As we approach the beginning of November you can start to see the Premier League table take shape. The early weeks of the season are spent with teams striving to find their feet and deal with any lingering fitness or personnel issues. As the season progresses though form starts to take hold and teams establish their credentials as title challengers, European challengers or relegation fighters. In the English Premier League there are no viable alternatives.
Where then does the onset of November find Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool? As title challengers that’s where.
An admittedly porous defensive unit has been covered by a fluid attack that when on form threatens to leave any side in shreds. The combination of Coutinho, Mane and Firmino with support from all angles on the field are proving a handful for all the defences they have faced so far.
Liverpool come in to this match away to Crystal Palace following a solid if somewhat underwhelming victory over West Bromwich Albion last week and in truth there are similarities between the tactical systems of the two opponents.
Crystal Palace are perhaps more open than West Brom and less content to sit in a deep block but they still prefer to defend in numbers and use pace in the wide areas to hit back on the counter attack.
Palace find themselves in mid table and would be looking to move further towards an unlikely challenge for European qualification with a win in this fixture.
The Liverpool line up is starting to take on a familiar look week in week out. The German goalkeeper Loris Karius remains first choice ahead of Simon Mignolet. Three of the back four remained the same as last week with Clyne, Matip and Lovren all chosen to start whilst the Spaniard Alberto Moreno came in for James Milner at left-back.
In the midfield, Wijnaldum again started on the bench with Emre Can taking his place and joining Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana in the centre of the park. The presence of Can and Lallana together has led to an interesting dynamic with the German taking on a slightly different role to Wijnaldum within the team framework.
The attack also had a familiar look with Mane on the right, Coutinho on the left and Firmino in the centre although all forward positions tend to be fluid and interchangeable.
The big news from the Palace side was that the former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke would start against his former side. Zaha and Lee would provide pace and width on the flanks to try to create a constant supply line to the big Belgian striker.
Intelligent build up play
In the attacking phase of play Liverpool under Klopp play with fantastic spacing horizontally and vertically. This spacing, where players take up positions in spaces to facilitate the movement of the ball up the field and through the defensive structure of the opposition, was a key aspect of the build up play for Liverpool in this match against Crystal Palace.
For the most part in this match Palace were relatively passive in their pressing allowing Liverpool comfortable time and space as they brought the ball out from the back. That said the spacing and connections that are available to the man in possession of the ball in this image are still incredibly impressive.
There are four comfortable passing options to the man in possession as he advances. At least two of those connections would allow Liverpool to access the next level of the pitch as they build their attack.
These options also allow the team to change the angle of the attack very quickly should a weakness in the oppositions defensive structure show itself.
Once more Liverpool use their spacing extremely well as they advance in to the deeper areas of the pitch. As Mane moves back towards the ball he leaves space behind him in the vertical lane. A run from centre to right further enhances that lane and prevents the centre back from moving across to cover the danger of a vertical run from Firmino.
These movements in to an out of space are all connected and made possible by the spacing that Liverpool have been using this season under Klopp.
The pass through to Firmino is a straight forward through ball. It is all made possible however by the movement and spacing.
Fluid front three….again
I have been writing these pieces for Anfield Index for some time now and week after week I seem to be eulogising about the fluid attacking movement that Klopp has instilled in what must now be known as his first choice front three.
Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane together have now developed their understanding of one another to such an extent that they interchange position almost automatically.
This is a still from Liverpool building up in the second phase of their attacking movement. As Matip advances with the ball the Crystal Palace defensive line is set and well positioned. All three Liverpool forward players however start to move off of the line in to the spaces between the midfield and the defence.
In doing so they are essentially forcing the Palace defenders to choose whether to move with them and leave a gap in the defensive line or to stay static and allow the Liverpool forwards to move in to space.
These movements are designed to allow the man in possession to break the midfield line with a vertical pass and allow Liverpool to continue their attacking movement from a more advanced area of the pitch.
Here we see the interchanging of positions between the front three as they look to launch a quick attacking transition. One of the key features throughout the game was the movement and positioning of Coutinho who spent far more time moving off of the left wing than he spent on it.
Coutinho would consistently drop in to central areas even operating deeper and allowing Adam Lallana to move beyond them.
Here Coutinho collects the ball centrally and immediately has options right and left in Mane and Firmino. This ability of each player to move in and out of different tactical roles within the side make it near impossible for the defending team to safely contain all of the attacking players.
As touched upon above this is an example of Coutinho dropping in to pockets of space to allow him to control the game from a central area.
By dropping in to these spaces to receive the ball in this way Coutinho is ensuring that his creative talents can be at their most destructive for the opposition. The attacking players for Liverpool have effectively pinned the Palace defenders back meaning that there is little or no pressure on the ball when it comes back to Coutinho.
In this position he is able to access space either left or right or through the middle either by passing or by driving towards the box.
Spacing issues in Liverpool defence
For all the attacking positives, and let’s be clear that the positives this season do outweigh the negatives, there are still defensive issues for Liverpool that are reoccurring as the season goes on.
The biggest issue that we saw came with the defensive spacing from the left hand side. Moreno is still attracted out to the man in these situations instead of sitting deeper and maintaining the integrity of the defensive line.
By moving out wide to a player that does not have the ball he stretches the connection between himself and Lovren. This space can then be accessed easily by a direct pass over the top and a runner from midfield. It is this form of vertical movement that Liverpool are struggling with week after week and which leads to mistakes being made.
Once again we saw a performance that should have yielded more than the 4-2 victory that it did. There were spells in the game in which you were convinced that Liverpool were going to score from every attack.
The midfield balance with Can in for Wijnaldum at the moment still needs some more work with roles being better defined and the positioning of the back four in the defensive phase still leaves something to be desired.
That said this would have been a match in seasons gone by in which Liverpool would have conspired to drop points instead of collecting three. Victories in these tight and tricky matches could well be the difference come the end of the season.