Tactical Analysis - Liverpool's Overloads too Much for Middlesbrough to Handle
Liverpool fans represent both the best and worst of the club. In terms of backing and loving their club there is no better in World football, in terms of overreacting to a loss or setback there can be no worse.
Losing a commanding lead at Bournemouth and coming away with a 4-3 loss was of course massively disappointing for all at the club and to then follow that up with a 2-2 draw at home to a West Ham side that had been struggling for form was equally damaging, but it is at these points of the season though when the club and players need support and even patience as they look to quickly regain form and ‘go again’ in their title challenge.
It is at points like these that Liverpool needs their fans to be at their best.
Next then was a match away against Middlesbrough and a chance to regain some confidence and momentum. The side from the North East have struggled to create chances so far this season never mind create them but they have been relatively solid defensively since their promotion from the Championship last season.
This was the match in which Liverpool could reaffirm their title credentials with a quick and decisive victory.
The major piece of team news from Liverpool was the decision to start Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in place of the German Loris Karius. The young German keeper had been in the media spotlight all week and may well have been dropped in order to protect him.
I personally still think that Karius is the safer option in not only the long term but also the short term. All football fans have selective memories to some extent and it is not that long since the same criticisms that are being levelled at Karius were being made against Mignolet.
There was a change too in the defence with Ragnar Klavan partnering Dejan Lovren in the centre of the defensive structure. In midfield we saw the trident of Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum once more with Lallana given free reign to move in to the final third. The front three continued in absence of Coutinho as Origi, Mane and Firmino looked to threaten the opposition goal whenever possible.
Fluid attacking movement
There appears to be something of a theme in these tactical articles that I’ve been contributing to Anfield Index over the course of the season. I often find myself marvelling at and drawing attention to the attacking movement of Liverpool in the final third. There is of course a very good reason for this, it is really, really good.
The capability of the Liverpool players to interchange positions and move in and out of pockets of space is beginning to bring to mind the movements of the Ajax side of Cruyff in the 70’s. Before the hyperbole starts however I am not directly comparing Liverpool to the sides of the Total Football era but there are definite similarities.
Here Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum have actually taken up an advanced position beyond the nominal front line for Liverpool. Both Origi and Mane have dropped back in to deeper areas of the field to facilitate this switch. Divock Origi has shown a similar sense of space and movement to Roberto Firmino since getting his chance this season, a very positive sign for Klopp.
The structure from Liverpool has also forced the Middlesbrough defensive line to contract and shift to the strong side of the pitch (strong side = side with ball, weak side = side without ball). This forced shift simply opens up space on the far side of the field which Liverpool can access either via a long diagonal pass or by circulating the ball across through their central players.
Here again we see the movement of the Liverpool attacking phase proving to be too much for the Middlesbrough defensive structure to handle.
Lovren has the ball in comfortable possession inside the Middlesbrough half and with Adam Lallana moving to the outside we see Sadio Mane moving in to a central vertical channel. This movement finds him in a section of empty space in between the Middlesbrough defence and midfield.
We can see that not only has Mane moved In between the lines he has also effectively positioned himself between the two Middlesbrough midfielders as one looks to cover Lallana and the other s distracted by Wijnaldum centrally. This means that Lovren is able to access the space by playing through the lines and in to Mane’s feet.
Overloads, overloads and more overloads
Another key aspect of the attacking movement from Liverpool this season under Klopp has been the utilisation of overloads as a tactical tool for isolating and playing through the oppositions defensive units. The willingness and freedom of players to move forward from both central and wide areas means that the opposition can never properly set up a defensive block. The threat of being overwhelmed at either side is a constant one.
Here the overload is on the right hand side of the pitch and Nathaniel Clyne is able to take possession of the ball in the wide area with time and space to pick out the cross. The ball would eventually find its way to the back post where Adam Lallana would be able to score easily to give Liverpool the lead.
This space in the wide area however has been created by the central movements of the Liverpool team. With three players moving from deep towards the penalty area they are essentially threatening three seams in the Middlesbrough defensive unit forcing all four defenders in the defensive line to contract and protect the edge of the penalty area.
This shows how effective the vertical movement from deep in to the final third can be in causing chaos to the opposition’s defensive structure.
On this occasion the overload is evident centrally on the far side of the defensive line. The right back for Middlesbrough has tracked his runner centrally and as that player moves towards the front post anticipating the low cross from Origi in to that zone we see Adam Lallana moving around the back to take advantage of the recently created space.
Once again the ball finds its way to the back post and again Lallana is able to score relatively easily.
The speed at which Liverpool play vertically through the thirds of the pitch can be devastating with the opposition midfield unable to get back to support their defensive line and prevent the overload.
On this occasion the overload comes from the right hand side.
There are four Liverpool players looking to make runs that directly affect the defensive structure for Middlesbrough. The main run to pay attention to is that of Adam Lallana who runs in to space directly ahead of the man carrying the ball.
Normally you would see players move away from the vertical lane of the ball carrier to create better angles. In this case though he creates depth to the attack and forces Middlesbrough to drop deeper.
This movement allows the man in possession extra space to move in to and as the other two runners advance up adjoining vertical lanes. Once again the Middlesbrough defence cannot cope and Liverpool create a clear goal scoring opportunity.
A sign of things to come?
Towards the end of the match we started to see glimpses of an additional tactical concept that we could conceivably see from Klopp later this season.
We saw Liverpool begin to form this shape more towards the end of the game. The 4-2-4 offers interesting options for progressing the ball forwards. Perhaps more interesting however is that this is a fluid setup with no clearly defined striker. Given that we have already seen how effective Liverpool are in moving forward fluidly from deeper positions, with a strikerless system the potential for attacking movement is even greater.
This is certainly something to keep an eye on moving forwards.
A comfortable 3-0 victory then that should appease large sections of the fanbase. Even without the creative prowess of Coutinho we are still seeing fluid attacking movements from this Liverpool side and they have the potential to overwhelm their opponents at any given moment.