“An outsider should never know what position my players are playing. We occupy interchangeable spaces and principles not rigid positions”
– Marco Bielsa.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were at their rampant best against Watford. It finished 6-1 but the Reds could have easily finished with double figures as the away side failed to cope with the fluidity of the Liverpool side. People, myself included, read far too much into formations. To managers they’re nothing more than a blueprint for how the team will look when they’re not in possession. When they are in possession that goes out of the window and it’s about getting players into certain key areas where they can be their most destructive.
When Klopp appeared on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football he said similar. He said something along the lines of it’s not important who fills the area it’s just important that the area is occupied. For it to be effective you need multifunctional players and Liverpool have them in abundance. It makes them dangerous.
How can teams prepare for something so flexible? You can’t stop what you don’t see coming. It’s not like they can spend hours practicing against anything similar because there’s not many teams in the world with such a natural, well balanced front four.
That’s what Liverpool have been using since Emre Can’s return to the first-team. Lallana has turned what was an attacking trio into an attacking quartet.
For clarity reasons in the below screenshots Mane will be circled in blue, Adam Lallana in black, Roberto Firmino in Red and Philippe Coutinho in white.
The two stills above are separated by 17 seconds. Liverpool keep hold of possession as they look to work the Watford players into positions and then exploit the space. This move culminates in Milner firing a left footed drive straight at Gomes after Liverpool had overloaded the right hand side of the area leaving Milner free on the left.
In the first picture Watford look organised and compact but in the second they look stretched and spaces have appeared throughout. Firmino is in quite a lot of space and Coutinho and Mane are in close proximity and that’s never a good thing for the opposition.
There’s just under a minute between the first picture and the fourth. In the first picture Sadio Mane is the player that’s the furthest forward with Lallana to the right, Firmino central and Coutinho on the left and in possession. As play progresses and Clyne looks to put the ball into the area all four are in or just outside the penalty area. Then as Liverpool build up another attack, in picture three, it’s Lallana central with Mane to the right and Coutinho to the left against the three Watford centre-backs. This after Firmino has tracked back to link the play.
So in picture three Firmino, the lone striker, is in his own half yet all three Watford centre-backs are occupied.
The final picture, taken because Milner looks like he’s Superman, shows Coutinho, Lallana and Firmino all in the Watford penalty area waiting on a Milner cross.
The Emre Can Goal
Emre Can’s goal was pretty route one. Loris Karius went long with a goal-kick and in picture one you see Roberto Firmino winning the header. Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho occupy the three Watford centre-backs as Roberto Firmino goes up for the header. Adam Lallana is in a slightly more deeper role.
Firmino wins the header and flicks to to Lallana who drives into space as shown in the second picture. On first viewing Watford look comfortable but because of how quickly Liverpool support the attack it soon means it’s 5 vs 5, with Emre Can joining to support Lallana, Mane, Coutinho and Firmino.
In the third picture Lallana has floated the ball to the back post where it’s 2 vs 2 and Liverpool look to have the superiority. Emre Can nods the ball home and Liverpool go into the break 3-0 up.
You can’t stop what you don’t see coming
This time the four pictures are separated by 55 seconds. Again for Liverpool it’s a slow build as they look to create the shooting opportunity. It highlights their patience and their creativity in finding openings.
In the first picture Watford look set. For every one Liverpool player ahead of the ball Watford have two. Yet Firmino finds space and in turn his compatriot Coutinho finds him with the ball and carries on with his run. In the space of three seconds (second picture) Watford went from fairly comfortable to one Firmino reverse pass back to Coutinho away from being 3 vs 3 with the Liverpool players approaching the Watford penalty area.
As play progresses, shown in the third picture, Mane finds himself on the left hand side of the pitch close to Coutinho again but in a pocket of space. Lallana is in acres of space as he picks up the ball and Firmino is occupying two of the three centre-backs. In the fourth picture Lallana, Mane and Coutinho are all in space on the edge of the penalty area. Watford have eight men behind the ball with two compact lines yet Firmino has found space inside the penalty area. The move ends with Coutinho firing just wide from outside the penalty area but it was an opportunity worked by the movement of the four musketeers.
This was a Watford side that had kept three consecutive clean sheets before coming to Anfield. They had a reputation of being disciplined and well organised yet the Reds blew them away. This could have, and should have, been one of those tricky matches. But it wasn’t.