Comments: talks about Rotation, Garcia - ***or not?, Gerrard - right
or centre?, Crouch, etc etc.
It's official: rotation is the new zonal marking. One of the drawbacks
of supporting a club with a forward-thinking manager is that it
intimidates the old order, confuses some of the less astute pressmen,
and leads to all sorts of crazy criticisms.
By Paul Tomkins
Last night's result coincided with the end of the run of 99 'rotated'
team selections by Rafa Bentez. The victory will of course be
attributed solely to keeping a settled side, even though Saturday's
performance, with an altered side, was far more impressive.
Personally, I don't care whether the team is rotated or not; if you
have a manager who has strong ideas and, more importantly, a long-term
vision, and who has proven he can win major trophies with those
methods, you have to trust him. If we had another proven top manager
who didn't rotate, then he would have his own good reasons for that
The facts actually suggest that Rafa's rotation policy works; not that
the facts are ever allowed to get in the way of a good story.
Too much football punditry is based on snap assessments, tired old
clichs and perpetuated myths. Falsehoods are presented as truths,
simply because people don't bother to check the validity of what they
are saying. Misconceptions are rife. This past week has seen the
criticism of rotation intensify, and also seen the quality of the
players called into question, amongst other things.
Rotation is part of the forward-thinking modern management that Rafa is
all about. And the innovators in life are those who look forward, not
backwards. Bill Shankly was an innovator. He did things his way. He
changed things at Liverpool, updated them. There was no instant
success, and there was also a seven-year hiatus between his 2nd and 3rd
league titles, but boy did he deliver. Shankly didn't look to what won
the league 20 years earlier, but what would win it this season, or the
The aim of joining Oliver Anderson to write The Red Review was to get a
more accurate assessment of what goes on on the pitch. Things like
comparing the Reds' results when Gerrard plays on the right to when he
plays centrally; how the team defend set pieces; who tends to be most
involved in the 'business end' of goals beyond a simple assist; how
many mistakes players make that cost the team goals; which players help
the team to better results; and so on.
It's about being better informed. It's not about meaningless stats, but
detailed tactical assessments on what works and what doesn't. It's easy
to mock zonal marking, slate rotation, say Steven Gerrard is wasted on
the right, and call Luis Garcia a liability, but is any of it actually
Let's start with the grand folly that is zonal marking - or so you
might have been led to think. Or maybe you've read this column before,
and discovered that Liverpool were actually the most successful team at
defending set pieces last season?
In 2005/06 the Reds conceded only four league goals from corners and
indirect free-kicks; or one every nine games, compared with Chelsea,
the next-best team, and their rate of one every six games.
This season the Reds' figure stands at one such goal conceded from ten
league games, and that was way back on the opening day; so a further
improvement. And yet still, despite all this, not a single game goes by
without zonal marking being mentioned by commentators, with the
inference that Liverpool are dodgy at set pieces.
Luis Garcia is a luxury suited only to European matches
Luis Garcia has now scored 28 goals in two and a bit seasons. All from
open play. That's a great record, especially as he doesn't play every
game, and is mostly a midfielder.
In his first season he scored the crucial Champions League goals, which
no one can forget, and he's got three in this year's competition
already. However, last season he was 'directly involved' in more
Liverpool goals per-90 minutes of Premiership football than any other
player (involvement being based on the final three players to touch the
ball in the scoring of any goal). His best form was in the English
game, to which some feel he is not suited. He also leads the club's
standings in the league this season, with an even more impressive rate.
He makes things happen.
Of course, he also has those days when nothing goes right. But isn't it
time we learned to live with his faults, because it's the good things
he does that ultimately make a difference, and often in big games?
It's also worth remembering that not once since his arrival has he
given the ball away and it led directly to an opposition goal (it might
have indirectly at times, further down the line in a move, but then
that can be said of anyone who concedes possession).
Give me a Garcia over a player who only ever does the simple thing and
never has the bottle to try something special - the kind of thing
needed in the final third.
Steven Gerrard is better in the centre
Last season for Liverpool, Gerrard played over 1500 minutes on the
right of midfield, compared with more than 2600 minutes centrally
(split fairly evenly between a standard midfield role, and that of the
second forward). He was productive wherever he played, scoring and
creating aplenty, although his personal figures were slightly higher in
a central role.
But Liverpool won by far the most points (in all competitions, using
three points for cup wins as well) when he was on the right wing: 2.30
per game, compared with 1.89 when central. On the whole, the fixtures
where he was used on the right were arguably tougher than average, and
predominately away games.
Isn't it Bentez's job to win games, rather than make the side merely
a showcase for Steven Gerrard's great talents? Isn't it about getting
the best out of all eleven players, with the correct blend? Gerrard
might catch the eye more centrally, but results tend to be better when
he's on the right.
But the right wing is just a starting position. When Gerrard drifts
inside he can quickly change the dynamics of a game; putting a defence
under pressure with his movement and creating space for others, as he
did for the third goal this weekend.
With Sissoko and Alonso the type of midfielders who rarely get ahead of
the ball, it needs darting runs infield from the wings; so long as
others cover the captain when he wanders, and that's down to the two
central players a lot of the time. The bonus is that when Gerrard stays
out wide he can deliver superb crosses, while also having the stamina,
pace and tackling ability to do the ugly work, too.
Peter Crouch is not a goalscorer
Eight goals for Crouch for the Reds this season, and 21 in total. Add
11 for England, and you have 32 goals in a fraction less than 11
months. Include his Southampton goals since the start of 2005 and it
takes him to 42 in two months short of two years.
When will people ever take him seriously as a goalscorer?
Rotation, and the new 'Tinkerman'
What I don't get is that going into last weekend's fixtures, Bentez
had made only one change more than Alex Ferguson in the Premiership:
30, to 29. Chelsea were the third-most rotated team. So rotation, as a
concept, doesn't work? Hmm...
Meanwhile, Arsenal kept the same team as the weekend before, and
dropped two more points at home. No one blamed it on having a settled
side. But why should they?
Another irritant is that rotation has been heavily criticised after
Liverpool defeats this season - but the '99 games since last
unchanged line-up' got brought up as a criticism too, as if it was been
a problem for 99 games. Which, clearly, is insane. Why did no one
actually bother to look at the results over those 99 games?
Let me remind people that despite the stuttering start to this season,
Liverpool had won 60 out of the previous 100 games, which is easy to
work out at 60%. Or in other words, the kind of win percentage that
used to land Liverpool the league. (The average over those 18 league
titles is also 60% of games won.)
Times have changed. As an example, the Reds secured the league in 1984
with a mere 52.4% win rating, drawing 14 games and losing six of the 42
matches. That many draws alone would be the same as losing more than
eight games in the modern points system, and that's on top of the six
actual defeats; so the dropped points would now be the same as 14
defeats in a season (or 12-13 in a 38 game season).
I don't wish to knock that great side's achievement, as it was a case
of doing what was required at the time (not to mention it being part of
a stunning treble). But that was back then. Alex Ferguson never rotated
in 1986, when he took charge of Manchester United; but he has for the
last decade or so. He moved with the times.
The Reds' 99 game run covered all competitions, of course, and included
domestic cup games, which could be said to be easier. But in a bizarre
quirk of the luck of the draw, Bentez has yet to face a side lower
that mid-table in the Championship since his arrival, and has faced
mostly Premiership sides. No lower or non-league opposition in the last
two years, unlike Manchester United.
That run of 99 games also included an incredible ten games against
Chelsea, that show how tough the fixture list has been in that time,
plus four against United. And more importantly than anything else, it
included the European Cup, World Club Championship and FA Cup finals,
the former and latter of which were won. We're not talking easy games
Some say only rotate when you're winning. But rotate a winning side and
lose, and you'd hear "you never change a winning team".
As I've said in recent weeks, there were a number of factors at work in
the disappointing start: dips in individual form, silly mistakes, bad
finishing, near misses (the Reds have now hit the woodwork a staggering
14 times this season), all leading to a dip in the ...
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