HomeZ OLD CATEGORIESEPLLiverpool - Stoke | In-depth Tactical Preview

Liverpool – Stoke | In-depth Tactical Preview

Key Weaknesses

Despite their obvious defensive strength, Stoke are vulnerable where in theory they should be strongest. When they drop deep to form their defensive walls they leave acres of space in front of them. This automatically invites the opposition to camp the majority of their players in Stoke’s half and pass the ball around to recycle possession. Once all the outfield players get forward (with, perhaps, the exception of the two centre backs), Stoke are vulnerable to any team that can get its players to constantly overlap and play with fluid movement.

If the opponents can get both their wingers and their full backs to push on down the flanks they will outnumber Stoke two-to-one in wide areas. That, in theory, will force them to either break up the narrow back four as the widest centre backs become full backs again (leaving space down the channels), or the central midfielders will have to drift out to the wings (leaving space between the lines).

On another note, as physically imposing as Stoke’s outfield players are and as good as they are in the air, they do lack a certain mobility. They will find it hard to change direction quickly, which is why they struggle when the opposition’s attackers constantly swap positions and move the ball around fluidly. Statistically, Stoke’s players are also more prone to conceding free kicks near their penalty area. This should mean that a good team can keep consistent pressure on them.

The previous matches

It is useful, from a tactical point of view, to look back on Liverpool’s recent meetings against Stoke so we can draw some conclusions about what works and what doesn’t.

Since Dalglish took over at Anfield he has met Stoke four times – three in the league and one in the League Cup. Last season in the league at home, Liverpool played 3-5-2. It wasn’t pretty, but the tactical set up was perfect. The team limited Stoke’s main strengths and provided them with a major problem with their fluid attacking setup. The lone striker (Kuyt), backed up with two roaming attackers(Gerrard and Meireles) just behind him, offensive wing backs, and two ball recyclers in the midfield had a solid enough foundation to break Stoke down twice.

Back in September the teams met again, this time at the Britannia, with Liverpool adopting a 4-4-2 with two “false nines” in Suarez and Kuyt up front. The team had enough fluidity to cause problems for City, but the team lacked enough attacking bodies in the centre of the park or down the wings. Lucas and Adam played as a destroyer-passer combo, so neither got forward to help the attack; and for all their qualities, both Downing and Henderson are more creators than they are finishers. The team failed to turn the creativity into a constant attacking presence. Although it does have to be said, the team created more than enough decent chances – as has been the case all season, they failed to finish them.

Then came the League Cup match, again in the Potteries. Liverpool went with a lopsided 4-4-2 with Henderson tucked inside as the right-most midfielder and Maxi Rodriguez in a more advanced role cutting inside from the left. This time Carroll partnered Suarez up top. The match didn’t produce much entertainment or goal-mouth action for Liverpool. But more importantly the team looked much more tactically balanced, and the result was that the team managed to overturn a one-goal deficit to win 2-1. Maxi and Carroll offered an attacking presence that they had lacked in the previous game, which freed up Suarez to roam and created in the space Stoke left in front of their wall. Henderson allowed Lucas and Spearing to hold onto the ball by offering another passing outlet, which meant that Stoke were subjected to wave after wave of attacks by a Liverpool team that dominated possession.

In the last match against Stoke, Dalglish again opted to play 3-5-2 at Anfield. Again, this combatted Stoke’s strengths, but Kuyt was supported by Downing and Henderson meaning the team lacked a pure attacking presence in the final third. This was even more of a problem because Pulis had decided to send his team out in a 4-5-1 formation. The “6-plus-1-plus-2” wall shut down the match, and it ended goalless.

Next Page: How to beat Stoke…

Mihail Vladimirov
Mihail Vladimirov
Tactical observer and writer.
More News



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here