Liverpool 1:1 Sunderland – Tactics

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.

Liverpool Attack - Click to Enlarge

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).

Sunderland Attack - Click to Enlarge

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!

10 thoughts on “Liverpool 1:1 Sunderland – Tactics”

  1. Good review. Would have also liked to read one on the Chelsea-Stoke game, AVB has a big task on his hands if he wants to improve Chelsea on tactics alone.

  2. Good tactical analysis, but I don’t agree with the strength in depth of Liverpool side because mostly they have depth in midfield but they don’t have players who can change the game coming from the bench. I really liked the starting 11 of Liverpool except i would have prefered Kuyt over Henderson and Kelly over Flanagan but other than that Liverpool’s starting 11 is good enough to beat any team in the premier league, but i still think Liverpool need more quality in certain positions. I think Liverpool need a world class centre back to replace Carragher and a third striker better than Ngog.

    1. I would add that, as became apparent against Sunderland, they don’t have anyone other than maybe Suarez and maybe Gerrard when healthy with that exceptional edge that allows them to just grab a match and change it on its head with individual brilliance. Once he came off, who was going to get the goal?

      Every top top team needs a Rooney, a Tevez (or Aguero if you prefer), a Drogba/Torres, or a Fabregas (or Nasri if you– oh nevermind).

  3. Good analysis.

    Adam was good last season, but I was a bit skeptical of how he would do for LFC.

    I am starting to think that it’s going to be a good signing for them. Lucas is comfortable in possession, and adding a player with Adam’s passing range will make for a very strong midfield combo.

    I still think LFC is best off playing 3 central mids, with Lucas and Adams sitting deep, and Mereiles ahead of them.

    Kuyt and Downing wide, with Suarez up top.

    You’ve got to wonder how LFC would cope if they were to go without Suarez for any length of time. He really seems to be the glue that has held that team together as of late .

    I still think top 4 for LFC this year.

  4. I have to say “King” Kenny splashed the cash on three mediocre signings with Adams, Downing and Carroll. Especially, Carroll, who was slow and lethargic this past weekend. It’s probably not Dalgliesh’ style to have a few big name players but the colossal amount of money he wasted on Andy Carroll, (who I suspect will be loaned out to Millwall at the end of the season), could have brought in someone to compliment Suarez. If Suarez has a poor season due to lack of support then expect Liverpool to struggle for the top six.

  5. The team looked best last year withOUT Carroll and with 4 guys in particular running rampant on the ground: Miereles, Kuyt, Suarez and Maxi. I understand not wanting to start Maxi, but Miereles has to play in the first XI~!!!

    And flinging aerial balls up to the vicinity of Carroll (Torres) does not make for a potent attack! Ok, so you finally have someone who’s good in the air, but don’t just hoof balls up to him and expect miracles! Guys who disrupt and penetrate on the ground (Babbel, Benayoun etc) make defenses bend and break and someone’s going to get a good look at goal.

    Miereles is key and should play.
    Carroll should not be the whole point of the offense.

    my 2 cents

    1. Completely agree. Carroll can be quite potent, but not as a person to deal with long blooping balls. The first half he was used properly, where the ball was pushed to the corners to a streaking midfielder or Suarez, THEN crossed dangerously into the box. Long balls up the middle of the field to a lone Carroll surrounded by 3 defenders is Fail.

  6. I think it is critical for Lucas to hand off the ball to Henderson or Adam, who are going to be able to do more with the ball creatively. Lucas gets in trouble when he tries to be our replacement for Alonso, he really can’t make accurate passes at all over any distance…and he is most useful when he plays more like Masch did, strictly as a holding midfielder.

  7. Downing’s role was quite confusing after halftime. You pointed out that he was used at the top of a diamond formation and I tend to agree, but he seemed to much favor the right side. He is all right from the right side, but the issue is that Kuyt and Meireles are completely useless on the left. I think we need to keep him over there on the left. Also, I think Henderson has looked a little uncomfortable so far positionally. I wonder if he should be used more centrally or if he will need to get used to the right side.

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