Liverpool continued to shine in Saturday’s clash against Cardiff City with an impressive 4-1 win although Callum Paterson’s only goal meant that the visitors became the first side since February to score a league goal at Anfield. In this tactical analysis, you can find out the talking points, statistics and what Jurgen Klopp’s side offered us.
Jurgen Klopp preferred a 4-2-3-1 with Wijnaldum and Fabinho in midfield, Mane and Lallana on the flanks, Salah up front and Firmino behind him. In the opening minutes, it was possible to see that Liverpool started the game quite comfortably as the opposition couldn’t stop the Reds play out from the back. Fabinho and Wijnaldum dominated the midfield so easily even though I feel that I have to say Fabinho was having a bad day at the office until they turned back to the traditional 4-3-3. His errors were the only threat to Liverpool as the opposition’s counter-attacks stemmed from Fabinho’s silly mistakes in the opposition half. He was closed down by the opposition quite often but that let Wijnaldum pick up the ball and distribute it comfortably as you can see in the graphic below.
They preferred to play down the right flank in general in the first half and we even saw Virgil van Dijk setting up the play from midfield as Lovren was the only player left at the back with defensive duties. The graphic below shows the average position of Virgil van Dijk in the first half as Liverpool pushed the opposition high up the pitch with 8 players in the opposition half.
When the Egyptian King delivered his 33rd Anfield goal in his 35th appearance here, there were six Liverpool players in the penalty box. After Arnold’s cross, there was a bit of a chaos inside the penalty area and Mohammed Salah reacted quickly to find the net from close-range. It’s important to note how many Liverpool players occupied the penalty box as a result of the aggressive, attacking play.
The clumsy efforts of the Cardiff players couldn’t stop Liverpool’s fast play. They tried to close down Mohamed Salah in the centre of the attacking third but that led Firmino and Mane to make some good runs in behind. When Mohamed Salah moved to the right flank, Firmino was there to occupy that space and this led Cardiff to defend with 5-6 players at the back. They tried to defend the centre of the attacking third in an effort to stop Salah, Lallana and Firmino break through the lines but it did not work out quite perfectly as Liverpool managed to find a solution to this by playing down the flanks and occupy the opposition areas. You can see in the graphic below how they tried to defend.
The possession stats were going crazy at some point in the second half as they indicated that Liverpool’s possession was 85%. Lallana, Mane and Fabinho were the players that couldn’t put the greatest display on show as they needed to improve their performances in the second half. As I mentioned before, Fabinho made a lot of mistakes and all those mistakes led to Cardiff counters although they failed to cause a massive threat for the Liverpool defenders.
Cardiff started the second half with a slightly different approach and they tried to be effective in the opposition half. They aimed to press both Fabinho and Wijnaldum in midfield but their energy and dynamism as a team were not enough to continue doing this for a long period of time. Especially after Shaqiri came on, Liverpool’s urgency and creativity in the final third increased to a great deal and that was reflected in the goals that followed. After the Firmino – Milner substitution, they went back to the famous 4-3-3 formation and this provided Fabinho with some space in midfield and his performance changed significantly in a positive way in the second half. He tried some long passes and by breaking lines, he supported the front three really well.
After Milner came on, Liverpool opted to use the left half space more effectively and Fabinho played his part in this play quite successfully. The fact that they returned to the 3-man midfield prevented him from repeating his first-half mistakes even though he lacked some dynamism and sharpness. Milner’s involvement in the Liverpool attacks paid off as he caused confusion and a loss of concentration for the Cardiff defenders. They tried to use both flanks more efficiently and as a result, Mane’s performance improved as well.
Liverpool continue to impress everyone with a fast and aggressive style of football. One of the most important aspects of their game is the ability to use the attacking players in many different roles. Their roles and positions may change during games and this causes a big trouble for the defenders. And although they failed to have the 10th consecutive clean sheet at home in the league, there was no challenge to their defensive authority during Saturday’s clash.