Home form a concern for Liverpool as tactical flexibility backfires on Dalglish

Liverpool maintained their unbeaten Premier League home record with a 0-0 draw with Stoke City on Saturday, a game that saw manager Kenny Dalglish set his team out in something approaching a 5-4-1 formation, which switched to a 3-4-2-1 when Liverpool went on the offensive. The result however was a goalless fixture that prevented the Reds from breaking into the top five.

The tactics employed by Dalglish this weekend were similar to those of a year ago, when in February 2011 the Scot sent out a three-man central defence, a lone striker and came away with a 2-0 victory. With that in mind it is understandable that Dalglish would return to a system that succeeded in the recent past, although the BBC reported this time that: “…the selection…looked ill-equipped to overwhelm a well-drilled Stoke side.

However, Potters manager Tony Pulis revealed his side adapted their tactics to counter Liverpool’s. Pulis said: “We changed the shape of the team…when we saw Kenny was playing with three centre-halves and played Walters with three narrow midfielders. We wanted to be strong in certain areas,” and it appears the two sides simply neutralised each other.

Stoke are not the only side Dalglish has been tactically experimental against since returning to the Liverpool dugout. Against Chelsea last season, at Stamford Bridge, Dalglish also utilised a back three and his reward was a 1-0 victory. Jonathan Wilson, writing in World Soccer, noted that system: “…matched Chelsea’s diamond in midfield…while [Fernando] Torres and [Didier] Drogba were easily contained by Liverpool’s three central defenders.” Dalglish, out of management for over a decade before replacing Roy Hodgson last year, has at times proven himself to possess more tactical flexibility than many expected from a manager out of office for so long.

The Stoke draw is nevertheless the seventh at Anfield this season, following commendable ties with Manchester City and Manchester United but disappointing results against newly-promoted pair Swansea City and Norwich City and relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers. Turning one point into three against forthcoming opposition – Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion have all still to visit the red half of Merseyside – will determine whether or not Liverpool mount a serious challenge for Champions League qualification.

Liverpool find themselves five points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea having played the same number of games as Andre Villas-Boas’ side. The Blues’ grip on the last Champions League slot may be a little tenuous – they themselves are only four clear of Arsenal having played a game more – but they are the side Dalglish is aiming to pull back. Home form will then remain vital as Liverpool host Chelsea in the penultimate game of the season.

By that point, if Liverpool are still in the Champions League-chasing pack, a victory over the Londoners will go a long way towards a return to Europe’s top club competition. But if Dalglish cannot rectify the Reds’ home record before then, Chelsea and the rest of the teams above Liverpool may be out of reach.

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