Tactical Analysis – Liverpool break down deep defensive block

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It is a sign of the positive start to the season from Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool that a 0-0 draw away to Manchester United is tinged with disappointment.

Such has been the attacking impetus from Liverpool so far this season that there is a genuine belief that they can score at any given moment and in any given game. There may have been something of an overreaction in the negativity from the Liverpool fan base after the match but it is a sure sign of the improvement in the squad and the raised expectations of the fans.

Manchester United offered a stubborn defensive resistance and prevented Liverpool from playing around or through their defensive block and there was a feeling that in this match West Bromwich Albion would prevent the same issues.

Under Tony Pulis West Brom have built a reputation as a side with a stubborn defensive mentality but little in the way of fluid attacking movement. This specific structure and mentality is one that has already caused Liverpool issues this season against Burnley in the second match where they lost 2-0 at Turf moor and there are still significant questions as to whether Liverpool have the correct strategic game plan to bypass these low defensive blocks.

It would be interesting to see whether Liverpool were able to find a play to access the wide areas of the pitch to bypass the defensive structure of West Brom or whether they would be able to commit sufficient numbers forward to create overloads and underloads in the central areas of the pitch to break West Brom down.

Team News

The Liverpool lineup is starting to take on something of a settled look as the season progresses. The German goalkeeper Loris Karius has come under significant criticism for recent hesitancy and mistakes but in truth these issues are normal in young goalkeepers and he remains a better option for the side than the Belgian international Simon Mignolet.

In the defensive line the first choices are starting to emerge. Clyne at right back, Milner at left back and the combination of Matip and Lovren in the centre.

We have seen significant changes to the three man midfield in recent weeks due to injuries but Adam Lallana was fit enough to start the match and took his place alongside Jordan Henderson and Emre Can in the midfield three.

That restructure meant that Coutinho was free to play again in his wide left position across the attacking line. This in turn led to Roberto Firmino moving back in to the central striking role.

There was little in terms of surprise from West Brom with the Belgian winger Nacer Chadli and the Venezuelan striker Salomon Rondon presenting the greatest threat to the Liverpool defence.

Liverpool look for width

The movement and interplay between the wide players in the Liverpool system so far this season has been one of the keys to their success. Sadio Mane and Coutinho respectively have spent as much time inside in either the half spaces or the central areas as they have holding the width of the field.

This has opened up large spaces for either the fullbacks or the more advanced central midfielders to pull in to those spaces and create overloads down either side of the pitch.


Here you can see a typical scenario from the match. As Liverpool pressed forward we saw West Brom drop back in to a somewhat predictable defensive block with the majority of their outfield players behind the ball and limited spaces for Liverpool to access between the defensive and midfield lines.

What we did see however was a lot of space in the wide areas for Liverpool to play through. As Mane and Coutinho cut centrally they emptied the entire wide vertical lanes and Clyne and Milner were able to advance almost as far as the attacking line time and time again.

This ability for the central players in possession of the ball to play the pass out to either wide area and in to an immediate overload situation is very difficult for the opposition to defend these areas effectively. The movement from Mane and Coutinho immediately condenses the defensive line from West Brom and any attempt to move wide to cover the advancing fullbacks would only create gaps in the central defensive structure that Liverpool could take advantage of.

Positional flexibility

Another aspect of the overall tactical structure that we have seen from Liverpool is the freedom that Klopp gives his players in certain areas to move in and out of different spaces and zones to connect with their team mates and try to create overloads in the final third. This coupled with rotations in the midfield that allow the team to comfortably play out of pressure make them extremely difficult to defend against.


This image was captured just before Coutinho scored the second Liverpool goal. As you can see the West Brom defence has dropped in to a deep defensive position and the three Liverpool attackers have all moved centrally and are positioned to support one another very easily.

The triangle created by Mane, Coutinho and Firmino creates an overload on the near side and when Coutinho takes possession of the ball he has space to take a touch and then attack the West Brom goal without an immediate challenge.


Here in the second half we see a small example of the central rotations from Liverpool. As Liverpool are building up from the back we see a relatively passive medium to low block from West Brom. Throughout the match the Rondon as the most advanced player for West Brom had been instructed to let Liverpool have possession along the defensive line but to press Jordan Henderson and prevent Liverpool building through the controlling midfielder.

In this example Henderson has moved in to a more advanced central midfield position to allow one of the other two to drop in to the number 6 position to receive the ball and facilitate the build up play.

Spacing in vertical lines

One of the aspects of the tactical side of the game that is somewhat under reported of discussed is the use of spacing in the attacking phase of the game. Most of us have heard reports of certain coaches that use markers to partition off sections of the pitch during training to teach positioning and spacing.

Now we are starting to see instances of Liverpool under Klopp using these tactical frameworks in their build up play.


(normally when highlighting vertical lanes for an analysis I would start with the wide lane and work my way across, for ease of explanation I have only labelled three lanes)

Here I have highlighted three vertical lanes. One that is being played through at the moment at captured and one on either side.

In Joel Matip Liverpool have signed an excellent modern centreback who is equally comfortable defending his own area as he is bringing the ball out from the back. In this instance he is moving forward with the ball at his feet and his most obvious passing option is the vertical pass in to the same lane.

When Lallana takes the ball in this area he immediately has three options. He can bounce the pass immediately back to Matip, he can turn the ball at an angle out to Clyne in the wide area or he can look centrally to the next lane where Mane has taken up a central zone in between the lines that Liverpool can use to attack the centre of the West Brom defence.


In this instance we see something similar. As the ball is played by Milner in to Coutinho in the half space he has attracted a marker tight to him. A simple dummy allows the ball to pass in to the next vertical lane and Emre Can is able to burst on to it and move through and beyond the midfield block for West Brom.

I think that these types of movements and combinations are something that we are likely to see more and more of as Klopp looks to take the tactical development of the club to the next level.


There can be little doubt that 2-1 was extremely flattering for West Brom in this match. There were periods of possession particularly in the first half when it was patently obvious that Liverpool were streets ahead of West Brom technical and tactically.

There are signs that Klopp is still adjusting his tactical blueprint at the club and these changes are something of a balancing act. You need to be careful that you still allow the team the attacking freedom that has made them so successful whilst adding more planned routines and movements to counter specific setups from the opposition.

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  1. Liverpool playing in between the lines to create positional superiority is impressive and attractive. By bringing the wingers inside to the 10 line, in the pockets, the opposition has to make a decision whether to back up more and mark or block the lane. however, if they decide to block the middle, that opens up the channel to the center forward our the outside backs. very clever.


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