by Dan Beale
When Brendan Rodgers gave his first press conference as Liverpool manager, he was asked about whether he would continue the possessive style of play he used at Swansea. The answer was pretty simple, yes. However, there was one word which completely overshadowed the word “possession” and that was “penetration.”
Rodgers spoke at length about the need to be penetrative whilst attacking. He emphasised the point over and over that no matter how much possession you can have, if you do not penetrate the oppositions back four and create chances and take them, you will never win the game. This had been a feature of Liverpool’s play under Dalglish in his last season at charge at Anfield. Time after time Liverpool would come away having had 20 plus chances and not scored, whilst the opposition had 2 and would win 1-0. So in a way, even though Rodgers was talking about penetration, he really meant we had to play with clinical penetration.
So, under Brendan the signal of intent was there. However, the application had still not been there. Yes we were playing with penetration but still not being clinical. Early on in the season against Manchester City, Liverpool had 17 shots but only 3 were on target. Again, against Stoke at home a staggering 18 shots were taken, but only 2 were on target and not a single goal was scored. However the game that really highlights how poor we were in front of goal would be the home game against Aston Villa. Liverpool had 29 shots to Villa’s 11. The outcome, Aston Villa won 3-1. Now, creating that amount of chances and only scoring 1 goal from it is truly abysmal.
Thankfully, since the turn of Christmas, Liverpool have been converting more and more of their chances. Aside from defeats to Manchester United and a post Christmas style defeat to West Brom, two fantastic performances which lead to draws against Arsenal and Man City, Liverpool have been winning games comfortably. The score lines when Liverpool have won have been emphatic: 5-0 against Norwich, 3-0 against Sunderland, 4-0 away at QPR, and 5-0 at home to Swansea.
But it is the 4-0 win away at Wigan which truly proved that Liverpool are becoming a far more clinical side. In the majority of this season’s displays, Liverpool have dominated possession. Against Wigan they only managed 48%, but still managed to play some fantastic football at times.The clinical penetration I spoke about earlier shone through. Liverpool had 8 shots, 6 of which were on target and came away with 4 goals. That is some clinical attacking play, especially with a shot accuracy of 85.7%. Now this is the clinical football Liverpool should be playing. No longer were they getting to the edge of the box and going backwards, or never really threatening the goal, but every time they went forward they looked like scoring. This, in my opinion, was partly to do with the fantastic performance new boy Countinho put in. He looked hungry, Wigan couldn’t handle his movement or quick feet, and as showed his final ball was exquisite. This all helps when you have the Premier League’s leading goal scorer and all round footballing genius in front of you to finish these chances.
If Liverpool can be as clinical as they were against Wigan, then they certainly are on the right direction to progression. Defensively, work needs to be done in the summer with Reina replicating his finest form to keep Wigan at bay, but as a whole Rodgers’ clinical penetration when going forward all seems to be coming together.