How Brendan Rodgers' bold plan to thwart Brighton goalkeeper Rob Sanchez backfired
Brendan Rodgers is a wise man when it comes to football management so it is often worth listening to what he has to say.
His comments in the wake of Brighton 2-1 Leicester City about Robert Sanchez therefore made for interesting listening.
You probably do not need reminding that the Foxes put the ball in the back of the Brighton net three times at the Amex, only to see two of those goals chalked out for identical offside decisions against Harvey Barnes.
I am struggling to recall ever seeing an offside from a corner before, let alone two in the space of 30 minutes as Leicester treated us to. There could be no doubt that Barnes was offside; the controversy surrounding the decisions stemmed from whether or not he was interfering with play, in this case by distracting Sanchez.
Those with blue and white tinted spectacles on would argue he was. Those wearing spectacles matching Leicester’s splendid away kit of grey and bright pink predictably felt otherwise - including Gary Lineker, whose tears on Twitter were nearly as salty as a bag of those Walkers crisps which he has long been the face of.
Whilst Leicester and Lineker directed their ire at the match officials and VAR, perhaps Barnes should have been copping some of the criticism. To be caught offside from a corner once can be put down to bad luck. For it to then happen in exactly the same circumstances again shortly after is pure and simple ineptitude.
For once, VAR worked perfectly in confirming that the linesman had got his decision spot on. That is what they pay someone to sit in Stockley Park watching replays for, right?
Which brings us to Rodgers’ post game comments. The Leicester manager explained that Barnes had been instructed to stand in the way of Sanchez to prevent him from coming and claiming corners delivered into the Brighton box.
Rodgers viewed the ability of Sanchez to gobble up such aerial deliveries for breakfast before attempting to launch a rapid counter attack as so dangerous that he was willing to sacrifice a player attacking the ball in favour of stopping Sanchez catching.
We saw in the first half the potential damage that Sanchez can cause when he is in the sort of mood where he claims everything. He plucked a Leicester corner out of the air before bowling the ball out to the left flank. 60 seconds later and Brighton had an opportunity of their own in the Foxes box. From defence to attack in less time than it takes to eat a Babybel.
Goalkeepers straying miles from their line to collect crosses is an art which seemed to have died out in recent years. It feels like they are all preoccupied by being sweeper keepers these days, meaning that being comfortable in possession is a skill prioritised and worked on more than claiming aerial balls.
That is why it is so refreshing to see Sanchez bundling through a pile of bodies to relieve the pressure on his team. It was one such moment that made a lot of Albion fans realise the club had unearthed a special talent, coming in the final seconds of the 1-0 win at Liverpool back in February
The Reds had a final chance to force an equaliser from a corner in front of the Kop. Over it came, only for Sanchez to weave his way as far as his penalty spot and pluck the ball from the sky before it enabled Liverpool to cause any damage. It would have been a piece of confident goalkeeping of the highest quality had it been done by a Manuel Neuer or an Ederson; let alone a 23-year-old top flight rookie only two months into his Premier League career.
Sanchez has many sides to his game. He is an excellent shot stopper, has decent distribution and nothing seems to phase him. It is his willingness to deal with deliveries into the box that marks him out though as not many – if any – other goalkeeper in the top flight commands the area as he does.
Rodgers will not be the last opposition manager to try and prevent it happening. And it surely will not be long until other clubs stop trying to prevent Sanchez making the most of his biggest asset and instead simply sign him for themselves.
Like the departed Ben White and the surprisingly-still-at-the-Amex Yves Bissouma, Sanchez looks destined for the top.
Not only did Rodgers’ comments flag up Sanchez’s ability, but they should also end any debate about whether Barnes was interfering with play. If he had been instructed to prevent Sanchez getting the ball, then how could anyone try and claim he was not impacting on the goalkeeper when Leicester scored their two disallowed efforts?
The answer to that is they cannot. As the Seagulls continue to soar, we will just have to get used to opponents looking for any excuse as to why they have suffered the ignominy of defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion.