Liverpool are pass and snooze for Shearer

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This week Brendan Rodgers questioned the integrity of Alan Shearer’s punditry skills. Now, I’m not saying Rodgers is a brazen populist but, as open goals go, that was the equivalent of tapping a stationary ball over the line from one yard out, with the keeper lying unconscious, and the nearest defender 15 yards away. Perhaps he was playing to the gallery of football bloggers; after all, we’ve all done it, we’ve all made fun of Shearer.

Poor Alan. His sin on this occasion was criticising Joe Allen for keeping possession when he could have attempted higher risk passes forward. Admitting you’re not that interested in possession for possession’s sake is the worst kind of blasphemy in modern football, but Shearer doesn’t get it, “All I said to my wife was, that piece of halibut was good enough for Jehova!”

No one can argue it wasn’t an odd and pretty indefensible position to take (classic Shearer), given that failure to retain possession has been the biggest criticism levelled at the England team in recent years (yes, Allen is Welsh, but the point stands).  Here’s an extract of what the fuming Rodgers said:

“Joe’s role is to keep the ball and that, in Britain, is a special talent. It is why Paul Scholes is still playing at his age. It is such a rare talent for a midfielder to rarely give the ball away.”

Alright, alright, fair enough. If you argue against that you might as well brand yourself a Luddite and be done with it. It’s true that aside from a disappointing spell at Reading, Rodgers has been able to get his teams to keep the ball exceptionally well, even at Watford, who were previously well versed in ‘knocking it’. But, even bearing all that in mind, Rodgers might have overstated the case for the defence.

British midfields do struggle to retain possession, but what is even rarer, and what is so painfully lacking at present, is another player of Scholes’ talent. A footballer with the vision as well as the technique to pull off passes other players don’t see, and arrive at the right time to score match winning goals. It’s what turns a good passing side into a killer passing side.

Joe Allen is not at that level and, to be fair, Rodgers isn’t claiming he is, but he is putting him in that category of footballer. Ok, but to get to that level, he’ll have to do more than retain possession.

Keeping the ball is important, but it’s never going to be exciting, not really. As a former striker, that might explain why Shearer just doesn’t get it, and never will. While, I don’t agree with him, but I might have some sympathy, just a tiny bit. Jon Obi Mikel rarely concedes possession for Chelsea, which is important in his role, but a ten yard horizontal lay off isn’t going to get the crowd hauling their arses out of their seats and roaring their approval.

So, the drooling over pass completion stats is fine, but the ones who can keep the ball AND orchestrate – like Scholes, Pirlo and Xavi – these are the rarest of the rare. Allen has shown he has part of their make-up, but the difference cannot be taught – he will either have it, or he won’t. It’s why I’ll never get excited by pass completion stats alone, even if they happen to be generated by a British footballer.

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9 Responses to Liverpool are pass and snooze for Shearer

  1. Bill says:

    I always question the integrity of people writing on these blogs who fail to put their names to the article.

  2. TC says:

    Can’t help but feel Wor Al’s made a valid point.

    I saw Rodgers’ Swansea (with Allen in the starting XI) out pass and out possession Newcastle United at the Liberty Stadium last summer. The Swans lost nil-two.

    Despite their dominance Swansea simply couldn’t penetrate our back-line. Both Newcastle goals came from Yohan Cabaye’s delicious through balls. “Risk passes”, as Brendan seems to have trademarked them, win matches.

    Allen would be most effective in a midfield which featured a true playmaker or midfield maestro, but he didn’t have that at Swansea and he ain’t got it at Liverpool either.

    Is Joe Allen a decent midfielder? Sure. Was he worth the £15m shelled out? Probably not. Will his low risk style of passing help Liverpool to once again dine at Europe’s top table? Categorically no.

  3. virile games says:

    Rodgers’ approach would/will be vindicated when Liverpool start winning games – no-one would level the accusation of ‘too many low-risk passes’ at someone like Busquets, because he’s surrounded by players who can benefit from his ball retention and create goals.

    It seems like Rodgers is trying to portray Allen’s role in a similar light, but when they’re only managing 0-0 draws at home to Stoke, it’s hard not to agree with Shearer’s conclusion that taking slightly more risks offensively might help them.

    I guess I’m saying that Shearer might be basing his views on a lack of understanding of modern possession football and a commitment to ‘hit and hope’… but he still might have a point at the moment.

    Enjoyed the article by the way.

  4. Davo says:

    It’s a matter of finding a balance between possession football and playing direct killer balls. I do think Rodgers style is exceptional and It’s a only a matter of time before his team really starts destroying teams. These teams and managers that have been criticizing Liverpool will only motivate that team to really hurt them more.

  5. Michael says:

    Thanks All for the comments. I’ve experienced the Rodgers transition first hand at Watford, and it took a few months before the side started to look threatening. Liverpool appear to be having the same problem, made worse by their total reliance on Suarez for goals. I’m sure they will improve as they get more familiar with Rodgers’ methods, and they’ll get more goals as a result, but at the moment the midfield just aren’t chipping in enough.

  6. Jamie says:

    There’s a point being missed here regarding Allen, which Rodgers has highlighted many times. He’s not playing in his best position.

    When Lucas is back, he will take on the “one back” role, and 2 of Allen, Gerrard, Sahin or Shelvey will play the “two forward” of the 3 centre midfielders. At the moment, to cover for the absence of Lucas, Rodgers has reverted to “2 back” and “1 forward”. Allen is the most able player to play deepest.

    Once Lucas is back, Allen will have many more opportunities to play the “killer pass” – then watch his influence on games.

  7. Abrahamovic says:

    Allen has been playing as the deepest midfielder. It’s NOT his role to play the killer ball. If he tries to and loses the ball, the defence is completely exposed. I don’t get why people find this so hard to understand. Scholes, Xavi and Pirlo more often than not have a midfield partner to cover for them, so they can afford to be more ambitious from deep.

  8. Quboid says:

    Jamie nailed it. Allen is currently playing Lucas’ role, where safety is paramount – see what happens when Mikel does lose the ball. Once Lucas is back, Allen will be more Xavi-lite than Busquets-lite and will play with more risk. I expect Sahin or Gerrard to play the Iniesta-lite role (increasingly torturing the Barca comparison!).

    The most annoying thing about Shearer’s “analysis” is that he blamed Allen, not Rodgers, despite mentioning that this was Rodgers’ orders. So Allen *should* disregard his orders?!

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