Sunday, June 26, 2022

Goals Galore! A Tactical Analysis Of The Box Office Event Between Liverpool And Leeds United

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Pratyay Maitra
A sports enthusiast in his mid-twenties who reads, breathes, as well as dreams (mostly) about football and attempts to share his views with the fanatics by jotting it down. Prefers to learn through extensive interaction, communication and exploration. So don't be in a quandary and SHOOT.

Premier League witnessed it’s first-ever thriller in an empty stadium when Liverpool and Leeds United locked horns at Anfield on the opening day of a brand new campaign. Jurgen Klopp promised to ‘attack’ the title after winning it last season, but the Whites had other ideas to make their top-flight return a bit special after 16 long years. They almost nailed it too, but a late howler from Rodrigo and the red-hot Mohamed Salah spoiled Marcelo Bielsa’s party in this epic seven-goal encounter.

Anyone trying anything new will always be a mad man until he is successful. This sums up Bielsa and his football over the years, something we witnessed week in, week out during the 2019-20 season. A club of Leeds’ heritage must have its own identity, and the veteran Argentine did not compromise their playing style against the champions of England despite missing out on skipper Liam Cooper before the game. The Reds were left in shock, but the quality and experience helped them edge past the visitors who came back thrice from behind before conceding from the spot in the closing minutes of the match.

Liverpool won the game, and perhaps that’s all that matters. But the tactical battle was pretty much won by El Loco which sums up his legacy as one of the pioneers of modern-day football. Here we have tried to jot down a few observations from this epic Saturday evening contest.

A Taste Of Their Own Medicine

“I have not got much culture in music so I wouldn’t know.”

Told Bielsa (as quoted by Leeds Live) before the game when asked about Klopp’s ‘heavy metal football’. You may label him as ‘old school’, but the ‘madman’ showed what ‘heavy metal’ is by playing like a ‘Klopp team’ more than the German did against the Yorkshire greats.

Liverpool love to play it out from the back with Alisson distributing it for Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson to utilise the width of the pitch. Also, the Brazilian often passes it to Virgil van Dijk who then finds the front three with long balls over the opponents’ backline. At the other end, the trio of Salah, Mane and Firmino presses high up the pitch disrupting the oppositions’ build-up play.

Although the Reds were supposed to do so last evening, something entirely else happened on the pitch from the very beginning. Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford and Helder Costa were alert all throughout in keeping the Liverpool ‘back four’ on their toes which forced Alisson to attempt unusual long balls time and again resulting in inaccuracy on most occasions (only 2 of his 11 long balls were accurate).

The likes of Mateusz Klich and Kalvin Phillips worked their socks off to win the duels in the middle of the park, whereas the latter played the Van Dijk role to find a teammate high up the pitch with exquisite long balls. They were press-resistant, attacked the space persistently, succeeded in playing it out from deep defence and ended up with more possession despite being on the road against a well-organised unit.

Complacency Kills Reputation

Yes, he is the best defender in the league over the past few campaigns. His presence has helped the Reds overcome the defensive vulnerability and conquer all the major crowns defying the odds. However, something is not right about his attitude in recent months. This is not over-confidence but the arrogance of being the best that cost the Reds a goal towards the closure of the previous term against Arsenal. The same was observed yesterday while dealing with a Leeds’ long ball that he should have controlled on his own with Bamford chasing it from behind.

Instead, he tried to play smart by placing it for Andrew Robertson directly. This is scandalous when the opponent is closing in, and the disrespect shown here was rightfully punished by the Whites ‘number 9’ to make it all square around the half-hour mark. A wake-up call for the Dutchman indeed.

Wake Up Call For ‘The Defensive Striker’

No matter how important Roberto Firmino is in Klopp’s system, a player featuring as a ‘number 9’ must find the target. The Brazilian’s work rate is relentless, but his finishing has been disastrous for quite some time now. Leeds United were not really error-prone while playing out from the back, but they gifted a golden opportunity towards the end that the striker failed to convert.

Firmino is lacking confidence while spearheading the attack, and the gaffer must do something now to find a remedy. He should bring in someone to challenge for the starting role or drop him in the middle of the park to make way for Divock Origi up front. It does not make sense if your centre-forward fails to fire in during the decisive moments.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah with the match ball after scoring a hat-trick against Leeds united
Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah (R) takes the match ball as he walks off with Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp (L) after the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Leeds United at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on September 12, 2020. – Liverpool won the game 4-3. (Photo by SHAUN BOTTERILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Captain’ Phillips

Gareth Southgate’s decision of handing Kalvin Phillips his England debut received stern criticism, but the 24-year-old showed why he is regarded as one of the finest in his role. He was fearless, had no inhibitions and performed exquisitely while bridging up the gap in between the backline and the ‘midfield four’.

He often slotted in between Robin Koch and Pascal Strujik to alter the formation, and also advanced forward to orchestrate the flow with his vision and range of passing. He engineered Harrison’s early equaliser and was steady throughout to retain possession, distribute it down the wide and instigate a press-resistant game from a deep-lying role. We are excited to see more of him in the upcoming weeks!

No White Means All Darkness In Deep Defence

Leeds have won hearts by exhibiting a spirited show, but they need points too to stay up in the top flight. The late injury blow of Cooper was a massive setback, and the makeshift pairing of Koch and Strujik exposed their frailty at the back. They are in desperate need of someone as influential as Ben White, and their failure to bring in the Brighton & Hove Albion star on permanent terms might lead to disappointment in the long run.

Koch, though at fault in Liverpool’s first two goals, should improve in due time considering his reputation at Freiburg prior to joining the Elland Road side, but the Whites need significant reinforcements in the heart of the backline to meet the demands of the English top tier.

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