1. Line-ups, Systems & Strategy
Moyes setup with Mirallas in for Pienaar on the left with Fellaini returning and Naismith coming in on the right. Brenny went with Sterling right, Suso left and Sahin at the attacking tip of a three man midfield triangle. As expected, we went like for like in this midfield zone with Allen and Fellaini the most interesting direct duel. Our approach was as it was vs Swansea last season i.e press high up field, disrupt rhythm, cut off angles for forward passes and build possession in the opposition half, predominantly via Osman / Baines whose 29 combinations was the most of any players on the pitch. As the below average player position / importance visual demonstrates, we played the bulk of the game in Liverpool’s half.
Passes wise, we had considerably more of the ball with 66% final third possession with 234 v 108 final third touches leading to us creating 14 chances to Liverpool’s 11. Our opponents were slightly more positive on the ball with 54% of their passes made being forward ones compared to our 51%. Liverpool did make more long passes, unsurprising given the fact they spent most of the game in their own half and were reliant on counter attacks and trying to get the ball forward as quickly as possible to Suarez/Sterling.
2. Defensive Troubles Continue
Defensively we looked shaky again with our high pressing / equally high defensive line combo meaning there was plenty of space in behind as has been exploited in recent weeks by strikers of lesser quality such as Kone vs Wigan. Liverpool’s main attacking strategy was as predicted in our preview with Suarez looking to arrow into pockets of space left by the marauding runs of Baines as shown below.
Distin is a great defender but struggles against Suarez more than any other opponent. The Uruguayan is one of the few strikers who can beat him for pace; this combined with his quick feet make him a tricky customer for the big man. Ultimately you can stop this by keeping two narrow banks of four but this reduces your attacking game plan.
3. Left side 1st half v 2nd half
Mirallas was the player of the first half and led the poor Wisdom a merry dance with his trickery and direct running although in fairness to the hapless Wisdom he was afforded little protection from Sterling in front of him. Liverpool were really struggling in the channels and consequently defending the ball into their box with both our goals following enterprising work down the channels. The Belgian was cynically taken out by Suarez and was replaced by Gueye and our attacking game plan never really looked as incisive from then on. The Senegalese in front of Baines doesn’t work and there’s no chemistry between the pair as both are lefties who prefer to hug the line whereas with Pienaar /Mirallas you have one who will go inside and leave the space for Baines to bomb on. There’s also the nagging doubt that Gueye is basically crud and unlikely to make the grade.
4. Liverpool go 3 at the back….
With the game 2-2 at half time Professor Rodgers made some big personnel and tactical switches as despite being level his side has been on the back foot for the most part. Rodgers went with 3 centre backs, post match citing the direct balls we play into the box as the reason why. Our offensive game wasn’t any different to usual so you wonder why if he knew this he didn’t start out this way. Sterling also went as a forward behind Suarez with the duo’s pace looking to push us back – this also reduced the teenager’s defensive duties mitigating the risk of a probable red card after his first half fouling spree. Sahin was also replaced for the greater physicality of Shelvey. The move basically meant we could still overload 2 v 1 on the flanks but Liverpool now had more coverage in the centre to handle fellaini – who looked half fit – and Jelavic when the ball went into their box. Our extra men on the touchlines meant we dominated the ball – surprising as we expected the opposite to be the case with Rodgers style.
Did this tactical switch actually make much difference? Liverpool’s passing completion actually went down in the second half from 79% to 75% and the additional height didn’t translate into winning more headers. Obviously the fact they had more bodies in this area meant they were better equipped to hoover up second balls. The switch didn’t really impact on our own passing game as we were steady at 78% pass completion in both halves.
5. Final Verdict
This was an interesting tussle between two managers who like a tactical joust. Territorially we bossed the game and created more chances although Liverpool always looked dangerous on the counter attack. The negative slant is that we have now drawn 3 games on the spin against sides in the bottom half of the table although in each game we have showed great resolve to come back from losing situations to take something. Overall though it was an exciting game with plenty of incident including bad decisions for both sides in what is always a spicy fixture.