Ever since the 2-0 defeat at the hands of Burnley in the second game of the Premier League season there have been concerns as to whether or not Liverpool can break down teams who look to park the bus. It’s been a slow burner with the Reds putting the likes of Leicester City, Watford and Hull City to sword in an aggregate win of 15-3.
But over recent weeks it’s become apparent Klopp’s men do in fact have difficulty breaking teams down. Liverpool have scored just six goals in matches against Sunderland, Plymouth x2, Southampton x2, Swansea City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Hull City. To make you even more depressed that works out that Roberto Firmino and co, on average, managed just the 0.75 goals per game against these sides.
This is the team who are currently leading the goals scored column in the Premier League. They’ve been completely nullified in attack and even the most porous teams know with a bit of a discipline and organisation that they can frustrate those in red.
Over recent weeks a lot has been made with regards to how easy it is when playing Liverpool. How they should have spent money in January to bring in reinforcements both in an attacking sense and in defensive areas. One area which is regularly overlooked more than it should be is the midfield. Many want it upgrading but with it being functional it’s not a requirement like the other positions on the pitch.
It couldn’t be further from the truth and if anything midfield upgrades would solve both problems at both ends of the pitch. For now though let’s look at why Liverpool have had issues breaking teams down.
Side to Side
Many times you’ll hear managers and coaches talk about moving the ball quickly side to side to shift the opposition all over the pitch in an attempt to disjoint them. Liverpool try that tactic but it’s either seemingly in slow motion or to the detriment of an incisive pass forward.
It became apparent when Lucas was deployed as the deepest midfielder in the FA Cup against Wolves. The Brazilian is often praised for his incisive and progressive passing when in defence but for some reason he wasn’t able to replicate it in midfield.
Lucas picks the ball up in midfield and isn’t put under any pressure from the Wolves midfield. There’s a pass on to Ben Woodburn who has made a run in-field and would get Liverpool in behind the opposition’s midfield. There’s also a pass into the space vacated by the youngster for Randall to surge onto down the right flank. This pass get’s the Wolves midfield turning to face their own goal and running backwards. However, Lucas opts for the pass highlighted by the white arrow. Liverpool retain possession but it’s all a bit pedestrian and allows the away side to keep men behind the ball.
Again Lucas picks the ball up and is under no pressure. He could carry the ball forward, engage one of the centre-midfielders and then play a pass to Woodburn, who has intelligently positioned himself between the midfield and the defensive lines. The 17-year-old would, in theory at least, have space to work, especially with the Wolves midfielder ahead of him, pushing on to press Lucas into playing the ball. The player on the left of Wolves’ midfield would have to shuffle over to cover the pass to Randall and it opens that area up.
The Reds have two vs two against the centre-backs and there’s a lot of space in behind if the ball is worked properly. Instead Lucas just plays a pass to Randall.
In the first picture here Lucas could play a pass which would take three of the Wolves players out of the game. With both Gini Wijnaldum and Randall on the right hand side in a fair amount of space it would be a pass that could get Liverpool onto the attack. However, the captain for the day plays the pass to Gomez and the former Charlton Athletic player is immediately pressed. He’s forced to play the ball all the way back to Karius and it allows Wolves to get back into their defensive shape.
There’s a chance for Lucas to play a pass into the space for Ovie Ejaria to move into. Wolves are a little disjointed and their players are out of position. A pass here would give Ejaria the chance to run at the centre-midfield pairing and engage the pair of them, which would in turn free up Gini who could ghost into the space vacated. Liverpool would have then bypassed the Wolves midfield with two simple passes.
Lucas has other ideas and plays a pass backwards to Ragnar Klavan. It’s this pass which allows Wolves to sort their shape out and make it difficult for Liverpool once again.
Once again Lucas finds himself in possession of the ball with Wolves putting very little pressure on him. There’s a pass on to Firmino, highlighted by the red arrow, which would be progressive. If Lucas was able to find the former Hoffenheim player then the Wolves midfield would have been taken out of the game and the Reds had Ejaria, Origi and Woodburn, as well as Firmino, behind the midfield line; four vs three in their favour against the Wolves defence.
This isn’t a problem exclusive to Lucas. Many of the Liverpool midfielders fail to play those decisive passes when the opportunity presents itself. Instead they opt for the safer pass and it’s perhaps why they’re having so much trouble breaking down those teams who are happy to forfeit the ball and just want to protect their goal. Braver passing and bigger balls could be a cost effective way to solve this problem for the time being.