Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Liverpool Lacked Coordination in the Left Half-Space

Small tweaks to Manchester United’s out-of-possession structure trapped Liverpool wide, but the space in the left half-space was still there. They needed more line-breaking passes from Wataru Endo to take advantage of that space.

Figure 1.1 - Manchester United's pressing structure against Liverpool last season on March 5, 2023.

Last March, this is how Manchester United pressed Liverpool out-of-possession. They had four men in that first line, but Fred was allowed to venture further forward, leaving a space open in the left half-space for Gakpo or Nunez to drop into. Read more about that here.

Figure 2.1 - Sofyan Amrabat and Kobbie Mainoo man-mark Dominic Szoboszlai and Ryan Gravenberch.

On the weekend, Kobbie Mainoo took the place of Fred and was much more measured in his positioning. Mainoo and Amrabat stayed very tight to Szoboszlai and Gravenberch.

Figure 2.2 - Highlighting the space open in the left half-space when Konstantinos Tsimikas receives the ball.

Diogo Dalot moved tight to Luis Diaz the moment the ball was passed wide. That space for Nunez to drop into was still there, but Antony’s curved pressure forced all passes wide to be immediately returned back.

Figure 3.1 - Virgil Van Dijk passes to Wataru Endo.
Figure 3.2 - Wataru Endo turns, and no one enters the space for the pass forward, so he's forced to pass back.

Liverpool did a good job slowly building up from the back to create pockets of space to form between Manchester United’s back line and second line, but they never took advantage of the space they created because of a lack of line-breaking passes and a lack of receivers for Endo to pass to into the left half-space.

When Wataru Endo turns, someone should immediately be positioned in that space. If they can get a pass off into that space, they force United to retreat. When United retreat, that space between the back and second line grows. They have to be quick to not give United time to regroup.

Figure 4.1 - Trent Alexander-Arnold passes to Wataru Endo.
Figure 4.2 - Wataru Endo decides not to turn and first-time passes to Virgil Van Dijk. Ryan Gravenberch enters the space.

Here Endo does not decide to turn. If he did, Gravenberch is free in the space. Antony is stuck in two minds between marking Tsimikas or switching to mark Gravenberch.

Figure 4.3 - Virgil Van Dijk is forced to pass wide. Manchester United block off all other passing lanes.
Figure 4.4 - Manchester United trap Konstantinos Tsimikas wide with no outlet forward.

When the ball goes wide, that space in the left half-space closes. Tsimikas is trapped, and he’s forced to pass back.

Liverpool are doing what United want them to do. Pass wide, trap, pass back, repeat.

Figure 6.1 - Trent Alexander-Arnold receives, turns, and makes the line-breaking pass to Wataru Endo.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Wataru Endo showcase in this play what is needed to bypass United’s second line. Turn and then immediately play the line-breaking pass to the man in the half-space.

Figure 6.2 - Wataru Endo turns and passes to Ryan Gravenberch.
Figure 6.3 - Liverpool have Manchester United retreating into their box.
Figure 6.4 - Konstantinos Tsimikas is free on the left, but Mohamed Salah elects to shoot.

Had Mohamed Salah laid it off to Tsimikas, it’s likely a cross across the ground and tap-in to one of the two Liverpool forwards.

This is not to place the blame on one player, Wataru Endo. Liverpool needed better coordination in that left half-space between Luiz Diaz, Ryan Gravenberch, Wataru Endo, and Darwin Nunez, to isolate United’s back-line and create chances at speed.

Would Alexis Mac Allister do a better job at finding those progressive passes than Endo? Potentially, but I’m a fan of Endo. He has a good understanding of where to position himself off the ball in-possession, and he’s good at playing simple passes. Just needs to iron out that situation once or twice where he doesn’t turn to play the ball forward.

A lot of Liverpool’s lack of bite in the final third was due to a lack of space. Manchester United was very well organized. They need that separation between United’s back line and second line. Same concept shown in Manchester City’s match against Bournemouth.

Match: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United, 17 December 2023

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