Watford 3 Liverpool 3: A Tactical Breakdown

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Completely bewildering, yet almost oxymoronically, so very familiar; Liverpool’s 3-3 draw was, for the most part, a frustrating game, with a blisteringly good period of play for Liverpool sandwiched between two periods that were hard to watch.

To really understand how the game progressed, and key points within it, we shall look at the goals, specific players, and positioning across the game.

First, though, we’re going to need some of the stats from the game to flesh out the general story:

Watford 45pc
Liverpool 55pc

Watford: 9 (4 on target, 5 off target)
Liverpool: 13 (4 on target, 9 off target)

Watford: 3
Liverpool: 3

Watford: 3
Liverpool: 1

The goals

Watford, 1-0, Okaka 8′

Watford’s first goal, unsurprisingly, was a set piece. What was surprising though was the reaction inside the Sky Studios, and on Twitter; Jamie Redknapp asserted that had Liverpool signed Van Dijk they would not have conceded as he is much stronger in the air, and has a greater desire for the ball. Jamie Carragher on the other hand, whilst acknowledging a personnel issue, argued it was more an issue of the execution of the tactics. Furthermore, he asserted that if Van Dijk were playing, he would be taking the place of one of the other two centre-backs, thus would not be occupying the same position as Roberto Firmino – the player who failed to challenge and win the header against Okaka.

Below we can see the Liverpool players lined up on the edge of the six-yard box, with (left to right) Moreno, Wijnaldum, Matip, Firmino, Lovren and Alexander-Arnold all positioned along it.

This setup allows two of Liverpool’s taller players, Can and Henderson, to position themselves further out, in areas of high expected traffic, or frequency of crossed balls – as, usually, balls within the six-yard box are collected by the goalkeeper.

Where then was Simon Mignolet for this goal?

Mignolet was actually struggling to hold off his marker, something which a player from the defending side is usually responsible for taking care of, so the keeper can move freely.

Could and should he have claimed the cross though?

When considering the pace on the ball, the curl and that he was occupied, it’s immensely unfair to levy the responsibility with Mignolet.

Clearly, though, the responsibility for this goal lies with Roberto Firmino, for not challenging for the header, and Jürgen Klopp, for choosing Firmino to play in that specific position along the six-yard line.

Perhaps though, Okaka’s sheer physicality and anticipation of the cross was just spot on. We can only credit the attacker for noticing one of Liverpool’s slighter players defending the six-yard box, and the crosser for noticing that too.

Sometimes, when coming up against a player so physically strong, and a cross so well targeted, there is not much a defending team, with few equally physical players. can do.

Liverpool, 1-1, Mané, 29′

Liverpool’s first-half equaliser was the product of some rather intelligent positioning by Emre Can, in the absence of Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho.

You may have heard Klopp reference ‘half-spaces’ in his post-match interview or a handful of previous interviews. Essentially the crux of this is players taking up dangerous positions, usually between players, either laterally or horizontally e.g. between a CM and CB, or between a CB and LB, or even, in the position between a CM, CB and LB.

What Emre Can does so well here is that with Mané dropping deeper to pick up the ball, and then dribble across the field with it, Can essentially occupies the Watford centre-back.

As the move progresses, Moreno comes into play.

Mané loses his marker, as he plays the ball into Moreno, who passes it back, towards Mané.

However, knowing Emre Can is beyond him, Mané leaves the ball, and breaks through, inside of the full-back.

Normally the centre-back would come across, but because Can is positioned on the edge of the box, and both Firmino and Salah have tucked in, Kaboul has to commit to closing Can down, and hoping Mané’s marker is still with him.

Mané is simply too quick, and Can does well to hold off Kaboul, using his strength.

A simple goal in the end, but facilitated by Can taking up an offensive position.

Watford, 2-1, Doucouré, 32′

This goal was horrible to watch live, but even worse when breaking it down. It starts off with a simple throw in, in which Tom Cleverley is free. Can is ball-watching, either believing he’s marking someone, or ready to press the player taking in the throw-in if he receives the ball back, whilst Henderson is not quick enough to close down the free player.

In the frame above, we can also see Trent Alexander-Arnold is too advanced too. As Watford had a throw-in on the left side, he should be taking his position in line with Moreno.

Can though, is ball-watching, either believing he’s marking someone, or ready to press the player taking in the throw-in if he receives the ball back, whilst Henderson is not quick enough to close down Cleverley.

From there, Mané is drawn in, [below] but fails to notice the player running behind him, until it is too late.

Moreno then commits to a tackle, and does stop the player he’s marking from turning and joining the attack, but does not manage to stop the pass.

Henderson and Can have lost their men, and Henderson’s man makes his way to the corner of the box, in the frame below.

From here, Liverpool’s defence is scrambling; Lovren is exposed, Matip is behind his man, and Wijnaldum has lost his player.

Alexander-Arnold’s clearance bounces off Matip, and finds its way to Doucouré, who finishes well.

Whose fault is this goal?

Well it certainly is not Moreno, Lovren or Mignolet, and whilst Matip may have been able to cut out the cross, the entire chance was facilitated by poor defensive awareness by the midfield – Henderson in particular.

Liverpool, 2-2, Firmino (pen), 55′

This goal, whilst won by Salah on the right-hand side, was actually the product of Mané on the left.

In the 53rd minute, Mané presses the Watford right-back on the left wing.

From there, Can recovers the ball, and feeds it into Matip.

(Matip’s passing is something I shall cover later, as it emerged as a feature of this match that I did not expect.)

Matip’s pass bypasses the midfield and goes straight into Firmino, whilst Salah runs through, between the CB and LB, and wins the penalty.

Liverpool, 2-3, Salah, 57′

In a matter of minutes, Liverpool had switched from lacklustre impotence to a thrilling aggressive attack driven style.

Watford opened up their midfield, as they tried to retake the lead, but this played into Liverpool’s hands perfectly.

This goal was courtesy of an intelligent pass by Dejan Lovren:

Watford had pushed far higher up, leaving vast swathes of space behind the centre-backs, only exaggerated through Mané slotting in, behind the Watford CMs – thus drawing Kaboul in by a few extra steps.

Those extra steps proved to be costly, as Firmino raced through, and lobbed Gomes, with Salah pouncing on the bouncing ball.

Watford, 3-3, Britos, 90+3′

This goal felt especially hard to take, and was quite easily preventable.

A needless foul by Joe Gomez offered Watford a chance to launch into the box, and whilst that was initially dealt with rather well, what may well have been dealt with better was the shot that led to the corner.

Perhaps I am being harsh on Mignolet, the ball did come at speed, and through bodies, but seeing as he got two hands to it, at first watch, at least, I felt he may have caught it.

In retrospect though, one can hardly arraign the Liverpool keeper for being extra cautious – he did punch the ball away well, and out of the box.

For the goal itself though, the blame lies clearly with one player – Wijnaldum.

Wijnaldum makes a complete mess out of a routine header, that comes in slightly lower than he was expecting.

His fluffed header gives the Watford player some extra time and space, causing Matip to come across, and then Mignolet is immensely unlucky that the ball ricochets off his hand, onto the bar, and behind him. It could have easily shot off over the bar on another day.

It’s a bad goal to watch, but hardly something the manager can legislate for. A bad attempt at a routine header and a lucky rebound define this goal – as AI’s Dan Kennett noted, it was simply a ‘freak goal’.

Other Observations

Passing from deep

Matip and Lovren actually bypassed the midfield on a few occasions, playing directly towards Firmino. Whilst it did not always work, it contributed directly to two goals – which is more than can be said of the midfield’s contribution.

Above and below are another example of passing from deep, in this instance Firmino received the ball, and played it through to Salah, who should have hit the target instead of poking over.

A boring midfield

The midfield was often quite static too – instead of using the staggered 3 in midfield as Liverpool did when Lallana was playing, last season, Can and Wijnaldum often found themselves occupying a similar position. Whilst that in itself is not a huge issue, to create half spaces, or space/passing opportunities for the forwards, Can and Wijnaldum needed to be further apart, or at least to have one of them coming for a short pass, and one for a l0nger one – rather than what we can see below, with Henderson not having enough variety ahead of him:

It’s far easier to defend one length of passing, especially when both players are on the same positional line – as we can see with the two Watford CMs marking Wijnaldum and Can.

Not only this though, but the midfield was far less proactive than we would normally expect.

Can made 55 touches, Wijnaldum made 50, and Firmino made 52. Last season Can averaged 66 per game, Wijnaldum, 57, and Firmino, 64. For a team that had 55pc of the possession, far too little was in the hands of the players who Liverpool were relying upon to create chances.

Firmino dropping deep

In the first half, Firmino struggled to get involved, as Watford set up with two tight banks of four, with little space to exploit within. As a result, his touches across the entire game dropped below his average for 2016-17, but Mané’s and Salah’s persistant runs are something that Firmino used to very good effect in the second half as Watford opened up.

Corners, who’s better?

Liverpool, like Watford, had three corners, but failed to convert any of them into goals. What did Watford do differently?

In the frame above and below, we can see Dejan Lovren attacking the ball, and winning his header, in a position similar to the Okaka goal, but harder to score from.

With a player on the near post, Lovren was forced to head across the goal, and Gomes made the save, as the ball bounced kindly for him.

For Matip though, he was extremely unfortunate not to score, as his header bounced off the bar.

Did Watford deserve to score two more corners than Liverpool then? No. The only difference was a matter of inches for Matip, as he met a good ball, and positioned himself well – as Okaka did.

Are Watford better than Liverpool at set pieces then? Hardly, but with a marginally offside goal that went in their favour, and a ball that struck the bar, Watford can count themselves lucky, and Liverpool can feel slightly unfortunate.


It was inevitable that some of Liverpool’s players needed to be substituted off – Liverpool play on both Tuesday and Saturday – with both Lallana and Coutinho unavailable for selection, and Sturridge needing careful management.

Keeping Firmino and Salah fresh will be essential to Liverpool’s season, but even then, Klopp arguably made those decisions too late, in the 81st and 86th minutes respectively. Origi struggled, and Milner did little that we may meaningfully assess. The decision to take Alexander-Arnold off though proved costly, as Joe Gomez made a needless challenge, which contributed to the goal. However, as Liverpool have not signed another centre-back, players like Gomez certainly need minutes, and it seemed a low-risk move at the time. That being said, the Liverpool subs made little difference to the game, and focussing on them is not really conducive to the overall discussion – instead, we should ask why Klopp did now withdraw one of his forwards sooner, with the coming games in mind.

For Liverpool though, this game can only be one that’s recognised for the team has dropping points. The team clicked offensively for around 25-30 minutes, and should have put the game away. Some misfortune and bad defending cost the team again though, and it’s hard for fans to stay positive with the context of Lallana’s injury and the Coutinho situation. Nevertheless, there were signs there of improvement and quality – perhaps we’ll see more of that in the games to come.

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  1. Good write up especially as there’s not even a hint of a whinge regarding offside; perhaps the author shares the same view of the third goal as me:-

    1st phase: From the corner Britos and Minolet were competing to occupy the same piece of turf but effectively they were just leaning against each other so IMO just a normal refereeing decision, yes I’ve seen them given but just as often not. As Richarlison shot Britos’ position was slightly offside however when it came to seeing or getting to the ball the keeper was in front and not blocked so Britos now behind him was inactive by default. The unfortunate Minolet (I think there was a defenders foot in there too) spooned the ball onto the bar which is exactly where phase 2 starts and from there there can be no question of offside as Britos headed home.

    Yes I’m a Watford support but I always try to look at such incidents objectively. Good luck for the season.

  2. Actually it is mentioned as marginally offside but certainly not a whinge…. From my point of view Richarlison took the wrong option as we were queuing up for the pullback with plenty of space … Klopp should be worried.

  3. Excellent article. Why? It provides a stage by stage analysis for each goal looking at each player’s position with stills. Tremendous voluntary effort in to that article.

    2 questions:

    1. Is there anyway a video of each goal could also be included without violating copyright?
    2. Do you think that by playing Gini & Can in the same midfield as Henderson results in a bigger gap between our midfield and Firmino?

  4. In my opinion I feel your breakdown of the 2nd and 3rd Watford goals are not wholly accurate. I think Mignolet should have dealt a lot better with the free kick before Britos shot that leads to the corner. If he catches instead of punching the whole situation is neutralised. The 2nd goal on second reading I agree with you. The fault is Henderson and Mane not tracking runners. Which is why I massively dislike us playing hendo as a DM. He hasn’t got the defensive awareness to play the role consistently well. But also on the 2nd goal root cause is Can not clearing his lines and backheeling the ball towards Moreno in our final third. Unnecessary and something LFC players seem to constantly do is make poor decisions.

  5. How do you analyze idiocy and arrogance?
    Every game like this we analyse, we know what are the problems, so does Klopp.
    He says he would deal with this, 2 years later the same old shit happens and mark my words, it would again, many times over as long as Klopp is in charge and he has an unjustifiable faith in his trainers.
    In short, we would not win anything as long as Klopp does not change

  6. I always had that gut feeling 3 points would be thrown away with the way the boys played. I believe Klopp and FSG are partially at fault for the way things are. I have the following observations to state;

    1. Coutinho SHOULD be sold to Barcelona for GBP 140 million. His transfer request should not have been rejected, rather, Barca should have been notified outright of the fee that will sign him.

    2. Michael Edwards is particularly poor at this transfer stuff. WE NEED CAPABLE HANDS AND HEAD steering the affairs of our transfers!

    3. There are several upgrades out there! Sell Lucas Leiva, Coutinho, Origi, Kevin Stewart, Danny Ings. These should fetch a combined fee of GBP 200 million. With this and the mooted kitty of GBP 200 million, we’ll have GBP 400 million. Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton) 50m, John Brookes (Wolfsburg) 20m, Timo Weiner (RB Leipzig) 27.5m, Leon Goretzka (Schalke 04) 20m, Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City) 37.5m, Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) 27.5m, Naby Keita (RB Leipzig) 67.5m.

    4. I believe the major reason we have failed to get our targets is the lackadaisical attitude of our recruitment team. The VVD shambles set a negative tone portraying LFC as an average club with no sense of direction.

    5. I think it’s high time LFC starts throwing its weight around as European royalty. Edwards, FSG and even Klopp need to wake up and smell the coffee! the EPL is not Bundesliga! You need to spend on quality! you need quantity as well!


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