Liverpool Football Club have played 19 competitive games since they drew 0-0 at Goodison Park on 3rd March 2019. During that time they have won 17 games with the only defeat coming at the Camp Nou in the Champions League Semi-final against Barcelona. This is also the only game since March 3rd that they have failed to score in.

Over that period they have averaged 2.83 goals per game. Almost 3 goals per game as an average across that period of time is quite incredible. Even going back to the start of the 2018-2019 season they have averaged 2.21 goals per game over the past 13 months. On that basis teams would effectively have to score at least 2 goals just to have a chance of drawing the game!

Undoubtedly Liverpool are an exciting team to watch with incredibly talented players and as passionate a support as you will find anywhere in World football. They also have a very passionate and emotionally intelligent Manager in Jürgen Klopp. Not only is he a proven leader but he also produces high quality, dynamic teams with great tactical intelligence.

There are a number of huge strengths to the attacking play of Liverpool. They have phenomenal players capable of moments of individual brilliance. This analysis focuses on the collective strengths of their attacking play. How these top class individual players combine tactically to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

In terms of positional play when they are in possession of the ball there are 3 components which have contributed hugely to their attacking success:

  • Their central forward (generally Roberto Firmino) causing problems for opposition defensive units by dropping into deeper areas and spaces between their defensive lines
  • The ability of the wide forwards (generally Mohamed Salah & Sadio Mane) to penetrate defensive lines coming inside from wider areas both with and without the ball
  • The width and energy supplied by their full backs (generally Andrew Robertson & Trent Alexander-Arnold) combined with the quality of their passing and crossing from these wide areas

 

These factors combined pose several problems for opposition defences at the same time. They are faced with issues in terms of dealing with players between their defensive and midfield lines, the threat of players looking to run in between and behind their defensive line, plus being stretched in terms of width and then coping with the quality of crosses being delivered into the box.

Firmino dropping into deeper areas and his attacking threat from these positions

One of the most intelligent players in the Premier League, Roberto Firmino has had a huge impact on the recent success of Liverpool. Without possession he plays a key role in their defensive structure, how they press, and how they regain possession consistently in dangerous areas of the pitch.

In possession he has a big influence on games not just from an individual viewpoint but just as importantly how he increases the influence of other players. Capable of playing high and being a threat along the opposition defensive line with great feet and vision in tight spaces. However, it is dropping away from the defensive line and the opposition centre backs where Firmino perhaps has the most impact. By doing so he poses problems for them and can disrupt their defensive structure. Does a centre back follow him and leave spaces for the runs of Salah and Mane? Or does the midfield line get affected opening up spaces for the Liverpool midfield players to expose or create more room for the advancing Robertson and Alexander-Arnold?

Firmino is very elusive from these deep-lying positions. There are grey areas as to who has the responsibility of marking him as he drifts forwards advancing into dangerous areas and arriving late into the box. When timed well as it so often is he can arrive simply for the final touch to create or score a goal. These images show Firmino linking the play from a deep area and then drifting forwards before arriving to slide home with the killer touch at the far post.

Salah & Mane penetrating the defensive line with runs inside from wide starting positions

The combination of Firmino dropping off with Salah and Mane making incisive runs to penetrate the defensive line is probably the biggest threat that opposition teams face. There are times when Firmino receives the ball and supplies the passes to those two quick, powerful, and skilful players himself. There are also occasions when he creates opportunities for their runs purely by his positioning and without even touching the ball.

These images show how he receives between the defensive lines and drives forwards before reversing a clever through ball for Mane to finish. In this instance both Mane & Salah are looking to make the most dangerous runs inside the defensive line into scoring positions. Also note how Robertson is arriving on the outside providing an option for Firmino to pass wide if he doesn’t think he can find a way to penetrate centrally.

Whereas in this next example Salah runs onto a through ball behind the defensive line from Alexander-Arnold to lob the goalkeeper. He was able to penetrate into the space created by in this instance Sturridge as the central forward who has dropped off into deeper areas. Both Salah and Mane are lethal in both identifying and exposing gaps in the opposition defence. They pose the double threat of being able to do so dribbling past defenders or as in this case running straight onto a through pass.

Robertson & Alexander-Arnold: Width, energy, and high quality delivery

As outlined previously, in addition to this huge threat in central areas and the challenge teams face in stopping Liverpool playing through the centre of the pitch, they also have to contend with being stretched by the width provided by the full backs. Liverpool always attack with width and it serves two purposes. Firstly it stretches the opposition defensively across the pitch and creates more space inside the pitch. Secondly it provides an outlet to go wide in order to penetrate down the sides, supply crosses, and score goals. A number of goals have been scored from the passes and crosses into the box from these advanced positions that Robertson and Alexander-Arnold get into. Not only do they both have excellent delivery but they also regularly cross from these higher positions making those crosses all the more dangerous. With the narrow positions of Salah and Mane from their out-to-in runs they are now naturally arriving in the box to attack crosses. When you add to this the arrival from those difficult to track areas of Firmino plus central midfielders with great power and purpose, you can understand why Liverpool are so deadly from these situations.

This example shows both full backs providing the width and delivering dangerous crosses in the same attack. It also highlights the number of players Liverpool get into the box, inside the goal frame, and into scoring positions. They always play with this positivity and it is a key feature of their attacking approach.

Pressing, forcing turnovers, & transitions to attack

The 4th key area is their ability to press so effectively, forcing turnovers in possession, and then the speed and quality of their attacking transitions. In this respect they are as good as any team in Europe regularly scoring with lightning fast counter attacks following intense, coordinated pressing. It is the hallmark of Jürgen Klopp teams. These images perfectly highlight how Liverpool try to channel passes into areas where they can press collectively and intensely. A key trait in them being so ruthless on attacking transitions is the way in which they press, particularly the positioning of Salah & Mane. By effectively screening passes to the full backs rather than dropping to track them they are both in much higher and much more dangerous positions from which to counter attack upon possession being gained. This increases the defensive workload on the outside midfield players in their 3 but it means that the front players are so much more effective in an attacking sense. In this example Salah scores 4 seconds after Milner wins possession.

Moving forwards…..

History has shown us that the most successful managers are always looking forwards in how to evolve their team, how to build the next phase, and how to constantly improve. Liverpool have developed consistently under the guidance of Jürgen Klopp. He has united the whole club aligning the players with the fans and vice versa. It will be very interesting to see how Liverpool progress this season and into the future. Especially with regards the combined impact of their attacking play.