Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have received plenty of praise over the years for the tactical ideals that have changed the face of football. Their high defensive lines, false nines and positional pressing systems are now copied all over the world by top level and youth coaches who see these two in particular as the pinnacle of the game.
But there’s one aspect of how they set up their teams that fans and pundits laud over. A game plan that has been called revolutionary by some and the re invention of a certain position by others. But to give either of these legends the credit for being the first to use their full backs as an attacking option is down right ridiculous. Both of these guys are football historians and fanatics and both would have seen the idea get it’s first airing in the Premier League on a sunny afternoon at Selhurst Park in August 1994 when Roy Evans sent his new look Liverpool team out to face Crystal Palace.
The downfall of the reds in the previous seasons had been fast and dramatic and Roy Evans was brought in as the last of the old boot room posse, that had included, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, to bring back the clubs glory days. Evans took over in the January of 1994 after the resignation of Graeme Souness following the clubs embarrassing FA Cup exit to Bristol City. Initially the signs weren’t as great as fans had hoped for a return to the all conquering pass and move philosophy that had seen us once dominate European football.
When Liverpool fell to a 2-1 defeat on the final game of the 1993/94 season it obvious to all in attendance that something needed to change and it needed to change soon. Despite missing out on the signing of Chris Sutton in the summer the noise from Anfield was still a positvie one as it seems Roy Evans was cooking something new behind the scenes.
The following tactical tweak was something that had not been seen in the EPL until then. Evans went in to the season with a back three, two pivots in John Barnes and Jamie Redknapp, Steve McManaman causing havoc as a roaming number 10, then Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush up front. But the cherry on the cake of the new look Liverpool was the role of the two full backs who were asked to push forward to create another attacking outlet.
The positive effect was immediate. On the opening day of the season Liverpool would waltz past Crystal Palace 6-1 with full backs Rob Jones and Stig Inge Bjornebye playing an integral part of the destruction. First it was Jones’ overlapping run that saw him win a penalty for Jan Molby to convert mid way through the first half, while Bjornebye’s Andrew Robertson like cross was nodded home by Rush in the second.
Liverpool would go on to win the Coca Cola Cup that season and finish a respectable fourth in the Premier League. Roy Evans never would get Liverpool back to where many thought they truly belonged, but it was his softly softly man management approach that many saw as the issue and not is tactical and football knowledge.
Bjornebye would finish his Liverpool career with 37 assists, which was a phenomenal number helped by the attacking full back revolution started by Roy Evans.