It is important to preface this analysis by saying the Bundesliga season doesn’t start until the week after the Premier League, so Borussia Dortmund were seven days behind in their physical preparation. However, at times, Rodgers’ Liverpool made them look like they had never played football before, with the exquisite movement, technical ability and break-neck speed of the attacking play.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Manquillo, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho, Can, Sturridge.
Subs: Brad Jones, Jose Enrique, Toure, Lambert, Coates, Sakho, Lucas, Allen, Suso, Ibe, Kelly.
Borussia Dortmund: Langerak, Piszczek, Papastathopoulos, Ginter, Schmelzer, Kirch, Kehl, Mkhitaryan, Jojic, Ramos, Aubameyang.
Subs: Bonmann, Subotic, Bender, Hofmann, Immobile, Grosskreutz, Ji, Sarr, Bandowski, Amini, Knystock.
Liverpool’s new signings that had yet to feature, Lovren (LCB) and Manquillo (RB) were both handed home debuts, as Can lined up in midfield alongside Gerrard and Henderson. Glen Johnson started at left-back. The front three, initially anyway, were Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho; however, as the game developed, the fluidity of the home team’s play, meant any rigid attachment to a 4123 or 433 formation was virtually non-existent.
Klopp’s Dortmund side lined up in the 4231, with Ramos as the lone striker, Aubameyang on the right of the “3”, Jojic on the left and one-time Liverpool target Mkhitaryan in the hole. Kehl and Kirch were the two midfielders tasked to protect the defence, although the latter, especially early on, made one or two more advanced runs forward.
Early Defensive Frailties:
A hopeful ball by Skrtel, over the top, is won in the air by Dortmund; they pick up the second ball quickly and manage their first and only shot on target of the game from Kirch.
Can is caught two on one in the middle, before Lovren backs off and Gerrard/Can follow the man on the ball, leaving the other midfield runner (Kirch), who receives the return ball, and gets his weak shot away from the edge of the area. As you can see above though, Skrtel and Manquillo also lose Mkhitaryan in the channel between the right-back and the right-sided centre-back.
There was another issue early on, this time with the defensive organisation, and Johnson not stepping up to the edge of the penalty area. In the image below, you can see how the England full-back doesn’t step up in unison with the rest of the defensive line.
A fraction of a second earlier, Aubameyang was stood in an offside position just before the ball is about to be played, and instead of holding his line, Johnson drops slightly deeper and plays the striker onside.
Is this being over-critical? Maybe, but it is certainly one to keep an eye on as the season develops, whomever is selected to play. The overall defensive performance was very solid, restricting Dortmund to one shot on target, and keeping a clean sheet. Furthermore, sat in the press box, you could hear the vocal shouts from Lovren and Mignolet, as well as the physical gestures and organisation away from the sight of the camera when the ball was at the other end of the pitch. This was missing at times last season and will be welcomed going into the new season.
Liverpool’s Attacking Full-Backs
With the new signing of Moreno expected to be completed by the end of the week, this could be a key feature of the Reds’ upcoming season. During the last campaign, Flanagan, Cissokho and Enrique were all very solid at the back (ignoring blocking crosses), but didn’t offer the constant over-lapping required to fully get the best out of Rodgers’ preferred system. They could get tight to a man, tackle, intercept and, especially Flanagan, find a simple pass. However, none of them were skilful enough going forward, nor did they have the pace to get up and down the flank for ninety minutes or the intelligence of movement to know when to stay wide or when to alternate with the wide player ahead of them. In this game, both Johnson and Manquillo were constant outlets whenever Liverpool played it out from the back, or won the ball in transition. Here’s an example:
In this image, as soon as Gerrard regains the ball, both Johnson (out of view) on the near side and Manquillo on the far side burst forward. The young Spaniard controls the ball and starts a Liverpool attack.
(Video by LFC Tika Taka)
Another example occurred, again in the first half, but this time the Reds’ right-back didn’t even receive the ball, but his role was still clear for all to see: as soon as Gerrard picks up the ball, burst forward and stretch the play, leaving the Dortmund defence with a number of runners to pick up; creating space elsewhere. Below, Gerrard finds Henderson instead, but as you can see, Manquillo is just about the furthest player forward by the time the captain picks out his pass.
Coutinho Here, There and Everywhere
Liverpool’s new creative hub ran the game on Sunday, and this is no exaggeration. When he was marked tightly, he’d beat his man with a sublime piece of skill; go on a dribble, before picking out a team-mate with perfectly-timed through ball or weighted pass. If you think I’m kidding, watch the video below, and try to pick out all the different positions he picks up the ball:
(Video by Kyliann22)
In the first third of the game, he was often found drifting slightly to the right-hand side, but still in-between the lines. Then in the second half, he drops deeper or to the left, again always looking for pockets of space to pick the ball up. When it arrived at the Brazilian’s feet, you immediately see the rest of the attacking players bursting forward. Another crucial factor was how each player knew how to react to Coutinho having such a free role, Henderson was often found as one of the advanced three in the second half, whenever Liverpool’s number ten dropped deeper to receive a pass.
The game petered out somewhat as a tactical battle once both team’s began to make substitutions, and although the Dortmund fans were in full voice at four-nil down singing “we all live in a yellow submarine”, it was the Anfield crowd who made the loudest noise as Coutinho received a standing ovation as he left the field.
As ever, Rodgers’ tactics encourage the players’ movement to compliment each other, to use their skill to beat a man, and then technique and vision to find a team-mate making a run into space. This season might just be the first occasion when we see Rodgers’ preferred approach in its full glory. Where that will leave us in the table, who knows? But one thing is for sure, it will be with exciting, free-flowing football throughout.