24 Aug 2015

Anfield Obsession? Bad news for Firmino as Rodgers confirms that his 'ability to press' is his most important attribute

In theory, the concept of high-intensity 'pressing' can be an effective tactical approach, and under Brendan Rodgers, it's a cornerstone of Liverpool's football philosophy. However, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has (arguably) developed an unhealthy obsession with this particular tactical concept, to the extent that it is damaging the Reds' attacking effectiveness.

The ability to 'press the game' seems to be the number one quality Rodgers looks for in a player, and he seems to prioritise this above specific footballing qualities. For example, over the weekend, he made the following observation about Roberto Firmino:

"I've been impressed with his [Firmino's] quality, but it's his ability to work and press the game is one of the key things for us when we were bringing him in. He really understands the pressure and the intensity [as] he's come from a league which is physical"

I find this extremely worrying, for the following reasons:

* Rodgers pays lip service to Firmino's 'quality' (i.e. the good stuff: skill, touch, technique, goalscoring ability etc), but he's clearly more interested in the defensive aspects of the Brazilian's game.

* Rodgers specifically suggests that the Brazilian's 'ability to work and press' are the main reasons for signing him.

* As usual, Rodgers goes on about pressing and intensity, as if these is the most important thing for an attacking player.

Like most fans, I'm sure, I want Firmino to be allowed to focus on scoring/creating goals, but as is so often the case, Rodgers' appears to prioritise defensive/pressing ability over creativity.

For me, Rodgers' comments about Firmino are disheartening; I'd prefer to hear him say something like the following:

"I've been impressed with Firmino's pressing, but his fantastic skill, dribbling ability, and exciting approach to the game are why we brought him in. He'll excite the fans, and he really knows how to attack effectively, and score/create goals".

(To be clear: This comment is made up by me as an example of what I'd prefer to hear from Rodgers)

I'm sick of this obsession with 'pressing'. An attacking player's primary role is to score and create goals, so let the midfielders and defenders do all the extra running and donkey work. That doesn't mean dedicated attackers relinquish responsibility for tracking back/pressing, but they should be allowed to express themselves without having to constantly worry about pressing/tackling etc.

Messi, Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo etc don't run around like a headless chicken trying to track back all match long (check the heatmaps, running stats etc), but who cares - they consistently do the business, and that's all that matters. Similarly, the likes of Barnes, Beardsley, Dalglish, Keegan et al weren't forced to prioritise 'pressing' over scoring/creating goals. Liverpool allowed these players to express themselves, and the club reaped the benefits.

In my view, endless defensive responsibility is part of the reason for Coutinho's average end product, and for Liverpool's pitiful attacking performance this season (Henderson, Can, Coutinho, Milner, Ibe, and Lallana = 7 chances created in two games).

Rodgers demands Coutinho et al to continuously track back, tackle, defend etc, and run themselves into the ground 'pressing' the play, but what's the point if these player are ultimately too knackered to fulfill their main roles? Dedicated attacking midfielders like Coutinho, Firmino, and Ibe should be left to concentrate on hurting the opposition, and that should be prioritised above everything else.

Alas, that won't happen under Rodgers, whose counter-productive obsession with pressing/defensive duty is ultimately damaging Liverpool's ability to compete at the highest level. Fans will inevitably point to the 2013-14 season as evidence that pressing works, but

* That season is the *exception* under Rodgers, not the rule.

* In two of his three seasons (i.e. the majority), the pressing approach has abjectly failed, and led to Liverpool failing t qualify for the Champions League.

* In 2013-14, Liverpool had Suarez and Sturridge for most of the season, and that made the biggest difference. Take those two away, and the pressing game isn't nearly as effective.

Firmino has the ability to make a huge attacking impact at Liverpool, but I fear he will ultimately go the same way as Markovic, Lambert, Balotelli, Lallana, and Borini, i.e. players whose attacking ability has suffered under Rodgers' incessant 'pressing' regime.

Will Firmino be next to fail? Time will tell, but it's depressing to think that Liverpool have a manager who finds the ability 'work and press' more exciting that raw creative ability.

Author: Jaimie K


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