Archives May 2024

Klopp’s decision to bring on Joe Gomez and Curtis Jones certainly helped stabilise things, the former less prone to jumping into a mistimed press than Bradley and the latter replacing an off-form Dominik Szoboszlai.

But of greater significance was the introduction of Harvey Elliott.

Elliott (No 19) played in a right-wing position in a rejigged 4-4-2 shape for Liverpool (see the average position map after Elliott was introduced below), taking up the right half-space very intelligently and driving Liverpool forward in a new way.

Liverpool kept pushing for the winner but lacked a clinical touch in the final third. Mohamed Salah in particular was wasteful, although arguably Klopp was at fault for taking off the ever-dangerous Darwin Nunez for Cody Gakpo, who offered little.

The match petered out from there, leaving Liverpool, overwhelmingly the better team for much of this encounter, rueing two points dropped in the title race.

Tottenham Hotspur moved into fourth in the Premier League table following a 3-1 victory over relegation-battling Nottingham Forest on Sunday.

Fantastic second-half finishes from Micky van de Ven and Pedro Porro helped Ange Postecoglou’s side leapfrog Aston Villa, on whom they still have in match in hand, into the top four.

Spurs had been pegged back in the first half, with Chris Wood – who also hit the woodwork – cancelling Murillo’s earlier own-goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where they eventually claimed an eighth win in nine matches.

Spurs are now ahead of Villa, who drew with Brentford on Saturday, on goal difference, which is the metric that also keeps 17th-placed Forest outside of the bottom three.

But these images below give some indication.

It led indirectly to the opener, when Liverpool, freely moving down the left again with Garnacho nowhere in sight, cut the ball back, ultimately winning a corner from which Luis Diaz scored.

Man Utd’s disorganised midfield creates chaos
Man Utd’s remarkably open midfield was just as prominent in the second half, but the difference from the first was that Liverpool – once they conceded – were pulled into the chaos a little too much.

It’s hard to emphasise just how unprecedented this United shape was; how decompressed the lines were; how seemingly randomly the players are positioned; and how often Kobbie Mainoo in particular ran ahead of play, emptying the middle.

But these images below give some indication.

Note how Bruno Fernandes presses on his own, Casemiro is slow to back him up, Mainoo is man-marking Alexis Mac Allister rather than cover the space, and the centre-backs don’t step up, creating a zig-zag shape and a huge hole in the middle.

From here, Liverpool lost control, seizing up under pressure. That is the only way to explain United’s second goal, which saw Aaron Wan-Bissaka get into space down the left and play a cutback for Mainoo, unmarked and not closed down.

In other words, it was a goal that had exactly the defensive flaws Man Utd had been showing; a weird moment befitting a very weird match.

The next 20 minutes were like a basketball game, and truly anything could have happened. It is beyond analysis, but after screaming at his players to calm down for what seemed like a quarter of an hour, Klopp’s message was finally heard.

Elliott introduction helps Liverpool regain control
Liverpool slowed the game down, rediscovered their composure and thus began a final 20 minutes of Liverpool pressure as Man Utd sat back.

Amid the carnage, there were (just about) patterns of play and a tactical story to detect.

“It’s like being back at school,” was Jamie Carragher’s assessment for Sky Sports, and it’s hard to argue with that analysis of such a fretful, breathless and uncontrolled 90 minutes at Old Trafford.

Amid the carnage, there were (just about) patterns of play and a tactical story to detect.

Klopp’s high-risk full-backs should have had Liverpool out of sight
Liverpool were in total control at the break, having amassed 15 shots to Man Utd’s zero, and while they were superior in virtually all areas, the most important characteristic was Klopp’s use of full-backs.

Alejandro Garnacho and Marcus Rashford have long been the best and worst of Erik ten Hag’s side; they rarely track back, which leaves the United full-backs with far too much to do, but it also means they start high up the pitch, ready for quick counter-attacks.

Klopp deserves credit, then, for taking a risk by instructing Andrew Robertson and Conor Bradley to both push forward, despite the threat it would leave on the break.

And Robertson moving into space behind Garnacho was a constant feature of the first half.

Once in these wide positions, Liverpool consistently looked to cut the ball back (rather than drive to the byline or cross behind the United centre-backs), a deliberate tactic designed to capitalise on United’s midfield consistently being too far apart from the defenders.

That gap between centre-backs and central midfielders has become infamous, but while most of the time we see this exploited by passing or running straight through the centre, (and Liverpool did a lot of that, too), here Liverpool used cutbacks to find the space.

How the title race will be affected by the Champions League ties
Man City face Luton Town at home at the weekend while Arsenal host Aston Villa.

On paper, Man City have the easier match sandwiched between their two Champions League ties, but a look back over the season suggests they might struggle.

Arsenal have dropped points only twice after Champions League matches this season, drawing 2-2 at home to Tottenham Hotspur and 0-0 at Man City – hardly bad results.

By contrast Man City have won only two of their eight matches following a Champions League outing, recording six draws and a 1-0 loss at Arsenal.

From that perspective, the best thing that could happen for Arsenal – and Liverpool – is for Man City to go deep into the competition.

Indeed, having beaten Man City 1-0 at home and drawn 0-0 at the Etihad, Arsenal would fancy their chances against them in the semi-final.

And an all-English contest looks likely. Man City have recent experience dispatching of Real Madrid to draw upon.

Arsenal are a much stronger team than Tuchel’s crisis-stricken Bayern.

The Premier League has conjured up some extraordinarily messy and magnificent matches over the last couple of weeks – and Man Utd’s draw with Liverpool is right up there with the best of them.

Entertainment like this is almost always the result of tactical ill-discipline; shapeless football that allows the players to succumb to emotion and to wild lurches from end to end.

It was almost reckless football from United in particular, and after Liverpool dominated the first half – but failed to capitalise – they were eventually sucked into the tornado.