Win the ball high up the pitch
There are several ways to defend. You can try and win the ball back in your own half. Alternatively, you may want to keep two tight banks of four behind the halfway line, in which case pressing in the middle of the park is a better option. At Liverpool, we wanted to attack and score goals, so we tried to defend as early as possible, often in the opposition’s half. Modern teams like to regroup and press, but we tried our best to make sure they couldn’t regroup. You can do this by instructing your attacking and midfield players to push high up the pitch and apply pressure on the defence.
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Break at speed
We weren’t a counter-attacking side, but I remember we worked a lot on the quickness of our reaction in transition. Basically, when we won the ball back, we would try and attack as quickly as possible. A lot of teams like to play lots of short passes, but there many different ways of attacking and it’s important have variety so you can break at speed. You can use the long ball; use the pace of a winger to run with the ball or try an explosive counter-attack with two or three passes. With all three options, you cut through the opposition’s defensive lines very quickly.
Feed your strikers
All top attacking teams have fast players in the final third. Liverpool had Michael Owen, who was as quick as a flash and perfect for the style of football we played. He had a lot more than just pace, though, his game intelligence was fantastic and he exploited space behind the back four so well. Emile Heskey was a key player as well; he made life uncomfortable for defenders and gave us a physical edge. Then you had players like Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy who were great at supplying the strikers. To be a successful attacking side you need great chemistry between the midfield and attacking players and we had that.
Switch the play
Against a top side, it isn’t always possible to find a way through the defence at the first time of asking. Whenever we found ourselves up against a team who put men behind the ball, we would use what I call the ‘snake strategy’. Firstly you try to attack down one flank and if that is unsuccessful, you switch the ball to the other flank and wait until you find an opening. This patient approach is a better tactic than just playing long balls into the strikers, which increases the risk of losing possession.