Tactical Analysis: All Shots Conceded in Game 1 vs West Ham

Tactical Analysis: All Shots Conceded in Game 1 vs West Ham

If you haven’t got the memo yet, Liverpool won’t be conceding any goals this season thanks to Virgil simply swearing at anybody who lets the ball come into the box and Alisson dealing with whatever small amount that Virgil’s swearing fails to deter.

This is great obviously for us Liverpool fans but sucks for me as someone who enjoys analysing the goals we concede to see where the failures lie tactically/individually. Therefore, I have decided to look at all the shots we give up instead to get my analytical fix every week starting from the breakdown of our possession phase.

1. Arnautović, Left Foot, Open Play – 26’06 – xG 0,10 – Blocked (Gomez)

25’37 Gini recovers possession. Tries to break forward between Wilshire(19) & Rice(41). Realises the space is not open to do so and lays the ball off to Milner just inside our own half.

25’40 Milner tries a long diagonal ball first time over West Ham into Mané. The ball is far too straight and goes through to Fabianski(1) instead.

25’44 Fabianski recovers the ball and immediately throws it out to Fredericks(24). [Start of gif]

25’49 Keita quickly moves up to press Fredericks. Pass inside to Noble(16). Fredericks runs forward tracked by Keita.

25’50 Noble receives with Firmino blocking the forward vertical, Mane pressing from behind. Passes back to Balbuena(4). Milner starts moving up the pitch anticipating a pass to Rice.

At this point, we are in a high-block that is quite compact but is right of centre on the pitch leaving a lot of space left. This is because Liverpool are using what is known as option-oriented zonal marking. The basic idea is that the ball is treated as the reference point and players are free to move out of position to deal with the options they feel will most threaten the team in an attacking sense. Therefore, when the ball is played out to Fredericks at right back by the keeper, the threat on the left side of the pitch is minimal. So we compress the right flank and central areas of the pitch. This should ensure that the opposition is either short passing into underloads (areas were the attacking team has fewer players than the defending team)  or needing to play riskier, lower percentage balls across the pitch to find their free players in attack. This is why a fullback who struggles to read diagonal balls can often get caught out with our system.

The additional benefit here also is that by the opponent spacing out their formation and having free men ball far-side, should we regain possession, we are already inside their team shape and also have an immediate central overload. This is what Klopp means when talking about how gegenpressing being the best playmaker. We start having already penetrated their team shape and have an overload in the most dangerous part of the pitch.

A high tactical level is required here, particularly in midfield, where smart and coordinated play can trap a player with the ball forcing him to turn over possession. However, when this type of pressing breaks down, large holes can quickly appear and your team shape can quickly collapse.

25’52 Balbuena quickly plays the ball into Rice. As mentioned, Milner was anticipating this and has already started a move to close him down. However, this move by Milner has created our first hole in our shape where Wilshire is now standing in a large amount of space. Gini notices this and positions himself to cover the entire midfield zone of our shape alone. Salah also makes it back into position to mark Ogbonna(21).

25’53 Rice returns the ball to Balbuena.

Now we have a slight problem. It looks like we are 1-v-1 here West Ham have six players that we are trying to cover with Mané moving towards the ball. Firmino marking Noble. Milner on Rice (yum!). Salah on Ogbonna and Gini on Wilshire. However, remember that their left back (Masuaku) is unmarked ball far-side. This is where the problems start to begin. First, Mané moves out to block a pass to Fredericks. At the same time, Noble starts a move inside that Firmino doesn’t track closely enough.  These two movements mean we are now outnumbered centrally.

25’56 Balbuena Passes to Ogbonna who dropped back away from Salah. Salah doesn’t track him as he is marking Masuaku. Milner is moving away from the ball. Gini is marking Wilshire. Neither Firmino nor Mané is near enough to press the ball. Ideally, you would want Firmino to be pressing Ogbonna here and using his cover shadow to prevent a pass into midfield – as Salah is now doing with Masuaku. Seeing there is no pressure on the ball, the defensive line now needs to think about dropping off as you cannot hold a high line without pressure on the ball. Or Salah needs to engage the ball carrier and trust that Gini, Milner & Firmino will adjust their positions to cover what he behind him and that Keita will leave Fredericks now ball-far side and tuck in to cover Rice (which he starts to do). 

26’02 Ogbonna plays a long ball straight ball forward under no pressure and easily picks out Arnautović(7) who ran in behind Gomez. Note – Noble was also free for a short pass and calling for the ball as Firmino hasn’t adequately tracked him.
While many will criticise Gomez here, I personally wouldn’t. You can’t hold a high line without pressure on the ball – it’s suicide. People will say it was that decision that plays Arnautović onside but that is simply hindsight analysis. You look at the decision making not the outcome. Also if you watch Gomez & Arnautović, he actually curves his run to stay onside and only moves forward once Gomez starts to drop so he likely would have curved to stay on and would have gotten clear of a Gomez easier with who then has a standing start.

Of course, dropping off earlier would just have created an even bigger hole in midfield which Gini was alone in at the time with Wilshire, but I think that is a smaller problem than leaving that space in behind for exactly this reason.

26’06 Arnautović’s first touch is quality and prevents Alisson closing the angle further. Gomez’s recovery run is excellent and his pace gets him back into a very good position preventing Arnautović cutting inside onto his right for a better chance. Arnautović’s second touch takes him slightly away from goal rather than toward – largely down to the pressure from Gomez in my opinion. Alisson does a great job with his angles (as a rule, imagine a rope between the ball and the centre of the goal – your keeper should be positioned on that line). Gomez ends up somewhat blocking the shot and putting off Arnautović preventing what looked a very dangerous position result in a corner.

Neg.: Firmino principally & Salah should have done better pressing the ball at the front. Virgil perhaps could have tracked Arnautović or dropped off with Gomez sooner but maybe he gives Gomez a shout and told him to drop?

Pos.: Gomez decision to drop early and an amazing recovery run to prevent Arnautović cutting across him for a 1-v-1. Then actually getting a foot on the ball to block the shot. His run is what prevented this from being a big chance and his presence prevented a likely shot on target.
Alisson also for taking up a good position and realising he was vulnerable to being lobbed should he come out further. He was ready to close the space should he had needed to and was positioned well to protect his goal from the final shot.

2. Balbuena, Header from Corner – 26’37 – xG 0,05 – Saved (Alisson)

Setup: Milner protects short option (in the absence of one, he stays near post). Mané also for short option (in the absence of one he stays high corner of the box ball near-side). Robertson protects near post. Trent far. Firmino centre. Gomez & VvD centre to attack the ball. Gini & Keita shielding (they will attempt to block runners from getting a clear run and head on the ball). Salah protecting for balls to outside the box centre (our furthest player forward).

26’35 Felipe Anderson(8) takes the corner.

26’36 Wijnaldum tracks Balbuena and challenges unsuccessfully in the air but prevents him getting a free header.

26’37 Gomez moves to attack the ball, then stops and retreats.

26’37 Alisson saves easily into his chest as it is right at him.

Neg.: Gomez should have committed to attacking the ball even if he felt he couldn’t win it. Gini isn’t beating many centre-halves in the air and is there to merely put people off.

Pos.: Gini does a good job sticking with Balbuena and preventing a free header in our box.

3. Arnautović, Left Foot, Open Play – 29’39 – xG 0,11 – Missed

29’29 Antonio(30) receives throw-in on edge of box. Is well marked by Gomez preventing him turning. Attempts a pass to Wilshire but Gomez reads it and gets a foot in front of the ball.  

29’32 Wijnaldum recovers the ball and moves forward looking to spring a counter attack. Trent has wandered past the line of the centre-halves and is now the last man.

29’34 Referee Anthony Taylor, instead of standing still and letting Gini run around him, decides to do an Irish dance and tackles Gini. Gini stops and complains. Virgil immediately runs forward to get in line with Robertson & Gomez to catch Arnautović offside. He is unaware that Trent is the last man. As is Trent, seemingly.

29’36 Antonio recovers the ball. As we were transitioning to attack to counter, our shape is a mess. Antonio has Wilshire and Arnautović nearby as close passing options. Gomez decides to back off rather than engage. Trent still hasn’t stepped up. Robertson begins a recovery run towards Arnautović who is onside behind our line.

29’37 Antonio chips the ball into Arnautović.

29’39 Arnautović controls high on his chest, swivels and half-volleys the ball on the turn. Robertson’s recovery run gets him close enough to Arnautović to apply pressure and likely put him off taking it down and picking his spot.

Neg.: I didn’t like Gini stopping to complain to the ref – nothing will happen. But I think that is instinctive and changes nothing anyway. Just a pet peeve if you will. He does quickly move to get a foot in on Antonio though so I will let that instinctive split-second reaction slide.

Virgil – I am assuming didn’t shout for the line to move up once we recovered the ball, he should have as the last and most experienced centre back. I also don’t like his lack of awareness of what Trent is doing – he didn’t look around. I think he saw Milner and Robertson in his peripheral vision and thought he was the deepest man and that was the line so he could trap Arnautović.

Gomez should probably engage Antonio immediately there as he knows we are in trouble. He does a good job blocking the immediate pass to Wilshire though and then perhaps sees Gini closing on Antonio and decides to drop back so I think he did OK here. In essence, he did the first principal of defensive play in delaying until Gini could get back. Then the second, dropping to provide depth to our shape.

Trent is the biggest problem here. First in dropping in as the deepest man is something of a cardinal sin for fullbacks. He doesn’t realise he is the last man, doesn’t leap forward to make sure he isn’t playing Arnautović onside, in fact, his reactions to the entire situation are quite poor and seems to get ball watching instead of stepping up quickly. A moment of inexperience here perhaps.

Pos.: Robertson – watch just how switched on he is. It’s brilliant. He moves up & out wide as soon as Gini gets on the ball to give him a passing option in space. The second it breaks down, he turns and makes a recovery straight for Arnautović and may have prevented this becoming a much worse situation – possibly even a goal.

4. Antonio, Right Foot from Corner – 48’46 – xG 0,14 – Missed

48’16 Felipe Anderson receives the right flank. Mané doesn’t get tight to prevent the cross and his body position is completely wrong also. 

48’18 Virgil cuts out the cross at the cost of a corner kick. He immediately turns and tells Mané to “stop the fucking cross” (see gif at start of article). 

48’42Setup identical to the previous corner. Snodgrass(11) takes the corner kick.

48’44 Robertson challenges for and loses an Aerial duel to Felipe Anderson who stepped across the front of him. Milner rushes out to challenge also but doesn’t get near the ball.

48’45 Felipe Anderson flicks the ball to the back post.

48’46 The ball is behind Antonio who turns to try and direct the ball towards goal but misses the target

Neg.: Gomez – Nothing he could do here, but if he needed to he would have been in trouble. Watch his movement closely. Had Ogbonna ran across the front of him for a header, he couldn’t have stopped him. While Ogbonna runs past him goal side for any rebound or ball back across goal from Antonio (similar to that by Milner to Mane), Gomez is standing in a wide foot stance off balance.

Virgil – is aware of Antonio going around the back of him but doesn’t move to position himself between ball & Antonio and instead holds his position. Balbuena ends up running by him on his other side. At the time the shot is missed there are 3 West Ham players waiting for an easy tap-in from 2 yards. It’s not clear whether the intention is to trap them offside or if we are just holding our zones, but either way, I can see similar situations costing us this season as it was too easy for West Ham here. The lack of height in the team clearly doesn’t help but we have Felipe Anderson winning flick-ons here so it is hardly land of the giants’ stuff like when playing Watford opening day last season.

Mané gets drawn towards Ogbonna who is being delayed by Gini rather than doing the same to Balbuena.

Pos.: Milner – whether intentional or not – his actions likely put Antonio in an offside position. This is the sort of moment I was praising our setup for when Karius was in goal last season. If there is nobody in the 6-yard box, anybody who stays in there to mess with the keeper is then offside and obstructing the keeper. Anybody who runs beyond the D-Line is offside too who attacks the flick on.

5. Antonio, Right Foot, Open Play – 90’34 – xG 0,01 – Saved (Alisson)

89’57 Sturridge hits a scuffed shot from left half-space 6 yards out straight at Fabianski. 

90’00 Fabianski gathers shot into the chest on the ground.

90’11 Fabianski rolls the ball out to Ogbonna along the ground.

90’14 Ogbonna under pressure from Shaqiri-coming in from the right (who also does a good job keeping Masuaku in his cover shadow) and, to a lesser extent, Sturridge (front, with Noble in cover shadow). Passes to his right to Balbuena.

90’17 Sturridge now presses curving his run to prevent a ball to either Ogbonna or Noble. Balbuena passes into Wilshire.

90’19 Wilshere, under pressure from Gini, lays it off first time to Noble who is unmarked. We are very poorly setup here to press and therefore we decide to drop back into a low block.  WHU Pass

90’21 Noble passes to Masuaku.

90’28 Masuaku carries the ball into our half down the left flank with Shaqiri in pursuit. Shaqiri gets into a position to stop his progress and press the ball. Masuaku crosses ~35 yards up the pitch rather than attempting to get by Shaqiri.

90’29 Gomez heads clear. A good header with height and distance despite backpedalling. Ball ends up 40 yards from goal.

90’32 Milner makes an awful attempt at a second headed clearance (likely due to his head injury) and merely knocks the ball a yard towards Antonio.

90’34 Antonio recovers the ball and easily runs past an off-balance Milner, then shoots from ~35 yards with a reasonably powerful daisy cutter.

90’34 Alisson saves low into his chest easily quite central, just a few yards from his goal line.

Neg.: Systematic – pressing at the top end was poor. Didn’t seem to be any player at fault per se, likely just a case of last minute tiredness coupled with players not overexerting themselves when 4-0 ahead. But we realise this and quickly regrouped into a good mid-block.

Milner for the poor headed clearance attempt – although I will definitely let this slide given his gaping head injury just a week earlier.

Pos.: Shaqiri put the work in to chase down Masuaku. Gomez’s headed clearance on the cross was excellent. Gini did a good job getting back beside Henderson despite playing the full 90. Alisson dealt with the shot as he should do, but we have seen shots like that go in before.

Summary

All in all, a very good defensive performance. We limited West Ham to a handful of half-chances and their only two shots on target were easy saves for Alisson. There were still a few things that concerned me though. It looked a little too easy to get the better of us from the corner kicks. I also didn’t like the space and time Arnautović had with his two chances. A better player probably would have punished us there. The pressing from the front could be a little better too, but, as Gags has shown before, it takes a little time for that to click early in the season and we already look better in that sense than in previous years.

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