Liverpool – Red Bull Salzburg: Liverpool Withstand Salzburg’s Comeback (4-3)
Liverpool started the game in amazing fashion, dominating Salzburg with fast combinations and switches. After thirty minutes, the game looked to be done and dusted, howeverJesse Marsch’s tactical adjustment allowed Salzbug to come back and equalize. After that, Jürgen Klopp changed Liverpool’s formation and they were able to score the decisive fourth goal and win the game.
Tactical analysis and match report by Jonas G.
Liverpool have a perfect record in the Premier League after winning all seven league games this season. However, they lost their first Champions League match, away at Napoli, and are under pressure in their home match against Salzburg. Therefore, this home match could already be seen as the first must-win game of their season. Jürgen Klopp trusted his best eleven, only Joël Matip and Alisson missed out on injury and were replaced by Joe Gomez and Adrián. The midfield included Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson in a 4-3-3 formation behind their three attackers.
Salzburg finally advanced to the Champions League groupe stage this year after missing out eleven times in a row before. They started their Champions League campaign with a remarkable 6-2 win over KRC Genk and are in first position of the group prior to this matchday. The biggest strength of this team is their offense. They scored forty goals in nine games in the Austrian Bundesliga, as well as the six against Genk. However, top-scorer Erling Braut Håland was not fully fit because of an illness and started on the bench. Jesse Marsch’s team played in a Red Bull-esque 4-4-2 formation, with the midfielders on the side playing a bit up the field.
Liverpool overruns Salzburg with quick combinations and switches
Salzburg started the match in a medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. and guided Liverpool’s buildup to the wings. To achieve that, the strikers denied passes through the center, using their 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.
On the wing, Takumi Minamino and Dominik Szoboszlai moved up to pressure Liverpool’s fullbacks, however, Salzburg’s pressing was ineffective from the very beginning. The movement from the wingers was not covered by their teammates. They either pushed out to soon or the distance between the strikers and the defensive midfielders was too big. Liverpool could easily find Fabinho in the center and overcome the pressing.
They then used combinations on the wings to attract Salzburg to shift to this side, which they did. Unable to stop Liverpool’s combinations and heavily shifting to one side is a dangerous mix. Liverpool switched the play to attack Salzburg through the other wing. Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were very offensive, constantly overlapping the wingers and making runs into depth. These switched did not only come in open play but were also used to escape Salzburg’s counterpressing. After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack.
It therefore did not come as a surprise that all three of Liverpool’s goals in the first half were created through wing-play.
Salzburg’s 4-4-2 formation was not compact enough. Liverpool could easily progress through the wings or Fabinho.
For the first goal, Sadio Mané received the ball on the wing and was not pressured. He could turn, take on and beat right back Rasmus Kristensen, play a one-two with Roberto Firmino and score. For the second goal, Robertson received the ball and was pressured by Minamino. The winger was too fast and was easily dribbled past by the left back. Salzburgs midfielders were positioned too deep to cover their teammate. Mohamed Salah and Henderson used a combination in the center to attract Salzburg’s players on the left side to create space for Alexander-Arnold. His cross was eventually finished by Robertson. The third goal again originated from an attack through the left side. Mané positioned himself 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. to occupy Kristensen and create space for Robertson on the wing. Mané’s cross then found Firmino, his header was saved and Salah scored on the rebound.
Salzburg hurts Liverpool in transition
Salzburg had a lot of problems against the ball, which was not only down to their own issues but also Liverpool’s exceptionally good performance. The plan to attract Salzburg and punish them with switches paid off. However, Salzburg already showed signs that they could be able to cause Liverpool problems.
In their offensive transitions, they played direct long balls to their strikers. Liverpool’s rest defense was risky, as they played two-versus-two against the strikers, but Gomez and Virgil van Dijk were able to handle most of these situations. Ironically, Salzburg created their best counterattacking opportunities after escaping Liverpool’s counterpressing with combinations, instead of long balls.
Their counterattacks gained more quality after Jesse Marsch switched to a 4-3-1-2 diamond shape after roughly thirty minutes. Minamino now played as a number ten behind the strikers and caused Liverpool lots of problems. The Japanese attacker was able to find spaces behind Fabinho to start the attacks and could use his close ball-handling and quick turns to evade pressure. One of these situations led to Patson Daka’s chance after thirty-seven minutes.
Marsch’s adjustment not only increased the quality of the counterattacks, it stabilized Salzburg’s defense as well. Right after Daka’s chance, they won the ball in Liverpool’s half and scored, after Hee Chan Hwang sent van Dijk the wrong way. The biggest difference between the 4-4-2 and 4-3-1-2 pressing shapes was that Salzburg had better access to Fabinho after the adjustment. Szoboszlai and Enock Mwepu now played as central midfielders, their task was to pressure the opposition’s fullbacks. They used their cover shadows to deny passes to Liverpool’s midfielders, Zlatko Junuzović could shift to the side as well.
If Alexander-Arnold had the ball, Salzburg’s defensive shape looked like this. They had better access and could deny Liverpool to switch the sides more often.
Against this new defensive setup, Liverpool could not use their strategy to attract Salzburg and switch to the other side anymore, because the Austrian’s had better access. They could keep Liverpool on one side to create turnovers. Salzburg’s second goal occurred from an already familiar pattern in this match. They were able to play behind Liverpool’s midfield to progress. Hwang’s cross found Minamino who found himself a lot of space on the edge of the box thanks to Daka’s run that dragged two defenders away. Minamino then scored with a nice volley.
Liverpool had huge problems in the beginning of the second half. They did not have a solution against Salzburg’s new formation and were vulnerable in all moments of transition. Salzburg constantly exposed the spaces behind their midfield. For the third goal, Salzburg recovered the ball after isolating Liverpool on the wing. In transition, Hwang found space behind the midfield to progress the ball. Mwepu was a bit lucky that his pass found Minamino in the box and eventually Håland tied the game. Although Liverpool outclassed Salzburg in the first thirty minutes, Jesse Marsch’s team showed that they are dangerous in their offensive transitions – the tying goal was not even undeserved.
Klopp changes the formation to win the game
After Salzburg equalized the game, Klopp had to make changes. He brought in Divock Origi and changed to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Mané played on the right, Firmino as the number ten and Salah as a striker. However, Liverpool still lacked connections to the center when the ball was on the wing. Their fourth goal therefore did not originate from a good attacking build-up, but from good counter-pressing. Fabinho recovered the ball in the final third after Salzburg failed to clear the danger. Firmino played Salah through on goal and the Egyptian scored his second goal.
Afterwards, Salzburg’s intensity decreased and Liverpool was able to control the game with longer possession spells. They used the free spaces on the wings to start their possession spells, if Salzburg shifted to this side, they passed the ball back to the center-backs again and switched the sides. To deny these long possession spells and create better access on the wings again, Marsch’s switched back to a 4-4-2 formation again. However, his team was not able to create chances anymore and eventually lost this eventful game.
Liverpool went out and impressed with combinations that were too quick for Salzburg to defend. The Austrians lacked control and were overrun in the beginning, trailing by three goals after roughly half an hour. However, despite their issues against the ball, they showed good counterattacking situations right from the beginning but were very wasteful.
After the switch to the diamond shape, these counterattacking situations began to become more dangerous. This was mostly down to Minamino’s new role in the center. Liverpool had big problems in their counterpressing being overplayed several times. In the buildup to all three goals, Salzburg progressed the ball with passes behind Liverpool’s midfield.
Eventually it was a counterpressing situation in the last third that gave Liverpool the decisive goal. But this game underlines that Liverpool’s defensive performance is far from their best. Salzburg looked to get a lesson in the beginning but impressively found their way back into this game. They created a lot of problems for the European Champions and showed that it was about time that they advanced to the Champions League group stage.
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