Playing Percentages

The convincing 3-0 loss of Liverpool at West Brom ‘s hands has challenged the potential of Brendan Rodgers to play the defensive game with a top English team.

Although some are tipping Liverpool under the tutelage of Rodgers to revolutionize the English game, others like Alan Hansen seem to suggest that he would turn Swansea’s defensive brand of ‘Tiki-Taka’ out of his depth into a more attack-minded/pragmatic version that would be deserving of a team that wants to take the initiative and win games.

Playing Percentages

“In the weekend edition of Match of the Day, Hansen spoke about playing” playing percentages:” “I spent my career playing it from the bottom, and the first thing I learned at Liverpool was playing percentages.

Actually speaking , this means playing a game that gives you the greatest chance of success, even though it doesn’t seem to be the best thing to do immediately. If a defender has the ball, Rodgers will urge him to find a pass, even at the risk of losing the ball and conceding a goal. The philosophy of Hansen will be to clear the ball high and deep down the channels, then try to win the second ball and create a turnover. The percentage probability of success by doing the latter, but only in the current english league, would seem to outweigh the former.

A clear example of a team that prefers to play percentages in defensive positions was Newcastle ‘s game against Tottenham. Newcastle was always Tottenham’s second best; Newcastle never dominated the game, they played all free kicks from their own third deep into the territory of the opposition, and Krul kicked regularly.
Instead of looking to bowl the ball to a central midfielder or centre half, the ball is long. Any Newcastle free kick won in the opposing half appears to be crossed into the box. In the form of Ben Arfa, Ba and Cisse, Newcastle left three forwards throughout the game knowing that if they could battle for long balls in the final third, they had a higher percentage likelihood of obtaining shots away than if they tried to dominate the game with an additional midfielder holding: counterintuitive, but obviously real. When to play sports and when to play for territory, Alan Pardew knows.

In foreign and continental football, regulation of the game nor control is everything, but English football, whether we like it or not, is not the same.

The game of Brendan Rodgers at Swansea was a game based around the limitation of damage and it could be argued that holding the ball in even risky places meant that they had a greater chance of not scoring a goal by ‘percentage.’ It is clearly a controversial and difficult problem to talk about playing percentages then, but many English coaches would swear by defenders clearing their lines, midfielders playing football where possible, and strikers getting free license to express themselves.

It is important for exciting players like Gerrard to be able to express themselves, taking chances while searching for opportunities up front. We saw in the Euros that Gerrard excels from deep in crossing and still looks to forage high up the pitch with the ball. For a team of all-action ‘English style’ players in an English game, ball retention is second to imagination and yields a better return. As much as this sounds old-fashioned, it’s real at the moment.

If he is effective, Rodgers’ tenure at Liverpool could well revolutionize the English game, but his unswerving devotion to the passing game may also be his undoing. Often, as Andres Villas Boas discovered during his tenure at Chelsea, teams need a tactical English game with such a cross and a header as a contingency strategy.

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