Encouraging signs at Anfield.
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There was a lot of head scratching when the Liverpool line-up was released for the game against Stoke City last night.
Six players in the line-up could be considered defenders by trade, and if Dirk Kuyt’s primary position is now on the right hand side of midfield, perhaps none of them were truly forward either.
However, part of the ethos that Kenny Dalglish is pushing at Liverpool is pass and move, and tactical flexibility is key.
Dirk Kuyt was restored to his old position of striker, of course, while the formation was generally 3-4-2-1.
Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles dovetailed to good effect behind the Dutchman, while Fabio Aurelio and Lucas Leiva offered cover centrally behind them – also covering wide when full backs Martin Kelly and Glen Johnson got forward.
Kelly and Johnson almost played as wingers at times, and only an outstanding save from Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic prevented Johnson from scoring a header from six yards out in the first half.
The three central defenders of Martin Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger also countered the aerial threat of Stoke excellently, for with Jermaine Pennant the only player in their starting XI under 180cm they were always going to attempt a lot of high balls into the box.
The fact that Stoke didn’t have a single corner in the match is remarkable, but a sign of how well Liverpool defended knowing Stoke’s danger from set pieces.
Under Roy Hodgson, Liverpool tended to only pressurise opposition players when they reached the final third.
This meant that everyone in the team barring Fernando Torres sat deep, and was the main reason the Spaniard frequently looked so isolated – particularly in away fixtures.
With Dalglish in charge, that has changed dramatically.
The team now presses all over the pitch when required, dominates possession far more regularly and offers support to its striker.
The ability to play a different system to combat different styles of play will also do the team no harm at all.
Liverpool have now won their last three Premier League fixtures, keeping clean sheets in each.
Given that those games were against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Fulham and Stoke, it is important not to get carried away, but they certainly look a different side – and new signings Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll are yet to be fully integrated.
Many questioned the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as he had not managed for years, but unlike the stubborn Hodgson, he has continued to evolve his tactics.
It is for that reason, rather than his legendary status at Liverpool, that optimism has returned to Anfield.
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