There's obviously been the timely finishing, the increased pressure high up the pitch, and the renewed belief in pass and move football. But just as important over the past two matches has been the greatly improved performance of the defence in an unusual--for the Premier League in particular, but also for modern top flight football in general--three man defensive system. With a focus on that, and thanks to the always worthwhile footylounge, we have a chance to dig a little more into that side of the game with this six minute compilation of all the touches, tackles, and general what have you of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger in the Chelsea match. Video and a brief breakdown follow below the break.
As seen in the compilation, the outside members of the defensive trio--Carragher on the right and Agger on the left--were tasked with marking whichever of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres wandered onto their side of the pitch while Martin Skrtel mopped up behind them. At times in the video you can also clearly see the role played by Lucas as a holding midfielder, both in how he acts as a sweeper mopping up loose balls in the central areas in front of them even as Skrtel fills a similar role in reserve, as well as in the way his presence allows either player to occasionally swing into the wider areas a fullback would normally cover. With Kelly and Johnson stationed higher up the pitch--at least until Liverpool went up a goal and they moved to form a permanent five man defensive unit--this flexibility helped Liverpool cover the entire back line effectively, though Chelsea's insistence on playing through the central areas also played a role in making the three man back line viable.
Much of this was discussed to at least some extent--in some cases extensively--in the earlier tactical deconstruction of the match and the idea of zone 14 as the most dangerous attacking area, but seeing a compilation that is singularly (or I suppose in this case doubly) focused on the most important individual components of Sunday's defensive set up is certainly rewarding and illuminating. It's also nice to be able to watch all the nervy moments that come from focusing on defenders in the knowledge that the side you're rooting for came out on top at the end of the day, and moreover that the team managed to keep a clean sheet in the process.
It's also fair to say that it is almost shocking, watching the footage, just how well Jamie Carragher played against Chelsea. After spending much of the first half of the season looking past his prime and just off a long absence due to injury, up against a forward in Drogba who had given him fits in the past, it wouldn't have been unfair to have had some reservations about his inclusion prior to the match, but for at least one weekend he rolled back the years and gave a world class performance. Whether he can continue playing like he did against Chelsea for much of the remainder of the season is still an open question of course, but along with Martin Skrtel appearing more solid since Kenny Dalglish returned with Steve Clarke in tow it certainly seems to put Liverpool's defence in a much more solid position than it was only a few short weeks ago. Now if only he could learn to fully trust Lucas in front of him and finish cutting down on the tendency to launch it, he really might be like the brand new signing Dalglish suggested he was after the match.