Thom Ollig writes a detailed tactical analysis about the Premier League match that ended Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland.
Klopp’s Liverpool faced Moyes’ Sunderland in a game where Liverpool really needed the three points, partly to get up on their feet again after the dropped points against Southampton, but above all to stay close to City and Chelsea at the top. Sunderland on the other hand, wanted to continue their upturn in form after their last two wins, and get out of the relegation zone.
Liverpool (4-3-3): 1. Karius – 2. Clyne 32. Matip 6. Lovren 7. Milner – 5. Wijnaldum 14. Henderson 23. Can – 19. Mane 11. Firmino 10. Coutinho.
Sunderland (4-2-3-1): 13. Pickford – 2. Jones 23. Kone 16. O’shea 3. Van Anholt – 20. Pienaar 4. Denayer – 17. Ndong 14. Watmore 28. Anichebe – 18. Defoe
Liverpool: Coutinho → Origi (34), Firmino → Leiva (87), Wijnaldum → Woodburn (90).
Sunderland: Pienaar → Gooch (79), Watmore → Januzaj (79).
Liverpool’s attacking organization
When Jürgen Klopp’s tenure at Liverpool comes to an end, the German won’t just be remembered for bringing in the gegenpress, but also for the attacking freedom and elegance that tore up every single defense in the League.
As you see in the image above Liverpool started with a 4-3-3. In their build up phase, Henderson was acting as a link player between the defenders and midfielders, and often dropped down between the central defenders and created a three man backline, to outnumber Sunderland in their eventual pressure against the Liverpool backline. While Henderson did this, the rest of Liverpool’s players pushed Sunderland back down the pitch, to give this three man back line space to move into. Everyone did this except the closest central midfielder who supported Henderson and co with an oncoming alternative.
When Liverpool then pushed up higher into Sunderland’s half of the pitch, into the area behind Defoe, the full backs took up even deeper positions, all the way down to the penalty area. The central midfielder furthest from the ball made a deep run, all the way in line with Sunderland’s back four. This movement was very logical due to the front three’s (Firmino, Coutinho, Mané) movement. When for example Can took this run against the back four, the German linked perfectly with the false 9 Firmino as Can moved Sunderland’s midfield backwards, which opened up space in the halfspaces which Firmino, but also Coutinho or Mané could exploit. Klopp has been using Firmino as a false nine for quite some games, to overload spaces, open up spaces and exploit spaces created by mainly Coutinho and Mané.
When it comes to Mané’ and Coutinho’s movement, the deadly duo showed certain similarities. Both had very free roles and tried to penetrate into the halfspaces, by drawing the Sunderland midfielders out of position, but the Liverpool players possesses different kinds of qualities, which shaped their runs. While Coutinho took more oncoming runs lower down the pitch to get full use of his “pass and go”, but also due to the fact that he was man marked (which will be mentioned later), Mané took more vertical runs into surface 3 (behind the backline).
Here below is another example of what it look likes when Liverpool hit the final third, and how they continuously use Firmino as a false 9 to overload and open up surfaces.
Sunderland’s defending with a man-marking Denayer
Moyes must have been impressed with the brilliant Coutinho, because every time Liverpool played up onto playing surface one, Denayer chased him like a lion chasing a gazelle.
Sunderland shaped their team with two standard banks of four, with as mentioned Denayer having a man-marking on Coutinho. Defensively, this idea is very favorable, since they are able to execute positional defending (with their two banks of four) where they got very tight both horizontally and vertically between the banks , and at the same time were able to neutralize Coutinho. Offensively, this wasn’t as great, since their only striker Defoe, who is everything but a target player, got very isolated up top. This type of defending though, worked for most of the game as they won lots of balls, but unfortunately, they couldn’t do anything with it other than giving it back to Liverpool. This together with their inability to put pressure on Liverpool, created a huge pressure on their goal for most of the game.
Sunderland could have put a lot more pressure on the Liverpool players, but since Defoe didn’t help as much as he could with for example guiding the press into traps, Sunderland chased the ball for most part of the game. The former England International sometimes even ignored the defending-part as in the picture above, and rather preferred to find space to exploit when Sunderland won the ball, something that was everything but necessary.
It may be smart to lower the tempo and defend like this for the last 20 mins of a game, when defending a lead or even when having a strong target up top like Drogba in Chelsea’s Champions League win back in 2012. Since they defended like this for 90 minutes, without scoring a goal and their only target Anichebe playing on the wing, it got very difficult towards the end.
Liverpool’s gegenpressing and its importance
We are all well aware of Liverpool’s gegenpressing. Quickly for those of you who may not know about the defending-technique, it’s about countering the counterattack. To put the strongest pressure on the opponents the seconds after you lost the ball, because it’s that time a football team is at its weakest, when they are trying to readjust and get into their attacking shape.
You can say that Liverpool are starting their gegenpress when they are attacking, since they are overloading as close to the ball’s position as possible, to be able to play their way out of difficult situations, but also to be able to press with as many players possible when they are losing the ball.
Gegenpressing is a very good philosophy to use in games where the opponents are “parking the bus” as Sunderland did this game, due to the fact that one of the few times Sunderland’s players went out of position, is when trying to hit Liverpool on the counter. If Liverpool then wins the ball fast, as Sunderland’s players are out of position, they have tons of space to exploit that would never be there, if Sunderland would have been defending with their two banks of four.
Sunderland didn’t fall for this most of the game, and solved it quite well by crossing the ball up the pitch as soon as Liverpool tried to gegenpress, but although Liverpool didn’t get that many chances because of this, they still managed to win the ball back very early as Sunderland had nothing to threaten them with after they crossed it, as Defoe played up top.
Here below is another example and this time of how they executed the gegenpress.
Development of the game as Coutinho is substituted
As Coutinho went off injured in the 34th minute, Origi came on and Klopp changed formation to a 4-1-2-1-2, with the only changes being Firmino dropping down as a central offensive midfielder, and Origi stepping up top alongside Mané. Since Sunderland parked the bus, it was anything but a weird decision from Klopp, as he wanted a narrower type of play with a greater ability to overload spaces, as they had more players central. This didn’t affect their ability to play wide though, since the central midfielders overloaded the flanks as the full backs were passed the ball.
Sunderland on the other hand, didn’t change much in their lineup, as Delaney just went into a standard balance-playing role, in their 4-5-1, which interrupted Liverpool’s eventual exploitation of surface in the halfspaces.
Otherwise, we didn’t see that much change, as the first substitution came in the 79th minute, after Liverpool had pushed back Sunderland so much, and created such a big pressure due to Sunderland’s total defending, that they inevitably managed to hit the back of the net in the 76th.
David Moyes and his Sunderland came to Anfield with a very naive gameplan, which meant parking the bus without any particular pressure at the Liverpool players. He tried to sneak out the point and almost managed to do it, since Liverpool first scored as mentioned in the 76th minute, after a beautifully placed shot by the substitute himself, Divock Origi.
Sunderland and Moyes, however, were always going to find it hard to get the point though, since parking the bus with the only target-player playing on the wing, and a Defoe that got isolated meant no attacking threat whatsoever against the Liverpool backline.
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