In this analysis, Liverpool played host to a Tottenham team under pressure during week 10 of the Premier League season. Having generated only 12 points out of a possible 27 available, the opening nine games of the season wasn’t the start that Tottenham was looking for. That being said, Tottenham are more than capable of causing any Premier League team some problems. Liverpool would always have to earn their points in this largely anticipated matchup.
Liverpool set up with a 1-4-3-3 formation with typically expected personnel. As Tottenham lined up with a 1-4-5-1, their somewhat reserved shape may have been an early indicator of what was to come. During this tactical analysis, we’ll break down Liverpool’s pressing game – in particular when pressing from the front.
Liverpool’s tactics appeared to be clear: start with an aggressive approach to pressing and playing the game in Tottenham’s half. Their enthusiasm to do so resulted in being caught out of balance very early in the game. This resulted in Harry Kane opening the score within the first minute of play.
In the above images, the left side image shows Sissoko in possession of the ball in the middle of the picture. It can be seen that Liverpool have five players essentially out of the game (red indicators). On the right side image, Sissoko has broken pressure from an additional two Liverpool players (Fabinho and Wijnaldum), allowing Tottenham to counter in a numbers-up situation. Highlighting a 2v1 on the left-hand side and creative movement from Harry Kane to play in the blind spots of Van Dijk & Lovren. Only a few seconds later, Tottenham had opened the score.
Nonetheless, with time on their side, Liverpool proceeded to move the game into Tottenham’s half with multiple attempts created from wide areas and sustained pressure for much of the game. Tottenham played with a clear counter-attacking style and posed a few problems for Liverpool in the game. Starting the game on the back foot never appeared to be something that would hinder Liverpool in their plans to take another three points at Anfield and push forward in their pursuit of Premier League silverware. The game ended with Liverpool scoring in the 52nd and 75th minutes of play, resulting in a 2-1 win and all three points for the home side.
The above images are taken seconds apart in Liverpool’s build-up to Henderson’s goal which equalized the score in the 57th minute. The shape of the two teams is a good representation of how both teams were organized for large portions of the game. Liverpool played high in Tottenham’s half and committed several players forward, while Tottenham played on the counter.
One of the most interesting aspects of observing Liverpool lies in their ability to press the opposition and defend in groups, which once again did not disappoint. Tottenham have been well known over the past few seasons as a team with a clear, progressive based approach and often place a large value on building out from the back. Their game-plan for this fixture was very different as they showed little interest in going toe-to-toe with Liverpool’s pressing game, resulting in playing in a more direct manner from the defensive third.
When pressing from the front could be seen in the game, Liverpool showed strong organizational characteristics which made them almost impossible to breakthrough. Here are a few noteworthy aspects.
Firmino – (The Role of the 9)
The image to the left above shows Firmino denying the passing lane from Alderwiereld into Harry Winks. Firmino’s role appears to show trends as being ‘deny the #6’. The image to the right (taken a couple of seconds later) shows the ball travelling to Gazzaniga who may have an open lane into Winks. Firmino scans to find Winks and ultimately changes position again to deny the pass.
When analysing the role in denying the #6 and not pressuring the centre-backs, we also have to look at the role of the wide attacking players. Linking the two positions together will help to provide clarity in how the front three work as a unit.
Salah & Mane – (The Wide Forwards)
Above we can see the role of the wide forwards to close down the centre-backs. One nuance to the way in which they do this is that Salah/Mane will press with a slightly angled run. This will help to deny the pass from centre-back to full-back. Taking away a passing option for the player in possession of the ball increases the challenge for Tottenham to build out.
When linking the role of the wide forwards to the centre forward, there is one large benefit of the way the front three operate; Firmino stays in the middle of the pitch. If Liverpool are able to recover the ball, then Firmino is located in a central position and is ultimately in a dangerous position, being closer to the goal.
Doubling up – (10’s & Full Backs)
The first image above illustrates how Liverpool press when the opposition attempts to play directly into the full-backs. The pressing organization is not always the same, as proximity to the ball plays a key part. The full-backs (Robertson & Alexander-Arnold) and the 10’s (Wijnaldum & Henderson) release in order to pressure the ball (and often create an overload situation). The second image above shows how Wijnaldum & Henderson take up a position in which they can do two jobs: pressure Sissoko/Alli, or, pressure the full-backs.
One key consideration in deciding who is to pressure the ball when a direct pass into the full-backs occurs is looking at the shape of the opposition backline. With Tottenham having Aurier high on the right side, the distance to pressure as the ball travels makes sense for Robertson to release from marking Eriksen. On the left side of Tottenham’s back four, Rose plays a little deeper, which can make the distance too far for Alexander-Arnold to apply pressure. In this situation, Liverpool will often have Henderson release to contest for the ball first. Alexander-Arnold then moves up to provide support/cover and overload the wide area.
Tottenham, for the most part, stayed clear of building out from the back with the only real moments of building out coming in the natural flow of the game (rather than with a restart). As we analyzed Liverpool’s pressing organization, it’s clear to see the challenge they create for teams trying to build out. They cover space better than 99% of teams across the globe.
With that being said, Liverpool does show a chink in their armour when the initial pressure is late to arrive. Tottenham found some success in moving the ball at pace and switching the point of the attack. One notable moment came in a string of events as Robertson initiated the press and arrived too late to impact the play. Onto the next and the next, Liverpool continued to press and continued to arrive late. Tottenham were able to progress the ball and take advantage of Liverpool’s overly enthusiastic defending and exploited them while unbalanced. This resulted in a clear-cut chance for Tottenham to score.
There is a risk-and-reward to pressuring as aggressively as Liverpool does. The majority of Liverpool’s pressing results in disrupting opposition build-up/regain of possession and being clearly identified as a nightmare to play against. Overall, I’m sure they’re willing to accept the smaller percentage of time that over-enthusiastic defending gets them into trouble. As coaches, a question to pose is ‘How can we disrupt their pressing more often?’. I’m sure the evolution of the game and tactical nuances of top coaches in the game will tell us before long.
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