A managerial review of Liverpool's season and how they did on the pitch.
Following the sacking of Rafa Benitez just over a year ago Liverpool have had two men at the helm since then: Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish.
Roy Hodgson was eventually appointed a month later by Managing Director Christian Purslow despite Kenny Dalglish putting his name forward. At the time it was thought that Dalglish's decade out of management would be a hindrance while the near 40 years of experience the former Fulham boss brought to the table would steady the Anfield ship.
The 63-year-old's appointment was met with a mixed reception from fans. Hodgson's biggest cup win to date is a Danish Superliga title nearly 10 years ago and his record with big clubs is faulty to say the least. At Inter he only managed a 7th place finish and a UEFA Cup final appearance with a team containing Zanetti, Djorkaeff and Ince and 2 years previously he was sacked at Blackburn Rovers for guiding them to the bottom of the table.
The Croydon native swooped into Anfield and set about building his own team bringing in the likes of Poulsen, Konchesky, Cole and Jovanovic. As it would turn out, the only impact these would have on Liverpool is the club's wage budget with Jovanovic and Cole reportedly on north of £1 million per month.
Hodgson's reign at Liverpool was short-lived ending on 8th January and Dalglish was drafted in from his cruise to lead out the Reds at Old Trafford the following day. Form picked up and the Scots man lead the club up the table to an eventual 6th place finish. So I'll be having a look how Dalglish managed to get more out of a group of players that were managed by a man who once said, "I can't work harder and I can't work better." Let's see how he achieved that on the pitch...
One of the first things the former Fulham head honcho said was that he likes a "high tempo passing game." This immediately got fans excited but after several inept performances it was quite obvious this wasn't the case. Under the Englishman's tutelage Liverpool resorted to, what the Basketball community refer to as, half court pressing. Opposition teams would be allowed to do as they like with pressure only coming when they crossed the half way line. From his Fulham days we know Roy likes his 4-4-2 formation with tucked in wingers and he set about using a very rigid one from the off with two banks of four, the defensive line practically along the 18 yard line and the midfield 10 yards, at most, ahead of that. This left the forwards to forage on their own for long balls down the channels.
Upon the appointment of Kenny the most evident change in play was the greater emphasis on keeping the ball on the ground, building from the back was key and controlling the game came more naturally. Also noticeable was the midfield's sudden interest in bursting forward to support the strikers and play in pockets. The defensive line was pushed up 10 yards to compact the play and ensure possession was turned over quickly, compare 317 tackles in 18 games under Kenny to 301 tackles in 19 games under Roy.
Let's have a look at an example of each of the systems using the two Chelsea games (above: Chelsea at home, below: Chelsea away):
As we can see, under Dalglish the whole team was more advanced than under Hodgson despite Kenny having the away game. Also notice that Hodgson's midfield five (#17, #8, #21, #4, #18) are narrow and form part of what is effectively a bank of 7 across the park whereas Dalglish's midfield quartet (#17, #8, #21, #4) are lined out in a less rigid fashion.
If you were to look through chalkboard after chalkboard and stat after stat you would be hard pressed to find much evidence to support the difference between the two men's styles. I hear the nay sayers cry, "You should have kept Hodgson then, he should have got more time," but what the King brought to a Liverpool devoid of confidence was more subtle than anything hard figures can show. He brought a change in mentality, a boost in confidence, an all round good feeling to the squad. There was no more A team, B team nonsense and players were just let do what they do best on the pitch.
Take Meireles for instance, under Roy he was deployed as a right midfielder and was, for the most part, ineffective. Yet under Kenny he managed to score 5 goals in 17 appearances and become one of our most influential midfelders. The key was familiarity, the portuguese international was deployed in a free role which allowed him to do what he wanted and what he was familiar with.
Hodgson's main gripe is his away record having won only 7 of 81 Premier League away games in his time at Blackburn, Fulham and Liverpool. Let's have a look at the two main men's records:
It's obvious to see that our away record under Roy was contemptible and on the whole was a major contributor to our lowly league position come Christmas. Things had gone stale (er...staler) under Hodgson and a change in the Captain of HSS Anfield was needed more than ever to help it navigate it's way out of choppy seas. The board got the right man for the job, one that bleeds Liverpool Football Club but one can only wonder "what if he had been appointed at the start?"
Well I leave you with what might have happened if we appointed Dalglish at the start or never got rid of Roy in the first place: