Bournemouth – Liverpool: Salah Runs Riot As Klopp’s New Formation Leaves Bournemouth In Ruins (0-4)
Jürgen Klopp’s hybrid 4-2-3-1 formation was too much for Bournemouth all game long. Liverpool were the better team by a country mile, and this comfortable victory leaves Klopp with another possible formation to deploy against more defensive-minded Premier League teams.
Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.
Going into this match, Bournemouth were seventh in the Premier League table. A fine position at a first glance, but having lost four of their last five Premier League matches, their recent form was terrible. On top of that, pivotal midfielder Lewis Cook ruptured his cruciate ligament this week, and is not expected to return this season.
Aiming to turn the tide, Bournemouth’s manager Eddie Howe fielded a 4-4-2 formation that was mostly drawn up to prevent Liverpool from creating chances. In absence of Cook, the double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. consisted of Jefferson Lerma and Andrew Surman, while strikers Ryan Fraser and Joshua King played in very close proximity to one another. Callum Wilson had to withdraw from the squad due to a hamstring injury.
Jürgen Klopp rotates a lot in Premier League fixtures. James Milner played right back, and a fully fit Trent Alexander-Arnold was placed on the bench, just like Sadio Mané and Jordan Henderson. Liverpool have been alternating between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations this season. Against Bournemouth, their setup can best be described as a 4-2-2-2 shape, albeit a very dynamic version that often resembled their normal setup in the 4-2-3-1.
Liverpool’s front four – Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Naby Keïta and Xherdan Shaqiri – enjoyed a lot of positional freedom while holding midfielders Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho stayed put most of the times. So, how do you call a formation with two forwards constantly dropping into the position of offensive midfielders, while the wingers also have license to come inside or go in behind the defense? We’ll leave that to the diehard tacticians out there…
Liverpool’s 4-2-3-1 / 4-2-2-2 formation against Bournemouth.
Liverpool is too dynamic for Bournemouth
In the first twenty minutes, Bournemouth positioned themselves very deep and easily gave up possession to the visitors. Against Bournemouth’s two forwards, Liverpool had a four-versus-two advantage in the early stages of buildup, which made it very easy for them to bypass the strikers with short passes into their double pivot Fabinho and Wijnaldum, who then aimed to feed it to the four most attacking players or the fullbacks.
One of the most common patterns would be to pass the ball into the two central players Salah or Firmino, who would lay it off for a third man combination. A passing combination between two players, while a third player simultaneously makes a run, usually in behind the opponent’s defensive line. After the initial combination, the ball is quickly played in depth for the third player to run onto. Another common way of causing danger was – of course, even though Mané was not on the pitch – to go in behind Bournemouth’s defense. Their attacking formation when Bournemouth were pinned back deep on their own half resembled something of a 2-2-5-1, with the fullbacks acting as de facto wingers and either Salah or Firmino playing up top.
The overall tactical picture of a match in football does not always correspond with how goals are scored. The opening goal by Salah however perfectly reflected the way Liverpool tried to attack. In the 25th minute, Shaqiri dragged out Bournemouth’s central midfielder Surman, which opened a passing lane from Joel Matip into Firmino.
The Brazilian played a quick one-two combination with Salah before shooting from twenty yards out. His shot was not adequately dealt with by Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begović, which meant the attentive Salah could tuck in the rebound into an empty net. The fact the Egyptian forward was offside can be seen as another example of the need for the introduction of Video Assistant Referee in the Premier League.
Moment of play in the 25th minute, just before Salah’s goal. Matip passes the ball to Firmino, while Liverpool’s fullbacks play as wingers.
First half ends in same pattern
After the goal, Liverpool exerted their dominance in possession, but without the urgency to score more goals. They were happy to circulate the ball outside of Bournemouth’s defensive organization of eight players, waiting for a press that never came. That way, they saw out the first half with their lead of one goal.
If you are wondering why there is no mention of Bournemouth’s play in possession in the first half, well, there was not a lot to write about. Howe’s side had 32 per cent ball possession.Their counterattacking was poor – which is nothing to be ashamed of when playing against Liverpool – and their rare longer spells of possession rarely included entering Liverpool’s penalty area. They manufactured one decent chance, when young David Brooks was slid through behind Liverpool’s defense in the 23rd minute, but his shot was saved by Alisson Becker.
Liverpool create space for Salah
After half-time, Liverpool changed their approach and opted to give the ball away to Bournemouth, dropping back in a 4-4-2 shape with Salah and Firmino up top. Having to chase two goals against those two playing on the top of their abilities is a bit unfair, though, as these elite forwards thrive when the opponent leaves space behind their defense.
After only two minutes into the second half, Salah scored his second goal of the match. Bournemouth lost the ball around the halfway line to Firmino, who passed it to Salah, who dribbled past Aké and put the ball into the net. Sometimes, it really is that simple if a team possesses the elite quality that Liverpool has up front.
Having gone down by two goals, Bournemouth quite bravely attacked and tried to get back into the game. However, in line with the earlier parts of the second half and the match as a whole, they could not create anything. Their play on the flanks was very predictable all game long, as they were unable to create overloads When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. on the wings, and Liverpool had the best of them in the three-versus-two and two-versus-two situations on either wing.
Personnel changes for both sides do not change match
In the 65th minute, both managers made substitutes, as Klopp brought on Sadio Mané and Adam Lallana for Keïta and Shaqiri. Eddie Howe introduced young French attacker Lys Mousset for Brooks. Both sides did not change their formation, and Bournemouth kept trying to breach the wall Liverpool put up for them.
Liverpool’s 4-4-2 defensive organization against Bournemouth’s predictable 4-4-2 shape.
Just a few minutes after these substitutions, Bournemouth’s Steve Cook was very unlucky to divert a driven cross by Robertson into his own goal. This pretty much took all air out of the game, as the gap of three goals and the disparity in quality between both sides looked insurmountable for Bournemouth to overcome.
Mo Salah then provided the highlight of the match in the 77th minute, as he received a long diagonal pass behind Bournemouth’s defense, which was very poorly dealt with by Cook. Salah rounded goalkeeper Asmir Begović once, dribbled by him, rounded him twice as the Bosnian goalie tried to recover, and then placed the ball in the net past two defending Bournemouth defenders. After this, Liverpool never came close to conceding a goal and the game ended 0-4.
Liverpool has played in a 4-3-3 formation for most of last season, So far this season, to include Shaqiri, a 4-2-3-1 shape has gradually been introduced, albeit only against inferior opposition. It seems like Klopp has been reluctant to use it against better teams, because more defensive cover is needed.
Klopp’s underlying principles – pressure the opponent when the ball is lost, direct play in possession, positional freedom in the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. – will be apparent in all the formations he lets Liverpool play in. The fact that this specific hybrid formation worked to a tee against Bournemouth will please the German manager, and this can serve as another weapon to add to his team’s arsenal.
4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 will probably still be Liverpool’s preferred formations for the remainder of this season, though. It is therefore fairly certain Liverpool will not have to tinker with the 4-2-2-2 shape in the upcoming, winner-takes-it-all Champions League clash against Napoli next Tuesday.
Prior to this game, Bournemouth had the fifth worst defensive record in terms of Expected Goals from open play. The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. Sooner or later, the quality of chances a team is conceding on the field will play out, results-wise. This match serves as a good example of that thesis. Having to visit Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the next couple of weeks might be crucial in terms of Bournemouth’s hopes to finish in the top of this year’s Premier League table.
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