‘Anti-football’ tactics?

jose-mourinhoLast Sunday, the title race took yet another crazy twist as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea abruptly ended Liverpool’s eleven game winning run, throwing the league title right back into City’s hands.

Following Mourinho’s first ever league loss at Stamford Bridge just a week before, against the then bottom team in the league of all opposition, many expected another routine victory for a Liverpool team seemingly destined to win their first premier league trophy on the year of the 25th anniversary of one of the darkest days in footballing history.

However, the ever unpredictable Mourinho once again proved the doubters wrong and ended Liverpool’s premature celebrations, including now cursed scarfs reading ‘Liverpool F.C, Premier League Champions 2013-14’.

Obviously, there is still time for another twist this season and maybe it’s set up for Liverpool’s ‘friendly neighbours’ Everton to do them the ultimate favour when they face Manchester City on Saturday, but for now at least Liverpool seem to have lost control.

Yet, one thing that has been rather disheartening though has been the amount of criticism Chelsea have received for the nature of their win. Brendan Rodgers himself seemed to have a dig in the post match interview, describing Chelsea’s style as ‘easy to coach’ whilst various media outlets (the very same who had been so desperately pining for Liverpool to win, and who had formulated this myth that Liverpool have achieved the remarkable without spending a dime) referred to Chelsea’s victory as ‘bad for football’.

Now, I’m not one to staunchly defend Mourinho – I think he lost the Champions league semi final tie when he failed to appreciate the value of an away goal and went for a 0-0 at the Caldéron which many top coaches will tell you is, by all intents and purposes, a bad result in the context of a Champions league tie. However, I can’t see for the life of me why his tactics against Liverpool are being so badly reprimanded.

Liverpool 5-1 ArsenalIf you journey back to the 8th February 2014, when Arsenal came up against Liverpool, you will see a team that tried to play an open, expansive game and did not focus on the opposition – and that side got beaten 5-1, derailing their title challenge.

Their line up entailed Wilshere and Arteta in holding. Arteta is no longer fast enough to cover in the modern game whilst Wilshere has too much of a tendency to bomb forward and leave the defence exposed.

Furthermore, with Kieran Gibbs out, the hapless Nacho Monreal was deployed at left back with Santi Cazorla of all people supposedly ‘covering’ him. Three of Liverpool’s five goals originated from attacks down the right wing.

A similar fate befell Tottenham when they went to Anfield on the 30th March without any real game plan for combatting the pace and ruthlessness of Liverpool’s counter attack whilst even Manchester City could’ve well been 3-0 or 4-0 down at half time at Anfield had Daniel Sturridge, among others, been able to finish his chances.

So, what exactly was Mourinho supposed to make of all this?

Despite Liverpool easing past Everton, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United between the end of January and last Saturday, was Jose meant to go out there ‘believing’ in the ability of his side? No, that particular faux pas is limited to Arsene Wenger.

Was he meant to deploy a midfield trio of say, Lampard, Oscar and Schürrle and hope for the best? Of course Mourinho was going to set them up to stifle Liverpool’s creativity. Of course they were going to man mark Sterling and Coutinho out of the game, this isn’t ‘anti-football’ it’s common sense!

The game also succeeded in exposing some flaws in the current Liverpool side, shocking considering we’d been taught to believe there were none in the last three months, many would have you thinking these men were gods reincarnated – the invincibles mark two.

When the going gets tough, Liverpool are still extremely reliant on a moment of magic from Luis Suarez, this was the case at the start of the season (pre-Christmas) and has been the case since – it’s just the fact that the going hasn’t been particularly tough in most of Liverpool’s games that Luis Suarez has been able to, for once, take a bit of a back seat role in the team and allow Coutinho, Sturridge, Sterling et al to show what they can do.

Suarez remains by far and away the best player at that team – to an unprecedented extent. Even Ronaldo at Manchester United didn’t have the kind of monopoly on quality that Suarez has at Liverpool. Any Liverpool fans saying they would cope without Suarez as they have got Sturridge would be in for a nasty surprise next season if that prophecy came true.

Liverpool without Suarez are like Barcelona without Messi. In fact, I’d go as far to say that Suarez is more important to Liverpool than Messi to Barca, he certainly has been this season.  Sure they’ve got a good team but many of the players thrive off having that world class striker up front, not only finishing chances but linking up the play and carving defences open in a flash, thus creating the chances which the likes of Sturridge duly gobble up.

When Liverpool have been forced to play without Suarez it has rarely, if ever, been in a big, meaningful game – the only one that springs to mind is the Manchester United game earlier in the season, but that wasn’t really Manchester United – it is the team set to finish seventh having already secured the accolade of their worst ever Premier League points tally.

The title is still far from decided, and Liverpool may yet go on and win it – an accolade Rodgers and the players would undoubtedly deserve if they were to, but what Mourinho did last Sunday was not ‘anti-football’, nor would it have been ‘to the benefit of the game’ if Liverpool had won.

Football is not all about attack, you will not come across any previous Premier League title winners that had a weaker defence to Liverpool’s at the moment, certainly not relative to the standard of the league at the time anyway. A solid defence is an art, and whilst it may not be as pleasing on the eye or as fan-friendly as winning all your games 4-1, 3-0, 6-3 et al in the long run it can be just as – if not more – effective.

Obviously there has to be a balance between a solid defence and downright negativity (and arguably a balance Mourinho lost sight of in trying to close out Atléti, Liverpool and Atléti again all in the space of six days) but attack alone doesn’t win you titles. Nor does playing attacking football without a second thought for defensive responsibilities automatically merit silverware.

Liverpool deserved to lose against Chelsea and may find their predictability and defensive frailties exposed massively on a European stage next year. Certainly, if they do not change their ways they cannot rely on the footballing ‘good will’ of teams to play into their hands in the same fashion Arsenal, Tottenham, United et al did and when they do and it will not be ‘bad for football’ or ‘a loss for the beautiful game’, it will be fully deserved, just as Sunday’s defeat was.

The Author

Nathaniel Shaughnessy

Football enthusiast and Arsenal fan, also regularly visit The Valley.

25 thoughts on “‘Anti-football’ tactics?

  1. @ste No away goal, if/when the opponent scores it leaves you needing to win the game whilst also chasing it. Yes 0-0 away in the CL is a bad result.

  2. This ‘s got to be the ultimate football truth! So on point! I hope Rogers reads this over and over. It will only help him to be a better manager

  3. Mourinho got lucky with Gerrard’s slip – Liverpool did not have to win the game. Time wasting after a few minutes, players going down with cramp, taking an age to tie shoelaces, Abramovich must be disgusted that the team that he has ploughs hundreds of millions into cannot compete by playing football. Nobody has an issue with inferior players playing this way, but a team that has spent so much over the last 10 years should be playing like Real Madrid did against Bayern or at least be capable of it. They also have 30 players out on loan, what a farce of a club and a manager.

    1. Gary, would Abrahmovic rather Chelsea went out there and got thrashed like arsenal and Tottenham did? Spurs spent £120 million and it didn’t save them. Fact is mourinho did what he had to do and even without the slip, Liverpool didn’t once look like scoring. Predictable and as the game wore on Chelsea could’ve countered.

  4. Disagree. Mourinho got incredibly luck y with the Gerrard slip, there’s no way he planned for a game-changing incident like that. You ignore the fact that Chelsea needed to win, yet Mourinho never “went for it”. Up to the 46th minute of the game it was clear Mourinho would have settled for the draw and his personal face-saving 0-0 result rather than putting the club’s interest first. In that sense the match summed up Mourinho entirely. That point is further reinforced recently as he seeks to isolate and blame Hazard for the atletico loss. To scapegoat an individual player is again his ego refusing to accept the blame and do whats best for the club. He regards himself as bigger than the club, hence he can break all the basic rules of management (e.g. disrespecting other managers, talking about players at other clubs, accepting he is the servant of the club, etc…) He will always put personal interest first.
    Had Gerrard not slipped the game would have finished 0-0 and Chelsea’s PL chances virtually over. Judge him and his ego-driven approach by that not by an enormous slice of luck.
    2 years from now Mourinho chelsea will have a new manager.
    It is at last refreshing to read that some more reputable journalists are tiring of him and starting to print the truth about a very nasty arrogant person.

    1. In what way did Chelsea need to win??? They were out of the title race before it and still are now, they’re far too reliant on both Liverpool and city to ‘slip up’ to be in with a chance. As for mourinho’s mannerism and scapegoating I’m inclined to agree and he got it wrong against Athleti but against Liverpool he was spot on. Regardless. The point is that Liverpool were predictable and did not ‘deserve to win’ simply on the basis that they had more shots, which is what the media would have you believe

  5. Dave, I think Cole’s goal line clearance, and Sakho’s shot over the bar constituted two very clear goal chances. Since you used the word “fact” you have conveniently ignored them when you say Liverpool never looked like scoring. Thats a fact.
    Also since chelsea had to win but Mourinho played for the 0-0 from the first minute he actually did the very opposite of “what he had to do” as you claimed. But for an enormous slice of luck it would have been 0-0 and the end of chelsea’s PL chances.
    I think you have been hypnotised and seduced by his PR machine and his narcissistic character.

    1. Once again, Mourinho didnt need to win. He left Cahill on the bench and played Kalas for gods sake! Chelsea are well out of the title race.

  6. Liverpool’s failings were clear and beyond dispute, so all those comments are irrelevant to the main theme of the thread, i.e. anti-football. As for the question “in what way did chelsea need to win?” The answer is really obvious, its simple mathematics; in the 3-points to close the gap way. They have gone from 5 points behind to 2-points behind with 2 games to play. While it was a mathematical possibility then chelsea needed the win. Not sure why you cant see that blatantly obvious point!
    So like I said – he did entirely the opposite of what chelsea needed. He put his ego above the needs of the club.

    1. 2 points or 5 points Chelsea don’t have a chance in hell of the title! Can’t you see that? Mourinho’s not stupid, he knows that too, hence why he was willing to rest Cahill and prioritise the CL.

  7. Che;sea are 2 points behind. They have the easiest run in of the 3 clubs. Of course they are not out of it.
    Are you saying its impossible that Liverpool can lose at Palace and City lose at Everton? With your reasoning why bother play any matches at all; why not just award the title to whoever is best in theory.

    1. I’m saying that city will not fuck up with everton now having nothing to play for, and if they perchance do Liverpool are not gonna let it slip AGAIN. Mourinho’s a realist, he knows that.

  8. 2 points behind and “no chance in hell”. Spoken like a tabloid journo seeking the sensational. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story eh? Are you saying no team has ever made up a 2 point gap over a 2-game period?
    You keep quoting Cahill…but what about Azpilicueta and Ivanovich (just 2 examples) who did play. Your selective use of examples is symptomatic of a weak argument.

    1. The example of Cahill shows that Mou had the CL in mind. No injury, Kalas has played 3 mins football, you’re telling me that was a tactical decision?? And obviously I’m not saying it’s impossible that Chelsea will win the title, but they’re not going to. Not just two points but two teams they’re having to make ground on (considering city’s game in hand)

  9. So I suppose with Milan 3-0 in the Istanbul CL final you would have said you were a realist and awarded the trophy to Milan? You never heard of the many bookies who have paid up early and regretted it? It ain’t over til its over, and the PL ain’t over.
    You never seen a team fight back from way behind? If you accept the notion that a recovery is possible then Mourinho’s tactics were very opposite of what chelsea needed. Instead they were an example of his “fuck you all” mentality.

  10. And by not resting even more players what does that tell us? If Terry had been fit then either Terry or Cahill would have played over Kalas. Also, Cahill did come on as sub, so perhaps Mourinho thought the 3 points were worth the risk.
    Wake up and see Mourinho for what he really is. The rest of us have seen it, you will catch up. He is using chelsea for his own ego satisfaction. He was quite prepared to sacrifice chelsea’s PL chance in order to demonstrate how clever he is.

    1. Yet he won the game? Certainly never looked like losing it. We can quibble over whether or not Chelsea have a chance at the title, for me it’s too far fetched now. But regardless. I am not a Mourinho lover. I thought what he said about Wenger was deeply unfair and disrespectful. What I am trying to say is that it would not have been some great footballing ‘blessing’ had Liverpool won, they deserved to lose. And if they don’t change, it’ll happen again and again when they play top quality opposition next year in Europe.

  11. If its such a cast iron mathematical certainty then why haven’t you sold all your assets and gone to bookies to put every penny you have on both city and Liverpool not losing again this season. Thats the acid test.

    1. Well for one thing I’m a student, I would stick my loan on Chelsea not winning it though, if the odds weren’t so shit.

  12. I thought it was a discussion about Mourinho’s “anti-football tactics”. You have now switched things to make it about Liverpool’s failings.
    He won the game in spite of the tactics, not because of them. He never planned for that enormous slice of luck.

    1. It was a discussion about Liverpool fans citing anti-football tactics as denying them their rightful title, despite the fact defence is just as much an art form as attack. And no, he didn’t plan for that slice of luck, he most likely planned to go in at half time at 0-0, but Chelsea could’ve easily caught them on the break in the second half as Liverpool got nervy.

  13. So whats stopping you making a profit from betting your loan that Liverpool and City dont lose any of their 5 remaining games? Odds are low thats true, but in your world is betting on a done deal and any little profit is better than none at all. I suspect that you realise that ocassionally sunderland beat chelsea, etc…

    “Chelsea could’ve easily caught them on the break…”, but lots of other opposite things “could have” happened just as easily!!! So that was Mourinho’s fantastic strategy. To risk one of their last chances on a long shot!
    Surely the best way to win a game (that you had to win) was to be more positive than that? Chelsea never showed any inkling to attack or even let a game of football break out. Like they did in Madrid. Mourinho was being Mourinho and showing he is an expert at killing a game of football. That is anti-football, and ocassionally it works for you. Mourinho would have settled for 0-0 at any time before the Gerrard slip.
    I realise you are a student, I bet its not in a science based factual subject?

    1. If mourinho had played a more positive game he would’ve played right into Liverpools hands. They would’ve been beaten in the same way Arsenal, United, Chelsea, Everton, Tottenham and City were. That’s the point.

  14. I think it’s unfair to say they deserved to lose. I don’t think either team deserved to win as neither team actually created a clear cut chance. Liverpool failed to break down a disciplined Chelsea defence (playing something of a 6-3-1) while Chelsea didn’t manage to create anything themselves, but rather had the game handed to them by Gerrard miscontrolling and then slipping; an unforced error rather than one that had anything to do with tactics or strategies.

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