Early Doors

Tactics Bored: Gerrard’s disastrous slip explained

Early Doors

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Okay. Gather round. Tactics are important, and the end of the season is even more important than that. Imagine, then, when we discuss tactics and statistical analysis at the same time, covering the same event, just how heated and pressurised things can get.

But we know what we’ve achieved in the past. We know that we’ve achieved incisive excellence. We know that despite our weaknesses we’ve played to our strengths and uncovered new truths about ourselves and about this game that we play. Football. Association football.

At the inception of Tactics Bored, there were three subjects that I thought would let me down. Andre Villas-Boas, whose micromanagement was not properly rewarded by the players who couldn’t keep up with his ideas. Tim Sherwood, who channels Harry Redknapp, focussing on motivation instead of heatmaps. And Steven Gerrard, a regista who disgraced the very name of the position yesterday with his slip.

But all is not lost. We do not let this slip now. We go again.

LIVERPOOL 0-2 CHELSEA - TEARS HOLD LIVERPOOL BACK

Steven Gerrard properly prepared his Liverpool side for yesterday, with a rousing, Churchillian, brave, moving, tearful, aggressive, nuanced, subtle, enervating, succinct, florid, happy, inspiring, dignified, emotional and sublime speech, having beaten Manchester City. Countless people were moved to tweet that they were “welling up, here” and it appeared that it had the same effect on his team-mates.

Although Chelsea did well to break up the game, using a tactic that Jose Mourinho first perfected in a UEFA Cup final against Celtic a decade ago, that was not what threw Liverpool. No, it was that the side were just so goddamn pumped and in love with history and destiny and narratives and the support of the neutral that they could just not stop crying.

They could not get that speech from a couple of weeks ago out of their head. Crying from the kick off all the way until half-time. Sobbing their eyes out at the sheer majesty of the speech and their own spiritual journey.

Because of the slight inward slope of the Anfield pitch, all the water from their tears collected in the centre of the pitch. And when Steven Gerrard came to take a touch, he slipped, cruelly sabotaged by the power of his own words.

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LIVERPOOL 0-2 CHELSEA - WHERE TO SLIP

If you flash, as the cricket world says, flash hard. The same is for slipping in football. A full slip is far less likely to result in muscle strains than just a slight overstretch and correction. Gerrard was correct that, if he were to slip, he should do comprehensively, even if it allowed Demba Ba to saunter through on goal, in one of the last matches of the season, and set his side onto win despite missing almost a full team due to injuries and suspension. Gerrard was right, technically, to allow this to happen.

However, tactically speaking, it is bad to slip in any way at all, but risk can be minimised. Here is a risk heatmap for Steven Gerrard to consult for future, about where he should really try to avoid slipping. Yellow is a small risk, and red is a major risk.

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LIVERPOOL 0-2 CHELSEA - ONE GOAL PER BUS

Brendan Rodgers claimed it was not a tactic to keep men behind the ball, therefore failing to understand tactics. Obviously this means I am every disappointed in him, tactically speaking, but there is more to it than that. Chelsea managed to, in his words, park two buses yesterday, but also scored two goals.

Scoring goals, despite what some might claim about them being overrated, is actually essential to win games. But is it coincidence that Chelsea scored for each of their buses parked? Unlikely. Jose Mourinho travelled up separately from his side this weekend, apparently because of illness, but it was actually a way to ensure that his team could take two buses to Anfield.

This level of subterfuge can only be carried out by someone as cynically and tactically adept as Mourinho. It can be broken down into a simple graph demonstrating the correlation between buses parked and goals:

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LIVERPOOL 0-2 CHELSEA - THEY WANTED THE CLOWNS

After the match, Jose Mourinho, surprisingly still in clothes and not celebrating fully nude, walked down the tunnel shouting, “They wanted the clowns” and when pressed on what on Earth he was talking about, he suggested that Jamie Redknapp, with his wonderful "football brain", could explain what this meant, and what the tactics used were. Obviously this was difficult for Jamie Redknapp, alternately in thrall to Liverpool, Frank Lampard and his father, depending on what is expedient at the time, and as such he could not explain for us.

Luckily, Tactics Bored has some red hot sources that provided the information. Apparently, a loose translation of the proverb "they wanted the clowns" in Mourinho’s native Portuguese works as follows: “Liverpool are largely flawed at the back, and have benefited enormously from nerve-settling early goals recently, so what I will choose to do is break down play wherever possible, and hit them on the counterattack, where their already suspect defence will be at its most vulnerable. It will not do this once, but twice, as a demonstration to other clubs that it is no fluke, and I will then have a dig at Jamie Redknapp because someone should do sooner or later.”

It is true, yes, that Portuguese proverbs can be impressively specific.

Alexander Netherton - @lxndrnthrtn

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