After scoring twice at the weekend against Wolves at Molineux, Spanish striker Fernando Torres has now scored nine in the Premier League this season, with three coming in his past three games.
While the undoubted great unmeasurable, confidence, has been a factor to Nando’s improved performances, the change in Liverpool’s match-day tactical approach is certainly also a huge contributing factor in bringing the best out of Torres.
Under previous boss Roy Hodgson, Liverpool frequently sat too deep and failed to get people forward to support Torres, often leaving him chasing loose balls by himself and far too isolated in attack when he did get the ball at his feet. Torres would often be left to start his runs towards goal from forty or more yards out, meaning by the time he was close enough to have a shot he would be tiring from the sprint and with an increased chance of losing control of the ball. It also meant that he was even further from his team mates, given that not many of Liverpool’s supporting attackers such as Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt and Joe Cole are blessed with great pace.
Comparison between Meireles (away vs Wolves) and Ngog (h vs Wolves)
The most notable change in Liverpool’s play under Kenny Dalglish has been that of the return of the passing game for which the club became so famous in previous years. A slower, more patient build up allows the team to work their way forward as a unit, allowing more attacking players to be in position around Fernando Torres, who has been the lone forward in each of the four games Dalglish has presided over so far.
A second change is that more players break forward rapidly to get alongside and even beyond Torres when Liverpool counter attack teams. Against Wolves on Saturday, this was evident on several occasions from very early on in the game, where Raul Meireles sent a volley just wide from the right side of the area, right up to the end of the game where Torres released Meireles from inside his own half, who set up substitute Jonjo Shelvey for a chance at goal.
These quick breaks from deep by the midfielders were very much in evidence for Liverpool’s first goal against Wolves; Meireles again making the run down the inside right channel before laying the ball across for an easy tap in for Torres, who was also supported by Maxi.
The heatmaps to the right show the difference in emphasis on players: in the top heatmap, it is evident that Raul Meireles spent over half his time in the Wolves half of the pitch, and even up to a third of the game in the Wolves third of the pitch.
In contrast, David Ngog (lower map) who played as an out-and-out striker in the home game against Wolves just 24 days previously and under the instruction of former boss Hodgson, didn’t actually manage any game time in the Wolves penalty area and indeed spent twice as much time in his own third of the pitch than Meireles did in the victory on Saturday.
Passes leading to Torres' second strike vs Wolves
Looking at the former example of a tactical change under Dalglish, the better and more patient passing build up, an excellent and rewarding instance of this was the move leading to Torres’ second goal which came in stoppage time of the game against Wolves, giving Liverpool a 3-0 victory. The 31 pass move included almost every player, including Pepe Reina, and culminated in Dirk Kuyt being released down the left inside channel before finding Torres to score.
Torres effectively scored two easy tap-ins, the kind which he would probably score comfortably with his eyes closed, but the importance of these goals in showing Liverpool’s change in approach lies not only in the build-up; but also in the fact that Fernando was able to get himself into these areas without needing to charge goalwards from long distances out.
Above all else, Torres is a goalscorer.
He is capable of scoring from both winding solo dribbles and with strikes from outside the area – but his ability to get himself into “the right place at the right time” is something which marks out all good goalscorers, and something which Torres has not had the chance to exercise so much this season.
The pushing further up the field of the entire team and the shorter passes during the build up play both contribute to giving Fernando many more chances to get himself into clever spaces inside the area and as many a Premiership goalkeeper will attest to, if Torres is given the ball in the penalty box he will invariably manage a shot at goal.
Not every one will go in, but certainly more often than not he will make the ‘keeper work, and with Torres at Liverpool it has been a case of when the goals start to flow it is hard to stop them.
Three goals in as many games hints at a return to such prolific form – and with the next two games to come at Anfield, where Torres has such a formidable goalscoring record, there is every chance that his recent scoring streak will be extended, aiding Liverpool’s climb up the league table.