Midweek Musings: Attack of the Reds

Gareth Wheeler
2/27/2014 12:35:30 PM
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Defence wins Championships.  Prevailing wisdom has always suggested such, no matter the sport. Is there reason to question this sentiment?
The team with the least goals against has won the Premier League six times in the last decade.  An impressive record and standing example for the merits of superior defensive play.  Chelsea at present time boasts a league-best 21 goals against, six goals better than the next best team defensively; giving good reason they are currently atop the table.
Jose Mourinho continues to be praised as a tactical genius, 'getting the most' out of his inherited squad of millionaires.  The 'woe, is me', 'little horse' approach by Mourinho is comical.  Chelsea remains among the world's top spenders with virtually unlimited resources.  Mourinho deploys a stifling, boring, and ultra-conservative approach because it's his way of controlling a match, giving what he believes the best chance to win the battle and the war.  Thankfully for Jose, the talent of the likes of Hazard and Oscar mask what often times is negative football.
Other managers do not get equal acclaim as 'the Special One'.  That's unfortunate.  There is more than one way to win in football.  In fact, in a higher tempo, physically demanding and end-to-end nature of the Premier League, goals-for has proven a more decisive determinant to league glory than defensive record.
The team with the most goals scored has won the league all but twice in the last decade.  If we want to operate in the world of clichés, than perhaps a good offence is the best defence.  While the Mourinho defensive model has merit, more attractive attacking football wins as well. 
At the end of the day, fans want victories.  They want titles.  All things being equal, managers with bravery to open things up and go for it in an expansive brand of football is the ultimate combination.  Queue Liverpool Football Club, 2013-14.
A team without the resources of Chelsea are keeping pace in the Premier League, not through a boring, grinding and grating brand of football.  Under Brendan Rodgers, purposeful ball possession and decisive attack rules the day.  In less than two years under his watch, Liverpool has gone from a team struggling to build from the back, failing to play the ball on the ground and void of identity not labeled 'hard-working'.  This team has morphed into the most exciting, ruthless team in front of goal in the BPL.  Dreadful defensively, it has not mattered.  Liverpool is fourth in the table and is more likely to challenge for the title rather than fall out of the top four.  Only Newcastle has a worse defensive record in the top 11.  While a dip in form has been projected by most, there is no such demise in sight.
Liverpool has scored an incredible league best 70 goals in 27 games; 21 better than leaders Chelsea and almost double that of fifth place Tottenham (36).  The Reds have scored 19 goals in their last six games. Luis Suarez who leads the league in goals (23) has only scored once in that span.
Daniel Sturridge has been a revelation, automatic in front of goal with 18 in 19 games.  Much credit goes to SAS. But in fairness, a team approach with superior movement on and off the ball has created an incredible number of chances.  Only Manchester City has created more chances than Liverpool's 352.  They have the most assists and are top five in virtually every passing category.  There's no quantifiable statistic to gauge team belief.  But every time Liverpool is in and around the area, there is a genuine threat they are going to score.  Manchester City gets the plaudits for their attacking approach.  Liverpool hardly have the superstar talent outside of Suarez, but are every bit the attacking powerhouse.
The triangles across the field, movement and vision on how to use the space are Rodgers greatest influence.  Stout defensive play is a work in progress.  They have more defensive errors than any team in the Premier League.  Rodgers is adamant it's the players and not the system to blame for defensive frailties. 
"The problem is it is not coaching.  Some of the things we concede goals in, you can't coach that.  There's a feel when you are in the game of how to defend and you have to use your experience to defend properly," explained Rodgers.  And he's absolutely right.
First choice wing-backs Glen Johnson and Luis Enrique have missed long stretches through injury, but neither are reliable defensively.  Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel are both inconsistent and have been linked to moves elsewhere for quite some time.  Kolo Toure is a turtle.  And the rest fail to provide any confidence in front of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Rodgers has tried everything to cover up the deficiencies.  Formations featuring 3, 4, or 5 at the back have been deployed, all to varying levels of success and failure.  The system has been less important than the consistency in approach.  Through the misgivings, there is an understanding how the team is going to play.  And the insistence on getting up the field down the wings, with Steven Gerrard playing a deeper role, sitting on top of the back four has been important for shape.
The team will continue to evolve as Rodgers finds suitable defenders.  It will be critical this summer to find replacements.  Important for Liverpool is the direction is clear with team style and approach already determined.
A strong has offence is equally important as stingy defence in all sport.  League leaders in Germany, France, Italy and Spain have all scored the most goals.  In the NFL, the Broncos number one offence got to the Super Bowl, only to come up short against the Seahawks number one defence.  Heading in, the offence was favoured.  The Boston Red Sox led Major League Baseball in offense last year and won the World Series.
Liverpool is four points out with 11 to go.  The three teams above them are all competing in other competitions.  Liverpool can stay fresh with no distraction.  It would be truly a fairy tale story if they can pull this off.  And could go down as the team with the weakest defence to ever win a Premier League title. 
It's all about the goals.
Other Musings
- In a matter of days the focus at Old Trafford has gone from Wayne Rooney's new £300,000 per week contract back to David Moyes under fire.  While a new lucrative, record setting contract for Rooney was a no-brainer, what to do about Moyes is more difficult.  Moyes was handed a six-year contract to be successor, hand-picked by Sir Alex Ferguson.  The former manager regularly speaks out against rash managerial changes in the game.  Ferguson preaches patience and consistency, much like the treatment he was given at United.
That doesn't mean Moyes wasn't a mistake, or doesn't give any assurance he will be a success.  United continues to fail to perform under Moyes.  The product is not good enough.  Other managers have had instant success with their new teams: Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini, Carlo Ancelotti, and Pep Guardiola to name a few, managing teams' in the same conversation as giants Manchester United.  The excuse mongering for Moyes, whether it be the players or approach doesn't hold water.  There are challenges for any new manager.  It seems Moyes was ill prepared or ill equipped to deal with the task at hand. 
It seems Manchester United are ready to make it rain, splashing cash to compete with their fellow big boys in European football.  But should Moyes be trusted to spend the war chest wisely?  What experience does he have in doing so?  And how much rope will he be given if next season starts poorly?  It's a massive risk rolling with Moyes.  Remaining loyal and committed to a manager is an honourable trait.  But it only works when you have the right man.  There has been nothing to suggest Moyes is the right fit other than the word of Sir Alex.  A stubborn, bullish approach on Moyes isn't what's needed.  Can Ferguson admit he potentially made a critical error in judgment on his successor? 
- Panic over poor English results in the first leg of the round of 16 in the Champions League have the knives out already.  It's a referendum every year about what league is the best in the world, which is nonsense.  There is no shame for Manchester City losing to Barcelona, and Arsenal to Bayern Munich, home or away.  Both were beat by superior sides.  Much plays into success and failure in the Champions League.  Domestic schedule and form, fitness, proper officiating and a bit of luck are all needed in required in Europe.  Only Manchester United can be seen as a disappointment after their first leg display.  And funny enough, it's United, along with Chelsea with the best chances of advancing.  It's all about the match-up, not which domestic league is superior.
- Southampton's Luke Shaw is deserved of his call-up to England for next week's friendly against Denmark.  The 18-year old has been superior to Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole and Kieran Gibbs at left back this campaign.  The future is now for England.  Age should not matter.  Shaw at Brazil 2014 would be a step in the right direction.
Jose Mourinho (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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