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Tactical Shift and an Improved Balotelli Key to Liverpool’s Victory

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Heading into the half against Crystal Palace, Liverpool had been the better side but they lacked a cutting edge. A tactical tweak and Mario Balotelli’s introduction helped to change things.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Despite being by far the better side, Liverpool entered halftime against Crystal Palace down a goal. They had dominated possession, but a compact, resolute Palace side set up to play as though they were the ones on the road had limitedquality chances and frustrated the visitors. The answer for Brendan Rodgers was to switch things up, sending Liverpool out in the second half as though they were the home side.

The foundation remained, a back three flanked by two attack-minded wide players, but in front of them a four-man midfield box behind a striker became a single-pivot behind two attacking midfielders and two strikers. It made the difference. Liverpool remained dominant while looking far more dangerous in the final third, and four minutes into the half Daniel Sturridge pulled the visitors level. Ten minutes later, Adam Lallana put them up.

"They had obviously set up to defend against our midfield box," said Rodgers following the match. "I felt that we needed to take one out of there and play with three, [so] we moved Joe Allen to a controlling role, played with two advanced players, and then that gave us the freedom to put another striker up at the top. Daniel moves around the line and in behind it, so I felt we [also] needed a more static central striker to be in there."

That more static central striker was Mario Balotelli, who after a disappointing start to life at Liverpool had his second highly impressive performance in a row. And while he was the player tasked with leading the line and did an admirable job in that role, he was a far less static presence there than he often has been in the past, showing good awareness to rotate deeper whenever Sturridge moved to take up more central positions.

His movement off the ball—and, perhaps most importantly, his awareness of when to move and when to stay put—helped to create Sturridge’s opener. With Liverpool holding possession, Balotelli was providing that static, line-leading focal point up top Rodgers had sent him out for and keeping Palace’s backline occupied. Then, as Sturridge drifted from the flank, he dropped deep. The rotation left Scott Dann unsure of who to mark, giving Sturridge his chance.

"I thought we were deserving of the victory," added Rodgers. "We showed character to come back in the second half. We created enough chances to score more than just the two goals, but eventually we got there, which was what was important."