4-4-2 Bordeaux’s setup can give their playmaker in Gourcuff time on the ball and space between the defence and midfield to exploit. But these two teams in particular have learnt to crowd this area and stifle the dangerous Gourcuff with a specified holding player.

One of Bordeaux’s trademarks in recent times has become their changing formations to match different opposition. The default is the 4-2-3-1 with an option to add Brazillian Fernando up front and sacrifice a holding midfielder if goals are the order of the day. In the 1-1 draw at home to Marseille in January, Blanc opted for a 4-1-3-2 that quickly became a 4-1-4-1 with little effort.. The space in front of the first-choice back four of Chalmé, Michaël Ciani, Marc Planus and Trémoulinas was patrolled by skipper Alou Diarra, with Gourcuff, Jaroslav Plašil and Wendel operating in support of Marouane Chamakh and Yoan Gouffran. In possession, both Chalmé and Trémoulinas pushed well forward, with Diarra dropping back into defence to provide cover and Gouffran moving up front alongside Chamakh. When play broke down Gouffran fell back alongside Gourcuff, with all four advanced midfielders actively pressing Marseille’s defenders. Bordeaux took a 1-0 lead when a robust Chamakh challenge prompted Steve Mandanda to spill the ball into his own net and would probably have held on for victory had Planus not been harshly sent off for a foul on Mamadou Niang with half an hour to play. The fluidity of Bordeaux’s midfield, in which players like Gourcuff and Plašil are comfortable adopting defensive positions, means the defenders feel safe in exploiting space when they see it, and the Mandanda own goal came from a marauding run and cross down the right by Ciani. (this is shown below)

Bordeaux’s flexibility was demonstrated afresh intheir 2-1 victory over Olympiacos earlier this month in the second leg of the Champions League last 16. The team set out in the custom European 4-2-3-1, with Wendel pushing forward from left-midfield at Bordeaux goal-kicks to give Chamakh a target for his trademark flick-ons. (shown above) Plašil would subsequently drop back into midfield alongside Diarra and Fernando, creating what was effectively a 4-3-1-2. Wendel and Plašil’s ability to drop deep allowed both Fernando and Diarra to press their opponents high up the pitch, with Diarra on one occasion in the first half chasing his man all the way back to the edge of the Olympiacos penalty area. When Diarra was sent off after picking up two yellow cards Gourcuff dropped back into a defensive midfield position, but Bordeaux were still able to close out the win.

The limits of the side’s versatility were finally exposed in their 3-1 Champions League quarter-final first leg defeat to Lyon when, with Ludovic Sané deputising for the injured Planus and Plašil occupying a midfield holding role in place of the suspended Diarra, Bordeaux were undone by an uncharacteristically nervous defensive performance that saw them concede two sloppy goals in the first half.

On-song, Bordeaux are a fine team to watch, with both full-backs pushing on, Wendel and Plašil buzzing around on the flanks, Chamakh linking the play intelligently and Gourcuff illuminating proceedings with his spell-binding mastery of the ball:

Blanc’s impressive set up as made him the firm favourite to succeed the clown Domenech as the French national coach in the summer. Chamakh looks likely to head to Arsenal and interest in Gourcuff will only rise following the World Cup.

The most surprising thing about Bordeaux’s 3-1 defeat to Marseille in the Coupe de la Ligue final last month was the apparent ease with which Didier Deschamps’s side closed out victory after taking the lead in the 61st minute. With the muscular pairing of Edouard Cissé and Charles Kaboré patrolling in front of the Marseille defence, Gourcuff had no room in which to manoeuvre and he was forced to retreat in similar fashion when faced with Jérémy Toulalan and Maxime Gonalons in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final defeat to Lyon:

Confronted by physically imposing and well-drilled opponents who effectively shut off space in their own defensive third, Gourcuff was made to play further and further from the Lyon penalty area and, despite Bordeaux’s desperate need for goals, spent much of his time trying to coax his team-mates into life from inside his own half.

Originally held up as the heir apparent to Zinedine Zidane as France’s playmaker-in-chief, doubts are beginning to creep in about Gourcuff’s suitability as a true number 10. L’Equipe’s football writers last week published their France XI for the World Cup (below) and it featured Gourcuff alongside Lassana Diarra in a midfield holding role, with Franck Ribéry granted attacking freedom in central areas behind Thierry Henry. A panel of experts on French TV show Téléfoot reached a similar conclusion about where Gourcuff should play, while his own father, Lorient coach Christian, feels his son would be better suited to the role of a deep-lying midfielder organiser akin to Milan’s Andrea Pirlo or Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso.

To date Gourcuff has failed to convince in a playmaking role for France. He is not helped by Raymond Domenech’s persistent use of strikers rather than midfielders in the wide areas of his 4-2-3-1, who shirk their role in the creative process because they are unaccustomed to playing in midfield, but existing trends have already highlighted the need for central creative players to adapt to the quicker pace of the game by changing their position or changing the way they play. Lacking the pace to re-locate to the flanks, Gourcuff’s only option appears to be to ‘do a Pirlo’ and retreat into the kind of deeper role in which he operated during his formative years at Rennes and where he has already played on occasion for his current club. At 23 he and his coaches have a decision to make.

“It’s the best position for Gourcuff in the future,” said Domenech at the end of last year when asked if Gourcuff could play in a deep midfield position for Les Bleus. “I enjoyed playing further back,” admitted the player himself, meanwhile, after slotting in alongside Alou Diarra in Bordeaux’s 1-0 home win over Paris Saint-Germain in December.

Should Blanc leave Bordeaux, Gourcuff is bound to follow suit. His likely destination remains unknown but his future position on the pitch may require even more thoughtful deliberation. Quotes like this one: “That goal was no accident.” “It showed there was something magical about him. I felt ill when Zidane retired. Watching Gourcuff has cured me. When I see players like him, I feel like a small boy again.” from Cristophe Dugarry will mean that the pressure is well and truly on the young lad to perform in South Africa and lead their strong set up to glory.

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Lacklustre Liverpool


Honestly, what is going on at Anfield? Their insipid display over the weekend against an extremely poor Chelsea has almost put an end to what has been a dramatic and sudden decline from title contenders to mid table wanderers and Champions League threat to Europa League failures. Much has been said about Benitez and his debatable transfers. Much has been said about “that loss” to Reading in the FA cup. Much has been said about Torres and his seemingly endless run of injuries. Liverpool are at the tipping point. Turn it around with new owners, a new manager and new players and they are a big enough club to go straight back to the top four. But inaction could spell a long banishment to football wilderness.

Football for the day gives you the inside information and all the opinions that matter. Today, in tactic Tuesday, focus will be put on the ‘Pool’s lack of direction on the pitch.

What’s changed between last year, where Liverpool were genuine title challengers and this year’s failure?

When Xabi Alonso parted with the Reds fancying the riches and glamour of the Galacticos, Benitez unveiled his big summer signing – Alberto Aquilani. The ex Roma star was brought in as an ostensible straight swap for Alonso. This, however, was to prove fanciful, with the loss of Alonso obvious from the outset. Aquilani proved to be a different class of player. At Roma he posed a direct goal threat with quick feet and pushing forward across the pitch. His roal was similar to a Fabregas at Arsenal. Aquilani was not the player to match Alonso’s superb passing range who sat in an almostquarterback role, spraying diagonal long balls that became a hallmark of Liverpool. When Alonso arrived at Anfield, he also possessed an attacking bent, having been employed further forward at Real Sociedad, and so the hope for fans was that Benitez would similarly develop Aquilani into the holding regista role.

Aquilani arrived with much fanfare. Former Liverpool sweetheart and team mate at Roma, John Arne Riise remarked, “He is a fantastic player on the ball, very technical. He is different to Alonso but he is the sort of player who can break teams down. He is a very good passer of the ball; he runs a lot; finds space everywhere and he likes to get in the box to score goals.” Benitez also denied that Aquilani was brought in as direct cover for Alonso, “He is a very good player on the ball, and hopefully he can produce the sort of asses that we missed last season. Certainly at home against packed defences when we could only draw important matches.”

All the hype, however, was put on an indefinite hold, as injuries hampered any chance of a swift impact by the Italian. Appearances were limited by an niggling ankle injury until late October. Until recently, the unfortunate scapegoat Lucas was favoured in the starting 11. Much of the criticism levelled at Lucas has been unfounded. Lucas has been capable, if not spectacular, alongside Mascherano and often seemed to be derided simply as the man who kept Aquilani perched in the second row. Pundits and commentators around the world heaped pressure on Benitez to play Aquilani with Mascherano in the middle, but until the season had all but slipped away, Rafa resisted the temptation and consequently placing immense pressure on his own employment

At the start of April Liverpool’s season had already been slapped with a big fat F. At this point, Aquilani had featured in the starting lineup 5 times in the league, for 5 wins: 2-0 at home over Wolves, 1-0 away at Villa, 2-0 over Spurs at Anfield, 2-0 at home to Bolton and an comfortable 4-1 home win over Portsmouth. In this final match, Aquilani opened his goal-scoring account at the club and Benitez said afterwards, “Alberto has got desire and he is working very hard. When we have him available, he can give us a different approach on the pitch in different games.”

With reference to the below screenshots, Aquilani proved an effective link between the much maligned midfield and the incisive Torres (9) and Gerrard (8). The first screenshot shows his average position; further forward than that achieved by Lucas (21) or Mascherano (20).

Looking at the disappointing 2-2 stalemate with Birmingham at home (a result all too typical this season) Lucas was employed by Benitez to fulfill a similar link-man role. His average position is similar to that shown above for Aquilani – just inside the centre circle on the attacking half.

However, Lucas is a grafting and hard working player. He is willing to work back to defend, as shown by the first heatmap, compared to Aquilani, who possesses a more attacking mindset, as shown in the second screenshot.


(Guardian Chalkboards comparison of their passing statistics that informed the majority of these insights, demonstrates the conclusion Aquilani plays a more significant role in Liverpool’s attacking build up compared to Lucas.)

I can hear the budding football tacticians grumbling their disagreement already. Birmingham have proved strong opposition since promotion – defensively disciplined and well structured. Portsmouth, contrastingly, are unsteady at the back and lack the quality to control the midfield battle and offer any sizeable threat in attack. But the illustration is still achieved. Lucas is only favoured as he fits big bad Rafa’s uncompromising system that favours controlling zones. Fitness can not be the only excuse for Alberto’s absence, as he has been an unused substitute on nine occasions to add to his scrapbook of 12 appearances off the subs bench. Rafa has been willing to address the red’s stuttering attack without Aquilani, instead favouring Gerrard to control the centre of midfield and move Kuyt (18) into an advanced position. (Kuyt and Gerrard are circled) The formation map from Liverpool’s strong 3-0 win over Sunderland shows this move.

The nagging question that may as well be on a banner in the Kop is why Aquilani doesn’t play in front of Mascherano leaving Gerrard in his preferred position sitting in behind Torres. Recently, Aquialani has shown promise, but changes in late April are not where season’s are decided and changes were made too late in the piece. Indeed these four quality footballers had started together only once before the second week of April, in the match with Portsmouth, and the Merseyside outfit resembled the fluidity that got them so far in previous years.

Why would Benitez spend a whopping £17 million attracting the player if he was unsure and couldn’t trust him to perform the role. Overall, Aquilani’s mysterious season looks set to end in a failure. Whatever the scenario next season, Aquilani is one player who should be given the chance in the Premier League.

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