Liverpool – Stoke | In-depth Tactical Preview

Liverpool – Stoke | In-depth Tactical Preview

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Mihail Vladimirov, a writer for The Tomkins Times, guest writes for EPLIndex and provides a Tactical preview of the FA Cup match.

Liverpool head into this match two steps away from another cup final. If they pull it off, the parallels with Rafa’s first season in charge would be interesting. Liverpool could fail to get into the top four, but could take part in two Cup finals, winning at least one of them. Of course, Benitez won The Big One – but given that Liverpool weren’t even in Europe this season, a domestic cup double would be a very solid foundation on which the future can be built.

Opposition Formation and Style

We all know what to expect from Stoke – a formation close to 4-2-2-2, with two deep-lying, ball-winning midfielders; heavy reliance on the flanks to provide the attacking edge; and two strikers in the shape of a big target man and a more mobile, roaming partner alongside him.

Stoke are famous for their hard-working, if aggressive, style of play. They press heavily across the midfield and are a real danger from set pieces.

The style is build on keeping tight at the back before playing quick, long passes to the flanks and the forwards. They have a lot of “natural” width in the wide areas, even when Walters is on the wing rather than up front. Stoke like to expand the pitch as much as possible when they attack to secure space through the middle for their target-man. Here he should have fewer men around him and hopefully will be able to receive the ball and either shoot or feed his strike partner.

However, it should be noted that in the last league game at Anfield, Stoke played a 4-5-1 formation with Walters cutting in from the right and Etherington hugging the left touch-line. So while we should be aware of an element of tactical flexibility in terms of their formation, we shouldn’t expect their style to change too much – they will still press hard in the middle and look to get the ball deep and wide when they regain possession.

Key Strengths

It’s well-known that Stoke are solid in defence. They tend to defend with the “two banks of four” approach, suffocating the opposition by denying them any time or space. They sit very deep to stop opponents getting in behind and have a narrow back four to cut off the space in the channels. It is not unknown for them to play four players in defence who would normally be considered centre backs. They also like to stop teams playing in between the lines by having their midfield sit very deep too as a secondary defensive line.

Once the match is going their way, they tend to morph into what I like to call the “6-plus-2” defensive wall, especially this season with their four “centre backs”. In essence, this means that the back four play very narrow and compact, almost within touching distance within their own penalty area. To compensate, the wingers pull deep, almost as auxiliary full backs, creating a “back six”. The two deep-lying midfielders then shield this defensive line by playing just in front of them, pressing the opposition to disrupt their ball-retention process.

If the team is playing 4-5-1 (which morphs into a 4-1-4-1 in defence), the defensive approach is similar, but the maths is slightly different. The principle of this “6-plus-1” system is almost identical. The “back six” remains the same, but the deepest midfielder acts as an anchor man while the other two midfielders press the opposition. Although “6-plus-1” only equals 7, it’s actually even more defensive – the same eight players in the “6-plus-2” system smother the opposition, but this time with the added security of the anchor man. Perhaps a better term might be “6-plus-1-plus-2”. That’s 9, by the way…

Next Page: Key Weaknesses…

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