As Liverpool make the trip South for a testing fixture at The Liberty Stadium it is interesting to consider quite how Michael Laudrup will approach a game against a side with three stubborn 1-0 victories to their name. It could be argued that the Stoke result was less by design but in the following two matches there has been a clear strategy from Liverpool of playing progressive attacking football until a lead is established, then retreating into a defensive shell to hold the points.
Against Aston Villa it’s hard not to see the tactical flexibility that Brendan Rodgers surprised everyone with as being a very astute move. Facing a team that are a devastating counter-attacking outfit but lack any real creativity or subtlety in midfield, and are in no way specialists at attacking crosses or the subsequent second balls, the defensive shell looked a stroke of genius. As the desperate opponent swings its arms wildly you place your hand on its forehead to fend it off with ease.
It was less easy to see the compelling logic for repeating the strategy in the second half of the Manchester United victory but one cannot argue with the fact that the proof was in the eating and the three points tasted lovely. In both of the matches there was mostly a feeling of having things under control as opposed to franticly bailing water to keep the boat from sinking as chance after chance was created. It was solid. It was organised. Breaches were few and left only quite challenging opportunities for opponents.
The question to ask as the Reds are being given their instructions before the Swansea match is, how long do you continue with the strategy? The Hodge would forcefully tell you that if the trench-digging is done effectively there is no reason to ever chase dominance of the ball. You have the ball, we’ll have the result. But is it really that simple? Eventually isn’t it inevitable that the pure weight of statistics will crush you? Even as another wave of attack breaks on the fortifications it’s hard to quieten that voice whispering in your ear that possession leads to more chances, more chances lead to good chances and good chances lead to goals.
Michael Laudrup could do a lot worse in his team talk on Monday night than channel the message of another Dane that made a success of his work in England a few years back: King Cnut. The legend has it that the 11th century Scandinavian ruler of England had his entourage take a trip down to the shore and commanded the sea to halt – It didn’t and he got wet feet. Often cited as a sign of arrogance it was nothing of the sort, Cnut was proving to subjects who may have felt otherwise that even the most powerful of men could not hold back the tide. He knew he was going to get soggy socks; it was inevitable.
With Pablo Hernandez’ sparks of ingenuity in small spaces, Michu’s immense ability in the air and with Routledge and Dyer both able to win one-on-one battles and cross the ball Laudrup may well feel that if the 0-1 situation rears its head again his side may be equipped to be those waves lapping over Rodgers toes. As effective a tool as it has been, and as wonderful an asset it can be to have in your back pocket, an away match to Swansea may be the time where a second half of possession is a greater weapon to wheel out than the solid defensive shell.
If we’re effective enough to be in the position to make a call on which way we go with a 1-0 score-line then half the battle is already won. It will be interesting to see if we choose to hold the position we’ve earned once again or let slip the dogs of war to finish the job off.