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Liverpool make sure that they are four points clear at the top of the Premier League after a convincing win over Wolves. It also means that the Reds maintain their unbeaten run which has been one of the greatest assets of Liverpool since the start of the season. At Molineux, goals from Mohamed Salah and Virgin van Dijk were enough to seal an important win that guaranteed Liverpool would top the league on Christmas Day. In this tactical analysis piece that is supported with stats, I will be taking a closer look at how Jurgen Klopp and his side performed and got what they wanted.
Well, we are now accustomed to seeing Jurgen Klopp field his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation that turns into a kind of 4-4-1-1 or 4-5-1 in defence. That was actually the case against Espirito Santo’s 3-4-1-2 that turned into 5-3-2/5-2-3, as you can see below, while defending. The idea behind building a such a defensive line was to stop Liverpool from attacking through the centre, which seemed to work to a degree especially in the first half, in my opinion. Liverpool couldn’t produce as many chances as they had used to and the goal in the first half came following a set-piece – from which Liverpool had managed to score 9 goals in total this season.
Liverpool, with a brilliant unpredictability, looked to switch positions a lot in the attacking third. It was possible for us to see Firmino supporting Salah up front or sometimes playing up front alone himself, Keita supporting the centre of midfield although positioned off the left flank, Salah trying to find spaces and Mane in an effort to move into channels.
One of the most important talking points was that Fabinho looked fantastic once again except for his howler in the opening minutes that could have been costly. Apart from that massive mistake, though, he was as cool as you like and moved up the pitch occasionally supporting the attacks. It was a moment to watch when he managed to run into the box with the ball at his feet and provided a perfect ball for Salah who scored with a great simple touch. In addition, Henderson and Fabinho put in a good performance in the centre of midfield with their defensive duties and contributions to the attacks.
As I mentioned in my previous analysis pieces, Jurgen Klopp’s ability in turning Liverpool into a side that plays with a brilliant diversity in terms of tactical shapes is outstanding as it proves to be an unpredictability which is one of the strongest sides of this team. When they play with such a mentality with some great effort, it becomes a natural threat for the oppositions trying to stop them.
The man-marking strategies end up in the trash and the pace, quickness and ambition of the players make it very difficult for the opposition to stop them. No matter what shape they play, they make sure that, especially in the attacking third, they can play in a variety of shapes. Just as this shows Jurgen Klopp’s talents to produce something extra, it also shows the ambitions of the players in the squad to adapt to what Jurgen Klopp demands from them.
On the other hand, it is a fact that Liverpool struggled to produce decent opportunities to score in the first half as Wolves managed to block the passing lines with a densely populated defence. Liverpool’s passing accuracy was 85% and their crossing accuracy was just 13%. They couldn’t produce the best chances to score but one of the most significant points is that they somehow find a way to score even in the games they struggle to create good opportunities.
For instance, against a proper Wolves defence, Liverpool were not having their best day on the pitch but they found a way to open up the scoring in the first half after a set-piece. Although they made some critical individual mistakes especially in the opening minutes, Virgil van Dijk and Lovren performed well enough to stop one of the fastest and physically strong players in the Premier League, Traore.
The whole team supported the defence with a great effort and Fabinho’s constantly-improving performance helped a lot to intercept a lot of Wolves passes. Despite the fact that Wolves registered 4 shots on target in the first half, none of those shots made life difficult for Alisson. Ruben Neves and Moutinho were not really effective.
Things were not that different in the second half, especially for Liverpool. Wolves continued to defend well especially in the central areas but one of the talking points was that after every corner kick, Mo Salah was picking up the loose balls and no Wolves player seemed to be in an effort to stop him.
Considering Liverpool registered 10 corners throughout the game, it was an important job for a team like Wolves to decrease the efficiency of those corners as they are normally good in the air. On the contrary, Mo Salah took control of the ball in the 68th minute after a corner kick and then he sent the ball in where Van Dijk positioned himself to put it beyond Rui Patricio.
Firmino was again the key man, for me. He played a massive role in transitions and setting up the play. He came deep to get the ball and then carried it successfully and distributed quite comfortably with his great talent on and off the ball. He never runs out of energy despite his contribution both to the attacking third and to the defensive play. He has the most interesting and important roles in Jurgen Klopp’s 4-2-3-1. He initiates the attacks, provides key passes, supports Mo Salah and the other attackers, closes down his opposition, blocks passes, sends through balls. He does simply everything.
Although in the past Liverpool led the Premier League twice during Christmas, they couldn’t make that dream come true but, undoubtedly, Liverpool have been writing one of the greatest chapters of their history since the start of the season by scoring 39 goals and conceding just seven and if they keep the momentum up, they will lift the first Premier League title in their history in some style.
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