Sunday, 16 January 2011

Why Roy's away days will be his downfall

On Saturday night, Audley Harrison was defeated by David Haye in Manchester. Harrison threw two punches before the more aggressive Haye dispatched him to the canvas. Boxing fans across the UK despaired at one of the most anticlimactic fights of recent times. Assuming that he couldn’t sleep following the defeat at Stoke, I think Roy Hodgson would have enjoyed it. Harrison and Hodgson have similarities in their approach that nobody wants to see.

I have tried to give Hodgson time. Honestly, I have.

My view of the manager is not clouded by the undying passion for the club that you all possess. I have my own manager and team to worry about in Oxford and trust me; they’re giving me plenty to fret over. However, since I have been writing for Micro LFC, everything that happens in Liverpool carries a greater relevance.

For several weeks I felt that the reaction against Hodgson was premature and that he would adapt to the task in hand. After the Chelsea game, I felt that I had called it right. A week later, the improved form has revealed itself as the false dawn that everybody feared. Liverpool fans worldwide are posting their disapproval on internet sites and I am sorry to say this, but even from the outside it is hard to say that they are wrong.

Roy Hodgson is not the correct fit for Liverpool and he never was.

If we are to look at things with a significant helping of generosity, the home form is improving. There were positive aspects in each of the past three home games (including the Europa League) culminating in the Chelsea victory.

Unfortunately, Hodgson’s reign will fail due to his approach towards away matches.

Although I’d love to claim that this declaration is based upon superhuman foresight, the statistics to support the argument are all too easy to find. Have a look at these two:

• Hodgson has been manager for 105 away games in English football. His teams have won 13 of them. That is a win ratio of 12.4%.
• Hodgson’s overall win ratio at Blackburn, Inter and Liverpool – clubs where success was expected – works out at 39.3%. If you add Fulham and Udinese to the equation, this drops to 37%.

When you consider where NESV want to take Liverpool Football Club, these are not the figures of a manager who is able to lead the operation. They are perfectly acceptable at some clubs and this is where Hodgson belongs. A Roy Hodgson side would be likely to avoid relegation but with the mentality that he enforces, it will not challenge at the very top of the league.

Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool was far from being overtly adventurous but in comparison to what is currently being served up away from Anfield, it looks like Brazil in 1970.

Tactically, there are problems all over the field.

For starters, the defence is too deep. Whoever is playing at full-back has a mammoth task on their hands because they have to cover extra yards to join an attack and the same to recover their position in the back four. Glen Johnson might have a fighting chance of getting up and down the field but Jamie Carragher will not. Putting Carragher up against Etherington and Pennant is clearly a defensive measure.

With all due respect, Martin Kelly coped with attackers of a higher standing last week so why not entrust him with the task this week? Playing Carragher at right back allowed Hodgson to field a back four that was primarily focused upon dealing with Stoke’s threat rather than giving them problems of their own.

Furthermore, a deep-lying defence does little to help Pepe Reina. He may be one of the finest goalkeepers in the world but his shot-stopping is superior to his aerial command. By dropping deep, Hodgson invites the opposition to throw the ball into the box whilst allowing them to surround Reina with bodies. This is an old-fashioned tactic that does not suit a modern goalkeeper such as Pepe Reina.

In midfield, the lack of width is staggering. A compact midfield may help to prevent the opposition from playing but the placing of square pegs in round holes does nothing to make Liverpool an attacking threat.

Thankfully, most Liverpool fans have been intelligent enough to understand Raul Meireles’ plight. The Portuguese international is a good footballer. If you watch him play for his country, he is a different player from the one seen in a Liverpool shirt. If Hodgson is replaced, you will see the best of Meireles. For his sake, we should hope that people remain patient with him because his task will become much more difficult if he is under pressure from the fans. He will come good but only when he is deployed in the correct position. Although Meireles was Hodgson’s choice to replace Javier Mascherano, it’s hard to believe that the Argentine would not have been closer to Hodgson’s model for the ideal midfielder.

That said, we should accept that under Hodgson, the midfield becomes increasingly irrelevant as an attacking force because so much of the play is conducted twenty feet above the pitch. Firing long balls for Fernando Torres to chase forlornly for ninety minutes is not a tactic used at Anfield so why use it away from home? Liverpool have midfielders who can pass a ball. To see a strategy enforced whereby they are not utilized is incredibly frustrating.

Liverpool at home and away are two different teams. One is increasingly seeking to press the ball high up the pitch whilst passing the ball on the ground. The other forgets how to play football, dropping deep and launching the ball skywards.

Hodgson may well be getting to grips with what is needed at home but he is a million miles away from getting things right on the road. What good is half a manager to anybody?

Away from home, Liverpool’s aggregate score is 11-4 against. Two of these goals were set-pieces at Old Trafford and Liverpool have failed to score in 4 of the 7 away games thus far. This is not a coincidence; it is the side-product of a manager with a negative mentality.

Hodgson’s attitude is very much reliant upon not being beaten away from home rather than trying to win. This mentality serves many clubs well but will not suit Liverpool’s needs. A failure to take 3 points is widely viewed as points dropped. With Hodgson at the helm, this appears to be deemed as a success. It isn’t.

NESV have plans to take Liverpool back to the top. If they are to succeed in their aims, you will be hard pressed to find a Liverpool fan who genuinely believes a change of manager is not needed.

Audley Harrison’s display of negativity got what it deserved. Liverpool fans can only hope that Hodgson’s mentality meets a similarly hasty end.

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