Brendan Rodgers: The Right Appointment?

As Liverpool’s season appears to be petering out, there is lots of talk online that perhaps FSG hired the wrong man last summer, or indeed that they shouldn’t have fired Kenny Dalglish in the first place.

I’m going to look at if Liverpool have improved on last season, and also at the form of the other names that were in the frame to be appointed as manager at Anfield last summer, to try to see if Rodgers really is the right man to lead Liverpool forward.
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Daniel’s Decent Debut

Liverpool’s new signing Daniel Sturridge made his debut as the Reds triumphed 2-1 over non-league Mansfield Town in the third round of the FA Cup today.

In doing so, he became the eleventh different player to make their debut for the club this season, but more importantly, after just seven minutes he became the second player to score on their debut during this campaign, and only the thirteenth in the last twenty years.

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Liverpool vs Chelsea: FA Cup Final Preview

Whilst I don’t normally write match previews, this is the most important Liverpool game since I started my blog last year, and I’ve read so many interesting statistics that I wanted to compile a few of them. To be honest though, I’ve thought about little other than this match since the conclusion of Fulham’s 1-0 win at Anfield on Tuesday, and for quite a lot prior to that too, so it made sense to write something on it.

Here are some interesting pre-match statistics, sourced from the official Liverpool site, The Tomkins Times, plus my own digging around on sites such as lfchistory.net:

  • Liverpool could become the first team ever to win the F.A. Cup in six successive decades.
  • A win will see Liverpool set a new record of 16 major domestic English Cup wins. So far they have 15 (7 FAC, 8 LC) which is level with Manchester United (11 FAC, 4 LC).
  • The last three times that these teams have met in this competition, the winners of the tie have gone on to win the cup. Clearly this will also happen this season! The Reds won the first and the third of these, so I certainly hope that the sequence does NOT continue!
  • On the last three occasions that Liverpool have knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup, they have gone on to win it (1965 semi-final, 1986 fourth round, and the 2006 semi-final).
  • Liverpool have won their last four games against Chelsea in all competitions; the last time they managed five in a row was 1974, the year in which they won their second FA Cup.
  • Of the 20 goals Liverpool have scored in 13 FA Cup finals, just two of them came in the first half; From Optajoe: “Nine of the last 10 Premier League goals that Chelsea have conceded have been shipped in the last 15 minutes of matches”. As long as Liverpool are still realistically in the game with a quarter of an hour to go, then I’ll believe they can win!
  • Steven Gerrard has scored one goal in 32 appearances against Chelsea, and that came in a 1-4 defeat at Anfield.
  • Didier Drogba has scored in all seven of his FA and League Cup appearances at Wembley.
  • Both teams have faced five penalties in the league this season, as they feasibly could do in a penalty shoot out in the final, and the only goalkeeper to make a save (Liverpool’s Brad Jones) is unlikely to even be on the bench.

Regarding the team that I believe that Dalglish will select:

Andy Carroll will play I think; his form has been good in recent weeks, and he’s a vital asset at defending set pieces. With the likes of Terry and Drogba playing for Chelsea, that could be crucial. With the news that David Luiz and Gary Cahill are likely to miss out through injury, Carroll’s inclusion could tell us a lot about Liverpool’s potential tactics for the match.

I’ve looked at the statistics for ‘minutes per aerial duel’, both attempted and won, on EPLIndex and Carroll’s figures are massively better than their central defenders.

Andy Carroll – aerial duel attempted every 8.45 minutes, win every 13.46 minutes.

John Terry – attempt every 37.29 minutes, win every 51.18 minutes.

Branislav Ivanovic – attempt every 40.84 minutes, win every 48.44 minutes.

This suggests to me that Chelsea’s centre-backs don’t get as involved in the air (in terms of duels at least) as much as many people, myself included, would have assumed. Not all of Carroll’s duels will have been against centre-backs, but he’s clearly far more proficient at them than those two players.

So should the Reds be targeting that apparent weakness at the heart of the Chelsea defence, with Carroll looking to make flick-ons for Suárez and/or midfield runners? The statistics certainly suggest that Liverpool’s £35m target man can dominate Terry and Ivanovic, so it might well be a sensible strategy.

It’s also unclear what formation Liverpool will use for their own defence; in their 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in February 2011, Dalglish opted for a back three for instance. However, that formation has only been used very sporadically since, so I would expect the Scot to opt for a flat back four.

Although a lot of fans appear to be concerned that Dalglish will choose Carragher in central defence (be it through sentiment, or being blind to the fact that Jamie’s best days are increasingly behind him) I believe that Skrtel and Agger will start. People seem to be quick to forget that Kenny left Carragher out of the Carling Cup final even though he was fit, so why should he not do the same now?

The starting eleven (plus substitutes) that I expect to see is:

Reina
Johnson – Skrtel – Agger – Enrique
Henderson – Spearing – Gerrard – Downing
Suárez – Carroll

Subs: Doni, Carragher, Kelly, Shelvey, Kuyt, Maxi, Bellamy.

The only changes I would personally make would be to start Kuyt in place of Henderson, and Maxi instead of Downing; no-one puts themselves about more than Dirk Kuyt, and his industrious running would go a long way to negating Ashley Cole’s influence on the game. As for Maxi, he’s the only fit outfield player who has started all three of Liverpool’s wins over Chelsea under Dalglish, and he scored in the previous two.

Whatever the chosen starting eleven, I am confident that Liverpool can win a (in all likelihood) tight game against the Champions League finalists. But then you wouldn’t expect me to say anything different, would you?

Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here.