Tactical Breakdown: Leicester 3-1 Liverpool
Liverpool slumped to a third consecutive league defeat at the King Power Stadium, surrendering the lead in a flurry of goals that saw the champions lose 3-1.
Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes set up in a 4-4-2 system.
When in possession, Leicester looked to avoid offering pressing opportunities for Liverpool in the middle of the pitch, and Kasper Schmeichel looked to play direct passes into the fullbacks, who would then attempt to play long passes into the channel behind the fullbacks and outside the centre backs.
When out of possession, Leicester pressed, with one of Vardy or Maddison applying pressure on the ball and the other man-marking the Reds’ no.6, Wijnaldum. However, Milner, and later Thiago, dropped deep enough to create a box with the centrebacks, making it easy for Liverpool to play around the press. The ease in which the visitors were able to break through the Leicester press led the home side to drop off and take up a more compact shape as the game wore on.
Liverpool, as ever, lined up in their native 4-3-3. The only major changes were the inclusion of Kabak alongside Henderson, and both Milner and Jones supporting Wijnaldum in midfield.
In possession, Liverpool’s wingers started wide, but over the course of the game moved centrally, supported by advanced fullbacks who were both high and wide. In taking up such advanced positions, they pinned back the Leicester wingers, opened up passing channels to the wingers ahead of them and facilitated an intensive press and counterpress structure which hemmed the home side in their own half for large periods of the game.
This pressing structure characterised Liverpool’s out of possession system, which was positioned high up the field, compact centrally, and led by a particularly energetic Roberto Firmino, who hoped to win the ball and play his wide partners in, whilst Leicester were in transition, allowing the wingers to run with the ball at pace into space.
Liverpool started the game strongly, breaking into the Leicester box early on, and asserting control of the ball and more importantly, the space.
Firmino dropped into deep positions near the Leicester Ndidi-Tielemans double-pivot, hoping to win possession and immediately pass forward into the wingers ahead of him. Liverpool’s press underpinned their strong work on the ball, as it allowed them to regain possession quickly after losing it, or at least discourage the Foxes from playing those dangerous direct passes to Vardy, who looked to break beyond the high line.
Early on, the Reds built up exceptionally well down the right side, with Alexander-Arnold and Salah linking with Firmino, creating a passing triangle high on the right side of the pitch – precisely the sort of thing Liverpool have needed to do to break down a defence.
The champions were well guarded against the Leicester counter attack, with their centreback-midfield box, leaving four players protecting the middle of the pitch, and also allowing the fullbacks to move up. As the game developed, Liverpool used the right side less, and instead tried to break through from the left, with Robertson and Mané.
As the first half moved towards its final stages, Liverpool’s pressing began to drop and subsequently, Leicester had their first significant chance, as Vardy ran through, latching onto a direct ball knocked on by Maddison, before striking the bar with his shot.
The second half saw Liverpool start strongly again. The counterpress that seemed to wane at the end of the first half was present once again, and Leicester attempted to compact the middle, but still found Liverpool breaking inside, albeit unable to make the big chance they were after, with a number of efforts blocked. Wilfried Ndidi starred for Leicester, constantly challenging for the ball, breaking the game up and pushing Liverpool back.
Jürgen Klopp would likely have been happy with the process and decision making of his team prior to the first goal, with patient buildup combined with intelligent movement and an extremely impressive defensive effort that was being implemented from the front.
The game’s opener was a stunning piece of interplay and spontaneity as Firmino, under pressure in the box, played a no-look roulette pass into Salah who finished first-time.
The lead was a well-deserved reward for Liverpool, whose persistence and faith in their process seemingly paid off. The smiles on the faces of the champions’ was short-lived, after Leicester were awarded a penalty, which was then overturned to a free kick, which Leicester scored from, and was then ruled offside, only to be subsequently ruled as onside by the VAR.
In the space of seven minutes, a brilliant away performance turned into a nightmarish result. A communication error between 20-year-old debutant Kabak and Alisson saw a routine clearance fall to the feet of Jamie Vardy, as both goalkeeper and centreback lay on the floor.
A third goal followed, as Liverpool completed their collapse. This goal was the only inexcusable event in the game for the visitors, as they surrendered any semblance of the compact and disciplined structure that saw them control the game and take the lead. Young Kabak eventually played Barnes onside, but it’s not at all fair to place responsibility for the midfield forgoing its duties on him, nor is it fair to expect him to hold one of the most meticulously held lines in football when playing on debut alongside a midfielder.
Much like the defeat to Manchester City, Jürgen Klopp will take solace from the performance of the team up to the point of the key mistakes which swung the scoreline away from Liverpool. The team largely played well, and limited Leicester side that is formidable at breaking on the counter-attack. To have the bravery to play as the side did for the first sixty minutes of the game once again evidences that the fundamentals of the Premiership-winning Liverpool are still there. But individual errors in key defensive positions, in crucial moments in the game have cost Liverpool in consecutive games. This performance illustrated that talks of a crisis are overblown, but it is increasingly hard to escape the team’s results in recent weeks – that being said, there are more than signs of an upturn in form sooner rather than later.