Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Defensive Zen: Liverpool 0 Fulham 0

It is evident that Liverpool’s squad is superior to Fulham’s, in both ability and market value. No debate is required on this. However, at Anfield they were resolutely equal on goals scored, and points taken.

Statistically speaking, Liverpool dominated this game. They had 65% of the possession, compared to Fulham’s 35%, and a similar territorial dominance of 66% to 34%. They had 17 shots and 10 corners while the visitors achieved only 1 of each. And so on.

It appears, then, that Fulham “parked the bus”. At least one match report has reiterated Mourinho's famous gripe, and it still carries all the disapproval it did when the then-Chelsea manager coined it.

Liverpool can at least console themselves with this numerical superiority, then, and talk, as they have done, of “deserving” to win. But did they? Should they be able to claim a moral victory here?

Consider this: whose game plan prevailed, Roy’s or Rafa’s? Which manager optimised their resources, deploying their squad most effectively in view of the aforementioned imbalance between the teams?

Open, aesthetically-attractive football remains the holy grail for all teams and their supporters, but there should be no shame here, and there will be no apologies.

Let’s be clear, this wasn’t a 90-minute circus of defensive confusion, with players flailing around like human flak trying to deflect enemy missiles. This was a disciplined, syncopated display. Fulham’s midfield and back fours were lined up like ranks of soldiers, each player engaging when required, before resuming their position, exactly as drilled.

This was a team committed to their manager’s philosophy, and dedicated to faithfully executing his astute tactics.

In fact, I saw a nobility in the defending, an admirable stoicism. There were periods when watching them repel an attack, only to stand their ground and invite another one forward, became almost hypnotic. Dare I say it, there was poetry in their industry. It was defensive zen.

Thorough my biased prism I even felt they were almost, at times, taking a perverse pleasure in it all, encouraging the opposition to do their worst. Go on, punch me there…I felt nowt!

Strangely, it even brought to mind the 1974 Heavyweight Championship fight in Zaire, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s notorious “Rumble in the Jungle”, with Fulham mirroring Ali’s “rope-a-dope” tactics. Early on, the challenger had deliberately backed himself onto the ropes, inviting pressure from hard-hitting World Champion Foreman. Ali had identified his opponent’s strengths and set out to negate them - why try to compete on his terms? In fact, if Fulham’s single goal-bound shot - Damien Duff’s 91st minute finger-stinger - had gone in, it would have replicated what made that fight so spectacular. In the 8th round Ali switched his strategy from defence to attack, and took victory by knockout.

It was not to be for Fulham but, for me, this was a most honourable draw.


AlexL said...

Great Article, I particularly like your point about who's gameplan ultimately prevailed.

Defensive Zen maybe, but certainly not as good a defensive performance as Shakhtar home and away.

Anonymous said...

Well written article. I Couldn't agree more, it was an admirable performance