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Thread: Rafa's take on how to play Liverpool

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2014

    Rafa's take on how to play Liverpool

    Liverpool have been working so hard to win the title and will richly deserve it when confirmation finally arrives. They have gone close over the years, including when we were there and then again under Brendan Rodgers and, in the end, they will be able to celebrate a job very well done. As their former manager, who had so many happy and rewarding experiences at Anfield, Iím really pleased.
    After the end of the Chinese Super League season in December, I spent some time at home in England and I enjoyed watching Liverpool. Now that Iím in Spain with Dalian Professional, our club, Iíve had some time during our pre-season training camp to look at whatís going on in the Premier League, to analyse the way Liverpool play, the tactics that have brought them to this point and where they have improved.
    To start with the basics, Liverpool play a 4-3-3 formation, with the full-backs pushing forward all the time. It is a pretty common way of setting up a side, particularly by the top sides because of the quality their players tend to have in the middle of the pitch. Jurgen Klopp did the same at Borussia Dortmund, but in this case itís enhanced with the intensity and the physicality Liverpool possess.
    This is what is meant when people talk about ďgegenpressingĒ, when Klopp speaks about ďheavy metal footballĒ. It is about high intensity, pressing high up the pitch and sprinting; if a lot of players can do that at the same time then itís very difficult for opposing teams to cope with. It means the full-backs overlapping, with a high defensive line, everybody playing in an aggressive manner.
    At Napoli in 2013, we met Jurgenís Dortmund team in the Champions League, beating them 2-1 at home and losing 3-1 away. A late own goal in the first game effectively cost us qualification from our group, which was decided on head-to-head goal difference after Napoli, Dortmund and Arsenal all finished on 12 points. I canít see that ever happening again by the way, although thatís a different story!
    I remember preparing for that first match and talking at length about the approach Dortmund would take, because we knew they would be on top of us very quickly and the full-backs would be very high. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is now at Arsenal, was playing up front for them and he was very fast, so we had to be sure to be compact and organised and to stop crosses into the box wherever we could.
    The biggest thing was to play with simplicity. We told the players, ďwhen you regain possession, you have to play simple passes and get away from their press, which will allow you to get behind themĒ. We did that in the first game because we had good players in attack with pace and ability, so we could play three or four quick passes in the middle and get behind. Thatís what Gonzalo Higuain did when Roman Weidenfeller, the Dortmund goalkeeper, was sent off for a handball.
    You always have a game plan against teams like Dortmund or Liverpool, just as you would for any other opponents, but of course it depends on the players you have. When our Newcastle United team played Liverpool, our quick players werenít faster than theirs were, so in the end the only way to get something from the game is to be really solid. The problem is that you cannot keep this solidity up forever if they are on top of you all the time.
    Defending for 90 minutes is impossible, so you have to try to create something on the counter-attack, to be a threat, to give them something to be more worried about. You have to try and get away from their pressing. To beat Liverpool or City you need speed and skill in the wide areas up front; if not, it just comes down to passing the ball ó you will not be better than them at that, and they will usually be faster and stronger than you.
    Liverpool have the same idea as Dortmund did, the same system and the same characteristics of players, showing the same intensity, the same high pressing and the same aggression. So why are they better? Itís because the signings of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, the goalkeeper, have given them something extra on top of what they already had, which was a group of very good players.
    When you analyse the statistics, the comparison between Liverpool and Manchester City is very clear. City have more goals, more expected goals, more shots and more passes than Liverpool, but Kloppís side have greater accuracy, they create more chances at set-pieces and they have more passes into the box, including crosses and corners. They are stronger in defence in nearly all of the parameters, stronger in the air, in recoveries and duels.
    What does all this tell us? Perhaps some of it reflects the prevailing mentality and confidence; when youíre winning all the time, you know you have the ability to regain points, just as games become more difficult in those moments when you are suffering a little bit.
    It also tells us that Liverpoolís main strength is as a counter-attacking team. They are so good and so strong that other teams will often sit back against them and they will find a way through them anyway with crosses and corners and things like that ó both of their full-backs, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, make a lot of crosses and assists ó but the reality is that their style is well-suited to the Premier League because of their power and physicality.
    When accuracy of shots is very high, itís normally because you have clear chances and thatís usually from counter-attacking. When one team is on the ball all the time, like City are, the other team will be defending and getting 11 bodies in between, which makes it much more difficult to create clear cut chances with the same level of accuracy. When youíre breaking, the other team is open, you get into the box and itís easier to score.
    Itís perfectly possible for a team to have one player who works less hard than the others if heís the player who makes all the difference, but if he then gets injured itís much more likely that you wonít succeed. In the case of Liverpool, weíre talking about a side that is getting stronger and stronger and doesnít depend on a single player. They can rotate four or five of their line-up and still retain that strength and cohesion.
    Van Dijk is not just important because of what he does in defence, but in the way he can play out from the back, putting his team-mates in good positions, and because heís always a threat at set pieces. The full-backs are crucial because they make a lot of passes and crosses and are always going forward. The midfielders regain the ball and keep the intensity up, while the three forwards, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, can all score goals and all make a difference.
    The important thing here is that you do not need to say who is the most important because Liverpool are the kind of team where everybody has his own job to do and they are all doing it well. Some winning teams rely on one big player, but thatís not the case here. They donít have just one, instead they have a collective filling their roles so well that everyone becomes stronger and better for it.
    These questions always depend on your team, the players you have and the circumstances you encounter. When we were in Valencia, for example, where we won La Liga twice as well as the UEFA Cup, we were pushing and playing with a very aggressive style and could also play counter-attacking football. Equally, when youíre at Extremadura you know you will have to defend. You have to manage.
    We cannot forget that the teams at the top of the table are almost always the clubs with most money; itís been that way since I first came to England. A story like Leicester Cityís will come along once every 100 years or so, but normally itís the sides who spend most on transfers and wages and who have the biggest incomes. If you go to Spain, Germany or Italy, itís the same situation there.
    Money allows you to make mistakes and get away with it. If you buy, in theory, five good quality and expensive players and one or two arenít right straight away, the other three can still make a big difference. When you have to wheel and deal, the chances are youíll make more errors because youíre signing players from a different level.
    The good thing about Liverpool is they have the capacity to sign the players they want to suit a manager who has a good style, the kind of equation which helps encourage success. Above everything else, we have to give all them huge credit, because they are doing really well. Itís good to see.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Thanks for posting that.
    Got to love Rafa.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    I don't think any team could honestly find a rock solid clear plan to beat us, because we adapt and play several different ways as and when we need to, and we are THE best team in the world without the ball by a distance, including what our players not involved in attacks do without the ball when we are attacking.

    How and where we win the ball against opponents and the time built relationships and understanding between all our players and ever increasing experience of scoring and creating goals from those situations through the volume of them we create, make it almost impossible for any side to find a set way to play against us. They can only plan against our formation and patterns of play from built possession, it's impossible to plan for the situations in which we win the ball high, their defensive lines have been disturbed, their players have lost track of one or two players and there are 2 or 3 players in different positions which any plan wouldn't expect them to be.
    "If Everton were playing at the bottom of my garden, i'd close the curtainsĒ

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    Jupiter, FL
    Makes you wonder how we lost to Barca 3-0. I know Mo missed a couple but it makes you wonder, if we'd only lost that game 1-0 or 2-1, if Barca's mentality would have been any different.
    Wow, talk about going off-topic
    Once a Red,
    you'll never walk alone

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