Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics


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Liverpool's flipped formation and changed dynamics against Arsenal

Liverpool were forced to flip their formation. Left-back inverts, right-back holds width, left-wing drops, right-wing inverts. This flawed dynamic kept Arsenal in the game when they allowed Liverpool to hold the ball from minute 14 to 88.

Figure 1.1 - Liverpool's in-possession structure in the 1st and 2nd half.

Arsenal’s only well executed chance in open play was the first chance with Bukayo Saka, that should have been a goal, and the first Saka goal in the 14th minute. That was a beautiful team goal.

I would expect teams of Arsenal’s quality to overwhelm and dominate Liverpool the rest of the match, but as I mentioned before the match, Arsenal will allow you to keep the ball for extended periods of time if you get past their counter-press, Europe’s best counter-press.

Annoyingly for Liverpool, they only managed to do one of the four things I mentioned in my post “How can Liverpool control Arsenal”:

  • They did not overload the left-wing, maybe once or twice in the second half
  • They effectively used Joe Gomez to mark Bukayo Saka
  • They did not keep Trent Alexander-Arnold central
  • They never had a chance to “look for the overlap on the counter” because they were rarely on the counter

From the minute Arsenal scored in the 14th minute till Ibrahima Konate got his second yellow card in the 88th minute, Liverpool held possession.

But possession is not control, to me. Control is possession which equates to chances created, and Liverpool created very few chances.

Figure 2.1 - Liverpool in possession in the middle third.
Figure 2.2 - Rotations as Alexis Mac Allister carries the ball forward.

Trent Alexander-Arnold presumably was the reason for the change in dynamics. He is still fresh off his injury that he sustained in January and did not look like he had the fresh legs to do his normal inverting from the right, so he held width.

Figure 3.1 - Trent Alexander-Arnold crossing the ball in.

They wanted Trent on the pitch so badly that they altered each player’s normal position to fit him in. The positive is that he was availble to pass to and fire in crosses, but he was a ghost. Barely got the ball, couldn’t spray passes around. The team seemed to be actively avoiding passing to him.

Figure 6.1 - Proposed changes by me that Liverpool could have made to maintain the same structure and dynamics they've used all season.

This is how Liverpool would normally setup. Can you blame them for not using this same structure that has given them success all season? The change was forced on them.

If not Trent Alexander-Arnold, who would you play at right-back to allow for everyone else to function the same as they have throughout the entire season.

  • Joe Gomez had to mark Bukayo Saka, but he’s a candidate to invert from right-back.
  • Conor Bradley tragically lost his Father over the weekend and was unable to feature in the match.
  • Dominik Szoboszlai might have been a candidate but he was out with an illness.

No real other choice then to play this sub-optimal structure.

Figure 7.1 - Ryan Gravenberch playing Luis Diaz in behind Gabriel and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah were so effective at attacking the space behind Gabriel and Zinchenko in the their past meetings against Arsenal this season. Both have been sources of goals in the league and FA Cup.

It is no surprise that the first moment Luis Diaz got a chance to attack the space behind Gabriel and Zinchenko, it immediately led to a goal.

Figure 2.3 - Luis Diaz dropping back to receive the ball, and space behind Ben White for Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones to attack.

But because the formation was inverted, Luis Diaz was on the left. I think they should have played Cody Gakpo on the left because Diaz is more threatening on the right, and less threatening dropping this deep. Gakpo is a more accurate passer in tight spaces.

Figure 8.1 - Liverpool 4-3-3 in the second half.
Figure 8.2 - Andrew Robertson inverting from left-back.

Trent Alexander-Arnold only lasted 58 minutes, so surprisingly, even when Andrew Robertson came on in the second half, and Joe Gomez switched to right-back, Liverpool still maintained the flipped formation with Robertson now inverting from left-back.

Very strange. They should never try this again.

Figure 9.1 - Liverpool left-wing overload which forced Bukayo Saka back, and Andrew Robertson inverted.

The removal of Trent did end up being a positive because they began to push both Bukayo Saka and Ben White back into their own half, as they overloaded the left-wing. One of my keys to control Arsenal was to force both back.

Liverpool created a few more chances then they did in the first half with the changes, had bit of control, but there was too much change overall.

I think Liverpool would have created more chances if they:

  • Moved Luis Diaz to right-wing. Have him hold width and invert like Salah would
  • Used Robertson to hold width at left-back and attack Ben White, forcing Bukayo Saka back
  • Moved Darwin Nunez to left-wing, inverted infield, as he normally would
  • Kept Jota in the middle
  • Allow Joe Gomez to invert from right-back
Figure 4.1 - Liverpool on the counter.

The one thing I did like was the use of width on the counter. This was something I talked about after the Chelsea match where they were too narrow on the break.

Arsenal were impressive but this is a Liverpool at half-strength. I thought Arsenal as a team played better against a full-strength Liverpool in the FA Cup match, just lacking that cutting edge to finish chances in that game.

Not to take away from this performance, but I expected a more dominant style of play considering the circumstances. Had Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson not made that error for the second goal, this could have easily ended in a draw. The third goal came after Liverpool went down to 10 men and they subbed on Thiago for Gomez.

Match: Arsenal 3-1 Liverpool, 4 February 2024

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