Last time, I talked about Liverpool’s need to defeat a double-pivot defense and counter, today we’ll look at the key adjustments the side has made in their last 3 games which have yielded maximum points while outscoring their opponents 10-0.
Liverpool conceded 12 goals in a span of 5 games out of 10 prior to this, picking up 6 points against those 5 opponents in the process, most of whom they should have bested. Worse, most goals were conceded in the same ways. The near post is lost at set pieces and / or right to left cross play, while the midfield gives space for such play in the first place.
Liverpool can’t change the weaknesses they have so they have to cover them, minimizing their exposure. Namely that Alexander-Arnold is vulnerable in anything that requires him to make choices between horizontal and vertical happenings i.e. a cross or overlap, and that only 4 of Liverpool’s 8 midfielders can perform defensively the way the Manager’s system demands.
Trent is the simplest to address, especially considering it’s not worth sacrificing the good he brings to the side going forward. The team simply has to be mindful to compensate more with other personnel when he’s caught forward. He’s already moved to the back post when corners are on his side, the coaching staff needs to compensate with player positioning when attacks, as they usually do, come in from the other flank.
Liverpool’s key 4 midfielders defensively remain Fabinho, Henderson, Milner and Thiago. Any 3 of these 4 can lock down the passing lanes and essentially cause the side to retain possession relentlessly as consecutive attacks are mounted.
Supporters love the qualities they see from players like Jones and Oxlade-Chamberlain but they come at a price. Opponents are able to exploit the advanced attacking runs they make by passing out quickly, especially if they have employed 2 central midfielders who are tuned to quickly work the ball up field.
Liverpool addressed this against Arsenal as Thiago returned to the starting lineup. His presence prevented significant assaults through the left side of the midfield while tempered positioning from Trent, Ox and Mo on the right side did not allow that wing to become exposed. Meanwhile Tsimikas had much more of a free hand in creating from the left.
Against Porto, a much rotated side started with Minamino and Morton both in recessed positions, changing the 4-3-3 into a 4-diamond-2. Williams largely stayed home providing protection for Morton on the right while Thiago did the same thing on the other side. With Minamino occupying some midfield space, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tsimikas had freer roles getting forward.
In the Southampton game Liverpool’s “A” midfield ran the game for the whole hour they all played. It showed in that both full-backs were able to get forward with Mane creating space for Robertson’s overlaps by playing more centrally and pulling the defenders towards him.
There are 3 key adjustments I’ve seen Klopp make here. Playing Mane in a more central role, using the two left-backs in slightly different ways, and the Konate X factor!
Mane Central: Mane’s ability to run at defenders, cut back in and shoot curlers has long been shut down by opposition defenses. The decision to get Mane out of the half space more and into the central zone is paying dividends. It is pulling the defenses out of shape and that is creating new opportunities for all the attacking players. Defenses can adapt, but Liverpool can default to what they were doing before.
Robbo vs. Tsimikas: Andy Robertson remains a step ahead of Tsimikas as a defender but there is no doubt the latter gives Liverpool another look going forward. Robertson thrives on interchange and overlap in attack and recovers superbly to defend. Tsimikas is better at setting up crosses from deeper, so he’s been left there giving him a manageable 10 less yards to recover on counters. Carving out a separate role for each of the players has now given the side greater flexibility.
Konate X Factor: This kid is huge and very talented. He comes across like Mamadou Sakho with the attitude of Kolo Toure. He is learning fast about playing the ball out of the back and not just knocking it clear. But in his brief appearances we’ve seen a player who is deceptively quick for a center back and can recover a lost situation. Most of all his ability to read cross play and break it up may well be ahead of even Van Dijk, and that’s at age 22. Expect to see him feature a lot more and challenge Matip for the incumbency next season.
Everton are next on Wednesday and the Reds are cooking! It being the Merseyside derby is about the only thing the Toffees have going for them. Their team is anemic and can’t get results! The rot has set in at Goodison and it will take more than a good manager to get them out. Playing in a crosstown rivalry gives them a chance they otherwise wouldn’t have – but I expect Liverpool to be too much for them.