Tactical Analysis: Liverpool FC vs Leeds United

By Francesc Martí

15-September-2020 on Users

8 minute read

Today’s analysis is brought to you by Francesc Martí, an analyst with extensive experience in Spain’s LaLiga. Last season, he worked with Villarreal FC as part of the performance analysis team under Javi Calleja. In this article, he breaks down the first Premier League meeting of the season between Liverpool FC and Leeds United.

 

Francesc completed his analysis using Nacsport combined with KlipDraw and InStat.

Pre-Match

 

The first day of the Premier League brings a match filled with contrast, what we might call a clash of styles.

 

In the red corner, we have Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, a proven squad filled with high level players still filled with momentum from last season’s glory.

 

In the white corner, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United, returning to the English top-flight after sweeping through the Championship with their signature style: controlling the game through ball possession and positional attacks

 

This match will both allow us to see how Bielsa’s style adapts to the Premier League and confirm whether Klopp’s Liverpool can keep their momentum and continue as the effective, fearsome team they were last season.

 

 

This image shows the line up for both teams and was downloaded from InStat.

 

First Half

 

Both teams play high-pressure soccer, Liverpool with a 4-3-3 formation and Leeds with the same whilst piling on the man-to-man pressure. During the first half, Liverpool struggle to overcome that pressure, despite the mobility of their three midfielders. On the odd occasion when they do manage to break free of their markers and make progress up the field, they manage to expose some weakness in Leeds’s defensive line.

 

Despite this, Liverpool can’t take advantage of these weaknesses and Leeds reorganise quickly in order to prevent Liverpool mounting a sustained attack. The Leeds collective is a powerful force and the way they work together to shore up their defense is notable.

 

 

This image shows the man-marking of the visiting team. It also reveals an error as the central defenders push forward towards their mark, leaving the left-back behind the defensive line. This allows Liverpool to drive forward with their wingers making runs into the centre without fear of the offside trap.

 

Leeds, for their part, attempt to play the short passing game but rarely bother their opponents with combination attacks with only the two centre-backs and the central midfielder to get the move started and the playmaker staying high up the field. Because of this, there are only two other options open to them for making progress: play the long ball with the wingers coming into the centre of the field to join the attack or, if Phillips managed to receive the ball and turn without pressure, look for a deep pass to either wing and take advantage of Liverpool’s forward line. The second option allows them to do damage and generate chances, thanks to the quality and the one-on-one ability of the Leeds wingmen.

 

Meanwhile, centre-forward Bamford keeps trying to rupture Liverpool’s defenses, with their centre-back and wing-backs struggling to adjust for most of the first half.

 

Proof of this can be seen when Leeds score to level the match for the first time:

 

 

This image shows Phillips, unmarked, looking for a deep pass to Harrison out on the wing, who receives the ball and makes a long diagonal run into the box. We can also see Leeds’ midfielders pushing high, almost parallel with the front line.

 

All-in-all, this is a very open match with both teams managing to make chances. It is, however, the quality and organization of their set pieces which sets Liverpool apart from their opponents and allows them to pull ahead three times.

 

Probably the most striking example of this is van Dijk’s goal from a corner in which Koch, who is marking him, gets blocked, the ball lofts over the Leeds defense at the front, allowing van Dijk a free header to score.

 

 

Image clearly shows Koch being blocked, allowing van Dijk to break free from the marker and head home.

 

Second Half

 

The second half begins with the same dynamics, with Leeds taking risks at the back and looking to land long balls behind Liverpool’s defensive line. However, during this half, they struggle to find the space they need up front, especially once Fabinho enters the game.

 

Leeds continue to pressure high from midfield which means that Liverpool’s centre-line has very little room to maneuver, except when Leeds’ left-back, Dallas, moves in field from the wings. This gives Liverpool the room they need to create space and attack upfield, often in situations where they have numerical superiority, 4 vs 3 or 3 vs 2, giving them ample opportunities to put Leeds down for good.

 

 

After stealing the ball in the centre of the field, Liverpool mount a fast counter-attack before Leeds can re-organize.

 

Although there are fewer chances than in the first half, every time Leeds manage to get the ball deep, they pose a danger to Liverpool. The majority of chances may fall to Liverpool but Leeds don’t let this get their heads down at any time. After stealing the ball in midfield, they quickly organize a counterattack with Costa playing a high ball over five Liverpool heads into the path of Klich, who hammers home.

 

 

Liverpool can only look on as the ball passes over their heads into the path of Klich who is unmarked in the area.

 

With the game tied, nobody would dare predict the final result, but both teams keep fighting for the win, with the best chances falling to Liverpool. Van Dijk has a goal lopped off after his marker is again blocked, but this time the ref decides there has been an infraction.

 

Finally, in the 88th minute, the game is decided by a penalty, after another dangerous corner by Liverpool. Rodrigo brings down Fabinho and Salah converts for a hattrick and a 4-3 victory for Liverpool.

 

Post-Match

 

The match was everything we had hoped for. Both teams stayed true to their style throughout the 90 minutes: one trying to play the ball out from defense and the other creating danger on the counterattack. It was set piece superiority which ultimately won the match for Liverpool, with all four of their goals coming from dead ball situations (albeit two being penalties).

 

Two questions were answered during the match: Yes, Bielsa’s style of soccer works and will undoubtedly be a talking point throughout this season and yes, Liverpool still have momentum on their side and are still a dangerous proposition this season. It remains to be seen how far their play style can take them. Will it allow them to hold claim to being one of the great teams in Europe? Only time will tell…

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