Background: 2017- Now
The year is 2052 and Liverpool are no longer considered a top 4/5 club. They now float around mid table and have done so for the past 15 years. Liverpool have had minor success in Europe, lifting the Europa league a few occasions, as well as winning the FA Cup a few times but they have not won the league in 62 years! Winning the League is my main goal, however the bookies don’t rate our chances. With 39-1 odds they have us finishing 10th in my first season in charge and I honestly consider that a failure if we finish that low.
Like I mentioned in the intro, I want to play how Shankly and Paisleys teams played. That means few team instructions, keeping possession of the ball, and generally using a 4-4-1-1 (debatable for some but I always viewed Dalglish as a 10 more so than a striker) shape. But of course my team is probably not suited for playing such a style just yet, at least not at such a high and successful level. So to ensure that I don’t get sacked my first season I will adapt to the players I have and slowly introduce my philosophies as the team improves and is capable of playing that way.
This was the starting template I worked with. As the season progressed the tactic continued to evolve as TI’s were added and removed and player roles were changed. Looking back I probably made too many changes and lacked patience with my original set up, but the season is behind us and I can’t go back. Here was my thinking
Standard: I didn’t want to mess with the team instructions in any way so I chose to just leave this on standard and use the TI’s to influence play for now.
Fluid: Pretty obvious choice given the fact that Shankly has stated many times in the past how he wants his team to play as a unit.
Shorter Passing: Those of you who are familiar with this Liverpool team know they did a good job of keeping possession of the ball and didn’t play a wasteful long ball too often. I chose this instruction to be my ‘possession’ instruction.
Pass Into Space: Some will see this instruction and ‘shorter passing as opposites but my way of thinking was that if we can complete short passes into space we can promote forward thinking and make moves towards the goal rather than boring sideways and back passes. This shout was chosen in order to try and get the players moving off the ball and running onto balls.
Close Down More: Watching their games back you can see they wanted to camp in the opponents half for as long as possible, working the ball around until they find their opening. Liverpool were quite aggressive at times in their closing down in order to win the ball back and retain possession. Hard closing down and possession tactics go hand and hand so I opted for this shout.
I wanted to keep it simple and see how my squad plays with little influence from me and at in the first half of the season we had very positive results but didn’t score many as I suspected might end up happening.
Our first real test of the season came against Man City at home. City are still one of the best and most dominant teams in England so I knew I was in for a tough one. Although having the Anfield crowd backing us I didn’t change anything and wanted to control the game our way.
We played well and created a good amount of chances while being responsible with the ball, exactly how I want them to play. One thing I noticed however, was that my striker seemed to be too deep far too often which led to a lot of attacks being halted and forced to recycle possession.
Notice the 9 and 11 are right on top of each other. I want the players to be spaced out so they have them as an option for a pass to continue the attack, not stop it. I also saw a potential issue with this pass map. My central midfielders and wingbacks are very far away from my center backs and since I’ve instructed my keeper to pass the ball to the center backs I’m worried they will have no options and boot the ball up the field.
We went through the season and actually went unbeaten until January. The wins weren’t particularly pleasing on the eye however. Our style of play reminded me of Van Gaals United at times, which is worrying. We held possession just for the sake of possession and yes did scrape a bunch of 1-0 victories but we were drawing far too many matches. Some kind of change had to be done.
End Of Season Tactic
This is a pretty big difference mainly in the team instructions I used. But I felt we weren’t being aggressive enough on defense and wanted to win the ball back more in order to attack the space left behind our opponents. This is a far more risky way of playing, but if it worked then we would start scoring a lot more goals. I figured and those 1-0’s would become 3-0’s and the 0-0 and 1-1 games would turn in our favor. The reward was well worth the risk in my eyes. I also wanted to start introducing this style to my team because this is how I want the team to be playing by the time the third year comes around.
Depending on the match I removed some instructions I thought were way too risky. When we played Man Utd away I reverted the d-line back to normal and removed play offsides, otherwise we would have gotten destroyed by balls over the top. This new style of playing went down pretty well although didn’t make a huge difference as teams began to treat us like title contenders. The space I so desperately wanted to attack was much harder to come by. We had to really work hard for openings and chances.
With one game left, the title race was closer than ever. We were tied with United with 81 points atop the table. United had a better goal difference though and so they were sitting first. We had to play our best game of the season and hope for a miracle that United didn’t manage to somehow win at home.
MATCH DAY 38
Pre match Southampton lined up against us in a typical 4-1-4-1. We lined up in the tactic shown above and prepared for war as we looked to bring the title back to Anfield for the first time since 1990! I did notice something odd though, as the game kicked off Soton quickly changed formation to a 4-1-3-1-1 DM narrow. No idea what happened there… anyway.
The game didn’t look like going to plan when in the 17th minute, they scored and went ahead 0-1.
Our aggressive and risky style cost us early on when their center back, Ricardo, hit a long ball over our high defensive line. This had happened a handful of times before this match and I didn’t properly learn my lesson. I knew that this could happen but went for the reward anyway.
Soton’s #11 collects the ball just outside our penalty area and is 1v1 with the keeper where he buries it. I remained calm though. United had gone down 1-0 to Bournemouth and I knew there was still a lot of time left to make something happen.
Here our keeper just passed it short to Schonberger. You can see our central players out number theres. If we are quick with our passing and smart we can work our way past them fairly easily given all the options at our disposal. My only issue here is that I would probably want my wide midfielders to be a little closer to the forward allowing an easier passing option.
We work the ball around probing our options, at a pretty slow pace I might add. This allowed Soton to get back into better defensive positions. We moved up the pitch with the ball holding possession waiting for a player to make a move off the ball when suddenly our #7 and #17 make eye contact. #17 sees the space the center back and fullback have given him so he makes a dashing run towards it. #7 gives a perfectly timed and weighed pass. As this is happening my #14 also begins his run off the ball. This looks very promising when I notice #14 run past the center backs unmarked. #17 picks the ball up in the penalty box and takes a few dribbles then plays a simple pass into the center where #14 is waiting for the easy tap in. 1-1.
This type of off the ball movement is exactly what I was aiming for and hoping we could achieve. The through ball from #7 didn’t just initiate a run from #17 but also #14. This shows me we are playing like actual intelligent footballers in a fluid system.
We still needed to win in order to have a chance of securing the title. Regardless of what was happening in the United game I knew I couldn’t take any chances. We had to at least win the match. The boys were really up for this match thankfully and executed the game plan very well. When in possession we moved the ball around not forcing anything. Waiting for space to open up. My players were supporting each other and giving whoever had the ball an option. Then magic happened.
35th Minute Sequence Of Events:
1. Our #31 passes the ball to #2 who has his back facing our opponents goal. Rather than trying to turn and potentially lose possession he plays a short and simple pass back to #31
2. #31 holds the ball as he starts to get closed down by their #7 and #12. He then plays the ball to our #7.
3. #7 attracts attention from #7. At this point their 16 hasn’t begun to close down anyone and is instead marking Duhamel.
4. Our #7 passes the ball over to #26 who finally attracts their #16 towards him leaving Duhamel unmarked and in acres of space.
5. The final move is when 26 plays a ball to Duhamel, who sees the space and gladly takes it. Going on a Messi like run in between their center back and right back. Showing determination and pure speed he dribbles past their team and places the ball beautifully in the net. 2-1.
Our patience did them in. We simply held the ball and waited for the AI to make a decision. Once they did we simply passed the ball off to another player in red. Duhamel saw space and, using his decision making, attacked it with aggression. Surly a bit of brilliance from him helped us here but our simple game plan forced the AI into error. Simplicity rules.
Half time came and I was thrilled with how we turned it around. I checked up on the United game and somehow, someway they were trailing 0-2 at home! I didn't change anything given how well we were playing and at home. We controlled the second half. We continued our dominance of possession and eventually scored another goal.
The game ended 3-1. We dominated. You can see the positive effect the removal of 'pass into space' TI had on our passing percentages. When I left the match I was greeted by a fantastic bit of news. We won the league!
We scored only 72 goals but conceded 32 which is the fewest allowed in the league. So essentially our defense won us the title. Moving into next season I would like our team to be scoring around 90 goals. I want this team to turn into a lethal attacking side. Since one of my goals was to play a short simple passing game that retained possession I'd say based on the team stats screen we did a pretty good job of that.
I'd say our good defensive record is down to the fact that we didn't really give up the ball too often. We won every game when it came to the possession statistic but simply holding the ball doesn't win you games. Its what you do with the possession that matters. Scoring only 72 goals is actually not too far away from what Liverpool used to do in their heyday and they used to play 42 league games. But that number seems too low for me, especially in the modern game. There were quite a few comparisons you could make with my Liverpool and Paisleys. My striker was our leading goal scorer (Rush), our CAM scored goals as well as created chances (Dalglish) and we played a short simple passing game with lots of off the ball movement.
I already have ideas for how I see this tactic evolving over time. The most important thing now is that I am efficient with the funds the board has given me to buy new players. We're a decent side but no where near as good as Paisley's teams in the 70's and 80's.
I'm still in the summer following my first season, so I'm not sure how long it is going to take until the Year 2 update but it is coming at some point. In between I will touch upon other topics like how I decided on signing which players this past transfer window, analyzing an actual Liverpool game that was managed by Paisley or Shankly and how I sometimes use my analyst reports to help me decide which TI's I should add or remove from my tactic.
I'm not too sure if this is any good or entertaining for people? But I hope someone finds enjoyment out of it or at least gets some people talking about this team because I don't really hear enough about them. Thanks for reading either way!