There are a few things that we know for certain about Liverpool Football Club and their men’s first team.
And now for a couple of things that we sort of know to be true, and can do a little bit of speculation with:
…However, we know that Liverpool have smart people working for them (people who, in a pre-LFC life, have developed advanced ‘pitch control’ models that calculate the values of areas of the pitch at any given time).
We know that these smart people are listened to (or, at the very least, notably appreciated). We know that the men’s team has two very capable attacking full-backs. We know that the team has started using those full-backs, rather than the central midfield, to progress the ball.
We also know that Jurgen Klopp’s teams were, once upon a time, famed for their exciting and fast-paced style of football; a style that now seems to have disappeared or been diluted.
‘Risk-reward payoff of passes’? Would it be too much to suggest that the analytics department have worked out that progressing the ball through the full-backs is a better risk-reward payoff than doing it through the centre, and that’s what’s behind Liverpool’s change of style of late?
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Maybe it is.
Despite the — quite frankly, surprising — amount of media coverage the Anfield brain trust have had, we don’t know much about what they do for the club or what actually gets listened to. To take a pure cynic’s view, one could say that Liverpool have been very good at media and public relations of late. Putting their analytics department in the spotlight presents them as modern and forward-looking to fans (and sponsors?, and particularly American ones of both who are more au fait with figures in their sporting fun?).
There’s also the matter of personnel. Early in Klopp’s reign, when the central midfield was more attacking in nature, Adam Lallana, and then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, were part of the regular starting XI. Both have had injury trouble, and perhaps Liverpool don’t have players similar enough to play those roles (although most people assumed Naby Keita would be let loose in a similar manner, which it doesn’t seem he has been).
And then there’s the Premier League.
Liverpool — as you may have heard this before — haven’t ever won a Premier League title. Their last top-flight men’s trophy was in 1989/90 and that, coupled with the feud with Manchester United who used that drought to overtake them in number of league titles won, is a great source of pain for the fans.
Perhaps playing more conservatively in the centre is a way of taking some of the self-inflicted danger that an intense press can bring. Perhaps this style, this shift to using the full-backs as ball progression options and leaving the central midfield with more defensive and stabilising responsibilities, is simply a way to give the team as a whole more control in matches. And so perhaps the change has a singular focus, to try and maximise the chances of winning that elusive first. ever. Premier League.
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