One of the tactical questions needing answered to start this new Premier League season is what to make of Liverpool’s glut of midfielders. On Saturday, we got our first glimpse at Kenny Dalglish’s early ideas for his plentiful midfield options; unfortunately for the Reds and their fans, they managed only a draw at home against Sunderland. For a more in-depth analysis of the events occurring in this match, see Spenser Davis’ recap published on Saturday.
On the surface, it would appear that Liverpool was playing a simple 4-4-2. Upon further inspection however, there’s more to it than that. The midfield for Liverpool contains three players mostly identified as central mids: Lucas Leiva, Charlie Adam, and Jordan Henderson. Henderson, playing the right when out of possession, moved inside nearly as often as he continued his runs down the wing. When Stewart Downing, the only real winger in the Liverpool midfield, moved upfield on the attack, that made the formation nearly 4-3-3 in alignment.
Lucas always started slightly deeper than Adam, and was often utilized to begin the attack from the rear. Pepe Reina rarely booted the ball directly to the forwards; instead he would give the ball to Jamie Carragher or Daniel Agger, and they would proceed to find a lane to start the rush through Lucas. Lucas tended to run the ball forward to the midfield stripe, and then pivoted between Henderson or Adam rather than pass forward to Luis Suarez or Andy Carroll. The final distribution point was mostly Adam, as diagonal crosses to either flank or to Carroll as a target forward. Liverpool also found success down the right flank through Henderson (and Downing when switched to that side, the former Aston Villa man smacked the crossbar with a long shot in the 33rd minute).
For the Black Cat supporters out there, Sunderland’s formation was more of a 4-4-1-1 formation, especially out of possession. When they attacked, they were pretty direct, and Stephane Sessegnon, Sebastian Larsson, and Ahmed Elmohamady all moved up into a 4 pronged attack. This direct attack wasn’t particularly effective, and in the 2nd half they were able to buiuld from the back and play more fluid. This generated scoring opportunities as Larsson and Sessegnon cut into channels causing mismatches in the Liverpool midfield.
The two goals were both off of set pieces, so the outcome wasn’t necessarily a tactical one. Liverpool’s goal came when Suarez used his head to redirect an Adam freekick past Simon Mignolet. Sunderland equalized early in the 2nd half as Elmohamady crossed the ball to Larsson, and the former Birmingham City midfielder volleyed it past Reina. Both goals resulted from great skill, but were also enabled by poor marking on the set pieces.
Additionally, Dalglish also tinkered a bit in the final half hour. At one point, Downing was pushed to the top of a diamond formation in the midfield. Then, Dalglish subbed off Henderson for Dirk Kuyt, and later Suarez for Raul Meireles. The Reds went more direct near the end, and a 4-2-3-1 was employed with Downing at central attacking midfield.
Of course, Liverpool fans will feel like they should have won, since Suarez skied a penalty in the 6th minute. The Reds seemed to lag as the match went on, especially Carroll. Nonetheless, their midfield looks strong, and when you have guys like Dirk Kuyt, Raul Meireles, Maxi Rodriguez, and Steven Gerrard waiting in the wings, depth shouldn’t be an issue.
We’ll keep up on this and other tactical nuggets as the season progresses. I’ll also be creating more tactical videos, especially for the most anticipated matches of the season. Stay tuned!