Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Why did Liverpool get this much space in transition against Manchester United

There was a moment after a corner kick when Manchester United allowed Liverpool to have about 40 yards of space in transition. This is an extreme example but not an isolated incident in what is a puzzling approach to defending by Ten Hag.

Figure 1.1 - Liverpool building up from the back after a Manchester United corner.
Figure 1.2 - Ball is played forward to Dominik Szoboszlai.
Figure 1.3 - Liverpool transitioning to attack with 40 yards of space.

Enough time elapsed from the corner kick for Manchester United to recover from their attacking position to cover the space behind the second line.

First, I don’t understand why that second line is this passive. Why are they comfortable allowing Liverpool to have that much space in transition.

Second, I don’t understand why Manchester United’s back line retreats so far back when the second line is so far forward.

It has to be an instruction from the coach. Erik Ten Hag never looked upset with the amount of space being offered. Looked planned.

Clarification, March 18, 2024: It has been revealed after the game on March 18th that Erik Ten Hag was frustrated at the amount of space afforded to Szoboszlai on the counter:

“Maybe after a free kick, Ten Hag was imploring his defenders to stay high, and they dropped and he slapped his hands together in frustration which led to Szoboszlai having a lot of space in midfield to run through” - Laurie Whitwell on Talk of the Devils

Figure 2.1 - Space between the back line and second line.
Figure 3.1 - Space between the back line and second line when Manchester United press higher.

Manchester United’s initial press throughout the entire match, press, but there’s a five yard bubble around each Liverpool player. They are technically pressing but they never attempt to put a foot in to win the ball.

They allow Liverpool to walk into their own end, and then it’s a fifty-fifty battle to see who makes an error. A constant conveyor belt of attacking transitions for Liverpool uncontested.

Hojlund, Rashford, Fernandes, Garnacho, McTominay, and occasionally Mainoo are all passengers along for the ride. Traffic cones.

Maybe United felt they had a better chance of stopping them in the final third so why delay things. Allow Liverpool to walk into the final third. But they showed earlier in the season that they know how to stop Liverpool.

Match: Manchester United 4-3 Liverpool, 17 March 2024

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