Liverpool claimed a 2-0 win over Burnley on Boxing Day. The result briefly placed Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table. How did they do it? As a festive treat, here are some tasty tactical tidbits.
Jurgen Klopp has consistently fielded a 4-3-3 in his tenure as Liverpool manager. Even the 3-box-3 formation we’ve seen more recently is simply a variation of the 4-3-3.
Except, for much of his time as manager, Klopp has been much more flexible. With fixture congestion limiting Liverpool’s options, they started with a 4-4-2 shape. This allowed Liverpool to start fast and take an early lead.
Using Harvey Elliott in midfield, Liverpool could bring Mohamed Salah into central spaces. While he accompanied Darwin Nuñez, the left flank was Cody Gakpo’s domain.
Out of possession, Elliott returned to the midfield and Salah was out wide. But Ryan Gravenberch would step up to press alongside Nuñez, preserving the 4-4-2 shape.
This basic framework allowed Liverpool’s players to rotate fluidly.
The clearest example of this was Elliott’s disallowed goal. The right central midfielder was on the penalty spot, behind his right winger. Meanwhile, the left central midfielder (Gravenberch) was on the right wing to supply the assist.
How do we know which team has dominated a game?
One of the more helpful metrics is “field tilt.” This measures how much possession each team has in the attacking third. The more time the ball spends in that third, we can imagine the field “tilting” that way. The greater the tilt, the more dominant that team was.
Liverpool had an impressively high 64% field tilt at Turf Moor. They did this by camping effectively in Burnley’s half, forcing the hosts to drop deeper and deeper. Pushing both center backs up behind the halfway line allowed Liverpool to sustain their attacks.
Once Burnley had a second reprieve by VAR, they started pushing their defensive line forwards and competing for more loose balls. This coincided with Burnley creating some chances of their own, and having their best spell of the game.
Field tilt can also tell us about the rhythm of a team’s attacking play. Liverpool did not dominate versus Manchester United despite having a high field tilt percentage. This was because the attacks were too direct, too quick, without having any real space to exploit.
Against Burnley, the aforementioned flexibility within the 4-4-2 allowed Liverpool to dominate possession. By keeping it in Burnley’s defensive third, Liverpool were able to attack patiently. The chances they created were much higher quality as a result.