BOLTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Mark Davies of Bolton Wanderers goes past Martin Skrtel of Liverpool on his way to scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Bolton Wanderers and Liverpool at the Reebok Stadium on January 21, 2012 in Bolton, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
A serious note. There was an issue between Craig Bellamy and Nigel Reo-Coker throughout the match. A few Liverpool fans, as is their wont these days, responded with racist abuse on Twitter. I know quite a few Liverpool supporters, and for the most part they are passionate and knowledgable people who love the beautiful game and are fiercely proud of their club. Unfortunately, a very small, yet very vocal, section of them seem to be hijacking all of the publicity for the club. Until this is eliminated, and responsibility falls on management, security and the supporters themselves to do so, it will be a back eye on the entire enterprise.
Now on to the football. Let's get the basics out of the way. An absolutely brilliant performance by Bolton Wanderers, possibly the best of the season. Even though it was the same team that has played several matches together recently, there were some tactical changes. And all of them were successful. First, the formation. Owen Coyle has adopted the 4-5-1 for away matches and when we play big clubs, but today he tweaked the formation, so it was actually a 4-2-3-1. Liverpool were not prepared for this formation and did not handle it well. Ironic, because Rafa Benitez is the man who really brought this formation to England, and the Merseysiders had a lot of success with it.
Liverpool, on the other hand, went with the 4-4-2. Kenny Dalglish, and until recently Owen Coyle, live and die with this tried and true British formation of their youth. For King Kenny today, it died. Bolton overran Liverpool's 2 central midfielders, and it was largely because of a subtle change in the positioning of Fabrice Muamba.
Most people, if setting up our squad in a 4-2-3-1, would have Muamba and Nigel Reo-Coker as the holding midfielders, and Mark Davies as the attacker in the center of the park. It makes sense, and when Bolton were attacking, that was usually how it broke down. The subtle change was that when Liverpool has possession Muamba moved into the forward role. Especially in the second half, Muamba was often the player furthest up the field for Bolton, tirelessly hounding Liverpool into mistakes and errant passes. It was a brilliant idea from Coyle, a man not known for his tactical acumen.
Were there outstanding individual performances? Yes, of course. David Ngog was massive, filling the lone striker role as if he had been doing it for years. Mark Davies and Reo-Coker dominated, allowing Muamba to press up the field as he did. And don't forget the wingers, both often-criticized by the Bolton faithful. The work-rates of Chris Eagles and Martin Petrov were off-the-charts yesterday. All of that was great, but I am giving the lions share of the credit today to the manager. It was only a minor tweek, but it gave Bolton a major win.