Sunderland 1 – 0 Liverpool: Time To Forget The 4th Spot

As Liverpool succumbed to their third straight loss in the Premier League, it can be now safely assumed that their quest to get into the 4th and final Champions League spot is officially over. Kenny Dalglish’s summer rebuilding job is not going to be able to achieve what it had promised at the start of the season. There are problems that are present throughout the pitch, let’s have a look at them on priority.

No. 1 – Midfield

As abject as Liverpool’s performances have been lately this one has been the worst of the lot. The midfield has not been doing enough for Liverpool throughout the season and this game was no different. Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing failed to provide any sort of incision in the final third, although due credit should be given to the Sunderland midfield, especially Jack Colback, for their high energy pressing game. Gerrard’s steady decline since his return from injury indicates that a goal scoring central attacking midfielder is what Liverpool need to find on priority in this transfer window.

No. 2 – Forwards

Luis Suarez is a great player at finding spaces in tight areas and drawing fouls out of opposition defenders but his chance conversion rate is absolutely abysmal. If Andy Carroll doesn’t play, a major problem that Liverpool face is that they do not have any tall players when crosses are played into the box. Liverpool need to shift to a 4-2-1-3 formation with either Gerrard or Bellamy playing in the hole and Kuyt, Carroll and Suarez in attack. That way if a cross is played into the box, Suarez and Kuyt can be ready to attack any knock downs that Carroll can produce.

No. 3 – Defence

Another thing that should concern the Liverpool fans is the lack of depth in central defensive positions. Last week Jamie Carragher played in central defence and at fault for both Arsenal goals. This week Sebastian Coates stepped in and looked like a bundle of nerves throughout the match, unable to cope with the strength of Nicklas Bendtner and the movement of Frazier Campbell.

The season cannot be written off as a failure for Liverpool because they’ve won the Carling Cup now and are still in the running for the FA Cup. However with the amount of investment that was made in bringing players, Champions League qualification at the expense of Arsenal was the least that was expected of them.

This failure to qualify for Champions League can prove to be detrimental to their plans for next season as well. Rumours suggest that they want to bring in Eden Hazard, Seydou Keita and Javi Martinez. Whether any of the aforementioned players would want to give up on a chance to play in the Champions League can be anybody’s guess.

Soccer Formations For Dummies

Everyone who follows football might have come across the following jargon:

“We played with a 4-4-2 but were being outnumbered in the middle so we changed back to 4-2-3-1 to pack the midfield”.

Ever wondered what’s up with these numbers and what’s it got to do with those players on the field. Well, these are called Formations. The formation decides which player plays in what position on the field. The first digit in a formation indicates the number of players playing in defence. The second one indicates the number of players playing in midfield and the third digit indicates the number of forwards. So a 4-4-2 indicates that the team played with 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards. This is a basic explanation of what a formation is and there are a lot of nuances with each one of them. Let’s take a look…

1.) 4-4-2

4-4-2 is a classic formation used by a number of teams across the globes. The most basic of formations, it involves playing 2 central defenders, 2 full backs, 2 central midfielders, 2 wingers and 2 forwards. Here’s what it looks like:

This formation relies heavily on wing play. The wingers and overlapping full backs make it a point to put crosses in the box for the forwards to attack them. The central midfield pairing usually involves a defensive midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder, to break up play and spread the passes to team mates, respectively. On the defensive side, it is important for the wingers to cover for their supporting fullbacks because the system is prone to counter attacks.

A little tweaking in 4-4-2 can change it to a 4-4-1-1 where one of the two forwards takes up the role of a support striker and sits a little deeper than the other to link up play between midfield and attack.

Teams Using 4-4-2: Tottenham, Manchester United

2.) 4-5-1

The safety first formation. The formation basically involves packing the midfield with 3 central midfielders and 2 wingers. The idea is to keep possession in the middle of the park and nullify any threat from the opposing full backs or wingers. While attacking, the lone forward holds up the ball until support arrives from the midfield. Defensively, it is a strong formation because there are banks of 5 and 4 players for the opposition team to pass through.

 This formation is widely used by managers when playing away in European competitions, because of the Away goals rule.

Teams Using 4-5-1: Chelsea(Mourinho era)

3.) 4-3-3

4-3-3 is an attack minded formation that is the rage these days. The midfield usually consists of one defensive midfielder with two box-to-box midfielders. The forward line consists of three attacking players- left, right and centre. The left and right attackers can be traditional or inverted wingers so there are multiple options in attack. The success of a 4-3-3 depends on quick passing between the front three and midfield and an urge to keep possession in the tightest of situations. Due to the emphasis on attack, the defence is prone to counter attacks or balls played over the top.

4-3-3 is guaranteed to bring goals but can be carried out by very few teams because of the quality of players required to play it.

Teams Using 4-3-3: Spain, Barcelona, Arsenal

4.) 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3

A rather modern formation which is capable of morphing into many others while in play. The system basically involves using 2 midfield anchormen who break up play and support the other 4 attack-minded players. The central attacking midfielder acts as the link between the midfield and forward line. If the right players are involved, this can be one of the most dynamic of formations capable of turning into a 4-5-1 while defending to a 4-3-3 while attacking.

The central attacking midfielder is the most important link in this formation who can be capable of dictating play because of his position. However the whole attacking threat can be nullified by tightly marking the CAM.

Teams Using 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3: Real Madrid, Manchester City

5.) 3-5-2/3-4-3

The most radical formation of all. The system involves playing 3 central defenders who act as sweepers. The 2 wide men in midfield are required to track back while defending to act as wing-backs. Counter attacks can be carried out very lethally with this formation because there are always a number of options to pass the ball upfront.

Teams Using 3-5-2/3-4-3: Napoli

6.) 4-1-2-1-2

Also known as the Diamond. The midfield is arranged in the form of the diamond where the central attacking midfielder plays at the tip of the diamond and the base is occupied by a defensive midfielder or a deep lying playmaker. The remaining two midfielders can either act like wingers or central midfielders depending upon the situation. If employed effectively, this formation can act as a lot of trouble for the opposition because of the movement and interchange that can happen in between the diamond.

The formation suffers from a lack of width and is easy to attack against if there are speedy wingers and full backs in your team.

Teams Using 4-1-2-1-2: AC Milan, Paris St. German

Is It Right To Sack Villas-Boas

When Chelsea stumbled to another astounding defeat against West Brom on Saturday, the axe which has been hanging over Villas-Boas’ head for quite some time, must have come perilously close. There are two ways to look at the situation. Let’s have a look at both of them…

POV 1: Villas-Boas should be given more time to build his own team and it would be unjust to sack him now, with his team still having a chance to reach the Champions League positions.

POV2: Villas-Boas has had enough time and his methods are just not working out. His differences with the senior members of the team don’t look to be settling anytime soon and is creating a negative atmosphere in the team. He needs to go.

Although both the arguments seem fundamentally correct, there are other deeper issues that need to be considered before any decision is taken on Villas-Boas’ future. In Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea have a manager who is capable of producing results, but needs a setup where he is able to flourish with his ideology of a high energy pressing game. This setup includes buying new players as well as grooming the existing ones too. His accomplishments at Porto suggest that he surely can do so and if only Abramovich could show a little patience this time around, Chelsea might reap the benefits for years to come.

Short term solutions are only going to hinder the progress of Chelsea as a club and it is the duty of the fans to make the owner realise this fact. Ever since Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea, the focus almost entirely has been on buying proven world-class talents in a bid to win the League title and the elusive Champions League trophy. Almost no attention has been paid to develop and bring up the younger players from the academy. Only recently has Josh McEachran been allowed to get somewhere near the first team squad. In a similar time frame, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have produced outstanding young talent of the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Wojcieh Szczesny, Tom Cleverly, Paul Pogba, Martin Kelly and Danny Welbeck. With the Financial Fair Play rules set to kick in from 2014, it has to be understood that just buying players will not be the solution.

This coming season’s transfer window is going to be a decisive one for Chelsea in more ways than one. The Chelsea camp needs to decide whether to keep the trio of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba or not. The three of them were responsible for the sacking of Luis Felipe Scolari and Avram Grant and are more than likely to end Villas-Boas tenure as well. The three of them have just too much power at the club and any manager who comes in has to modify his plans to accommodate them. This wasn’t such a big problem a couple of seasons back because back then all three of them were at the peak of their powers and were almost as good as anyone else in their position in the league. However in the current season, all three of them have gone down the slope (…yes I know, Lampard fans won’t agree) and need to be shipped out before they become a liability.

Villas-Boas will most probably be sacked at the end of the season, if not after the coming few games, and whoever replaces him should be prepared to face the axe as well. Rafael Benitez is most likely to succeed Villas-Boas at the moment and has a proven track record of winning titles. If not the titles, at least the Chelsea fans can hope that he will reinvigorate Fernando Torres into showing glimpses of form that influenced Abramovich to bring the Spaniard to Stamford Bridge for 50m dollars.