Liverpool – Leicester: Liverpool Superior But Require Late Goal To Overcome Leicester (2-1)
Neither team played spectacular football in this game, but Liverpool still created enough chances to ultimately deserve the win. Leicester stayed in the game but massively struggled to create going forward against Liverpool’s compact defending. A couple of second half changes helped them to equalise against Liverpool’s initial 1-0 lead before a late James Milner penalty secured the points for Liverpool.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Liverpool prior to this game had seven wins from seven games in the league. In the Champions League, things were a bit more complicated after their opening matchday defeat against Napoli, and then this week they were almost embarrassed after losing a 3-0 lead over Red Bull Salzburg at home, before eventually winning 4-3.
Manager Jürgen Klopp made two changes from the team that started against Salzburg in midweek, as Joe Gomez and Jordan Henderson both dropped out of the side. Replacing them were Dejan Lovren and James Milner respectively, as Liverpool lined up in their usual 4-3-3 system.
Leicester themselves were enjoying a relatively strong start to the season. The only previous defeat for Brendan Rodgers’ side coming into this game was away at Manchester United, and since then home victories over Tottenham and Newcastle have put them third in the league at this very early stage in the season.
The away side made one change from last week’s 5-0 win over Newcastle, introducing James Maddison back into the side after injury. The Englishman replaced Ayoze Pérez in the frontline of their nominal 4-3-3 formation, lining up alongside Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy.
Liverpool in possession.
Unfamiliar positions for Liverpool’s forwards
By now Premier League viewers are used to the arrangement of Liverpool’s front three in their 4-3-3 system. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané start from the right and left sides respectively, while Firmino takes a central role as a false number nine. This has been the case in the vast majority of games over the last couple of seasons.
In this game though, for reasons that are not quite clear, their positions were slightly different. It was Mané who started in the right-wing slot rather than Salah. Salah was instead playing as the central striker, which meant Firmino was shifted out to the left.
The playing styles were still fairly similar, so Firmino would often drop deeper to link midfield and attack, but this would more often take place in the left halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. rather than centrally where he would usually be stationed, although he was free to roam into these areas too.
Salah – playing centrally – was still quite focused on running in behind and getting into dangerous goal-scoring areas, while Mané operated primarily from the right halfspace and was somewhere between the goal-oriented style of Salah and the playmaking of Firmino.
As usual, the fullbacks were important in providing width, which meant that the central midfielders Georginio Wijnaldum and Milner would often find themselves dropping into deeper positions in the halfspaces to balance the movements of their fullbacks.
Leicester’s asymmetric defensive scheme
On a couple of occasions Trent Alexander-Arnold was able to find space on the right side to cross dangerously for Liverpool, which was perhaps in part due to Leicester’s defensive setup. Although they were nominally playing in a 4-3-3 shape, it often ended up being somewhat asymmetrical in the defensive phases, mostly due to the way Maddison interpreted his role.
Rather than returning to a position alongside or close to his central midfielders, Maddison would usually gamble by staying in a higher position on the left or in the left halfspace while his team did not have the ball. This may be by design in order to reduce his defensive workload and allow him to stay in dangerous spaces for counterattacks.
It does mean that there is often initially some space on the left side of Leicester’s formation though, which the closest central midfielder, in this case Youri Tielemans, has to shuffle over to cover. This however puts a high workload on the central midfielder and cannot always be done immediately.
Maddison often then ends up crossing over with Tielemans, moving into central zones in order to cover the routes inside which are left by Tielemans having to shift across to the left. It is not that Maddison does not defend, but rather that his integration into the defensive scheme can seem slightly awkward at times.
Leicester take some initiative, but Liverpool prevail
Liverpool’s first goal came just before half time and actually had little to do with the aspects just mentioned. In fact, their goal came during a spell at the end of the first half where the forwards had switched back to the positions they are usually seen in.
This meant that Mané was positioned in the left halfspace running in behind the Leicester defense and was able to get on the end of Andrew Robertson’s curling pass into depth. Mané calmly slotted the ball past Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal to make it 1-0.
Leicester took a slight majority possession share in the second half. Their possession shape through the game was somewhat interesting, as they often evolved into a ‘box’ midfield with two deeper midfielders and two number tens.
Leicester in possession.
Maddison was usually one of the tens, and he could be joined between the lines by either Dennis Praet or Tielemans, while the other midfielder would stay deep alongside Wilfried Ndidi. Ben Chilwell would then mostly provide the width on the left apart from occasional drifting to the left side by Maddison or Tielemans.
Harvey Barnes would stay relatively wide on the right, with right back Ricardo Pereira making late underlaps Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. or overlaps. When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. Barnes himself struggled to have a large impact in the first half and was replaced at half-time in favour of Marc Albrighton who took up pretty much the same role on the right wing.
Leicester’s interpretation of space
Leicester’s occupation of the space behind Liverpool’s midfield was often decent, with Maddison and one other player often being there. However as always, Liverpool defended the center in quite a focused manner with their narrow 4-3-3 shape. Here Leicester’s number tens were often well defended in the cover shadows When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. of the Liverpool midfield.
Only on a couple of occasions were Leicester able to access this space well, and it was through moving the ball back inside from wide areas after pulling one of the Liverpool central midfielders into the wide area to stretch the gaps between Liverpool’s midfield three.
Eventually, Rodgers decided that further change was needed, and brought off Praet, who was also relatively ineffective, to be replaced by Pérez. This change also meant a different formation, as they now moved into a 4-3-1-2 shape.
Leicester’s diamond in possession.
With this, Albrighton moved slightly narrower to a right sided number eight role, with Tielemans in the corresponding position on the left side. Ndidi remained as the number six, and Maddison now became the permanent number ten. Pérez slotted in alongside Vardy up front.
Defensively, this formation was again slightly unclean, as the gaps between the midfield three were a bit too big and afforded space to Liverpool in midfield zones, which probably could have been used better than it actually was. Maddison as the number ten was now marking Fabinho, which did help disrupt Liverpool in buildup play.
Pérez was able to make an instant impact in this system though, as he set up the equalizer, dropping between the lines as Leicester looked to access the space between lines from a wide area as briefly discussed previously. He received the ball, turned and played in Maddison who shot past Adrián to make it 1-1.
Liverpool then came back onto the attack after the equalizer. Rodgers made a defensive minded change, bringing on a ball-winner in Hamza Choudhury to replace James Maddison. This meant Tielemans moved to the number ten position in their 4-3-1-2 shape, with Choudhury on the left of midfield.
Despite increasing Liverpool pressure, it looked as if Leicester may be able to hold onto their draw. In injury time though, Mané was brought down in the box and a penalty was awarded. Milner stepped up to take it and converted it to leave the final scoreline 2-1 for Liverpool.
Liverpool were not necessarily at their sparkling best, but still managed to carve out a decent amount of chances nevertheless. On the balance of play, they were the better team and managed to nullify most of Leicester’s attacking threat.
Leicester’s defending was not always especially convincing, but still they somehow managed to stay competitive in the general flow of play without being especially great at anything. The big problem for them was the attack, where they only produced two shots all game, and their first shot of the game did not occur until after the seventieth minute.
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