Newcastle 3-1 Liverpool: Liverpool unable to cope with aerial power of Carroll

December 11, 2010

The starting line-ups

Goals from Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Andy Carroll meant Newcastle leapfrogged Liverpool in the table.

Alan Pardew’s intention was clear – change as little as possible. Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan returned to the side after being unavailable for last week’s defeat to West Brom, but the other nine players remained.

It was a similar situation for Liverpool – the only change to the side which beat Aston Villa was the return of an obvious first-choice, Fernando Torres.

It was a game that could have gone either way – Liverpool actually had one more shot on target than Newcastle (4 to 3) and Fernando Torres had an excellent chance at 1-1. Individual errors and poor defending was what cost Liverpool this game, but there were various interesting tactical features.

Two 4-4-2s

The game was quite open with two 4-4-2s, partly because there were only four players operating in the centre of midfield (compare this to the 4-3-1-2 v 4-3-1-2 battles in Italy this season, where there are eight players in that zone).

There were differences in how the two sides operated within the 4-4-2s, however. There was slightly more depth and variation to Newcastle’s shape, particularly with the strikers. Shola Amoebi dropped off when not in possession and occupied one of Liverpool’s central midfielders. With Kevin Nolan taking care of the other, it meant that Cheick Tiote could play in a deeper role and sweep up in front of the defence. He also had more time on the ball than any other player, and passed calmly to keep possession.

Wide players in

As has been common for Liverpool this season (as it was when Roy Hodgson was at Fulham), the wide players took up central positions when Liverpool had the ball. The temptation, especially when the side loses, is to criticise a lack of width, and of course, there was a lack of width. However, Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt were arguably Liverpool’s biggest goal threats when drifting into these central roles.

Rodriguez had an excellent headed chance at 1-0 that he should have buried, whilst Kuyt netted the equaliser from an inside-left position – he wouldn’t have been there had he been stationed out on the right touchline.

Playing this way makes it easier for Liverpool to move the ball forward – Lucas and Raul Meireles are presented with an obvious forward pass. A couple of good moves through the centre broke down because of poor individual decisions, whilst the full-backs provided width from deep. All this contributed to Liverpool dominating possession (53%).

Lack of movement upfront

Maybe the problem here, though, was that there wasn’t enough lateral movement from Liverpool’s front two. (The same could be said of Newcastle’s, but then this clearly wasn’t their game, they were seeking to win the ball in the air, and did so very well, so it would be a pointless criticism). For Liverpool, with Rodriguez and Kuyt coming inside, the Newcastle full-backs were being dragged out of shape into narrow positions.

There’s also an argument here that full-backs have become so used to playing against high wingers in 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 formations where getting tight is essential, that when they go back to playing against wide midfielders in a four, getting tight means they come too high up the pitch and leave 2 v 2 at the back when they should be providing some form of cover, meaning movement is even more important for the front two.

A good template for how to play 4-4-2 with narrow wingers (or 4-2-2-2, if you like) is Villarreal. Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar move wide and the opposition defence is given all kinds of problems positionally. Torres and David Ngog are very pacey and very mobile (and Sol Campbell, in particular, is not) so the lack of movement was frustrating.

Comparing Ryan Babel favourably to Fernando Torres has probably never been done before, but Babel’s movement in wide zones against Villa complemented Kuyt and Rodriguez’s’ drifts inside very nicely, something Liverpool lacked from Torres here.

by Guardian Chalkboards


The main problem, though, was that Liverpool were simply unable to deal with Carroll. In open play he worked both centre-backs well, winning 17 of the 20 challenges he contested.

It was obvious that Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos weren’t dealing with him effectively in the air in open play, but it was incredible that Liverpool didn’t mark him with more than one player for the free-kick which resulted in Newcastle’s opener. Carroll’s dominance in the air this season has hardly been a secret, and the fact that Liverpool did double mark him from a similar free-kick later on shows that this wasn’t something Roy Hodgson was ‘against’ for whatever reason, he simply either (a) hadn’t thought about it at all or (b) had decided not to do it.

Equally, the players should take some responsibility for improvising in these straightforward situations – Carroll had already climbed high to win two headers early on – it’s hardly unreasonable to suggest that someone on the Liverpool side must have considered doing something to stop him. Maybe with Jamie Carragher barking instructions at the back, Liverpool would have adapted sooner.

Carroll created the first two goals by winning the ball in the air, but Liverpool also had problems with him on the ground. Lucas backing off for the third goal was simply awful defending.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Other points

Unlike Villa, Newcastle pressed Liverpool from goal kicks, meaning Liverpool had to do a lot more work to get the ball from goalkeeper to midfield. On a couple of occasions this resulted in panicky clearances from the centre-backs, whereas against Villa, Liverpool only had to compete in the opposition half.

Joey Barton was very good. The right-sided midfield role is not one he favours, but he plays the position very well. As well as dropping deep to pick up the ball in the centre of midfield to create from that zone, he’s also happy moving wide where he delivers measured crosses into the box. He is (in a strictly on-field sense) a very intelligent player – he uses the ball well, he moves into space to provide his teammates with easy passes.

The introduction of Nile Ranger was very important. He provided pace to get on the end of Carroll’s knockdowns and also forced Liverpool to defend deeper, meaning those knockdowns were in more dangerous areas. It was a similar move to Tottenham bringing on Jermain Defoe at half-time against Arsenal, and had similar consequences. It should be noted, however, that the substitution was prompted by Ameobi’s injury, rather than a pure tactical move.


Failure to deal with Carroll was Liverpool’s main problem. The sloppiness at marking him properly for the early free-kick suggests a lack of organisation, a lack of foresight or a lack of communication. Whichever is closest to the truth, it doesn’t reflect well on Hodgson and his coaching staff.

Newcastle fans sorry to see Chris Hughton go should be pleased by Pardew’s decisions here – it would appear that he agrees Hughton was doing a good job, as his plan today was to change as little as possible from the previous regime.

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