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Liverpool’s experimental tactical approach vs. Anji

Marco Van Basten often spoke about an invisible cord that connected players within a formation, that one player’s movements would directly affect another. The possession-based philosophical approach to football thinks about football in terms of space; how can a team control the game both with or without the ball?

What was particularly interesting about the Anji match was that Rodgers’ Liverpool tactical approach moved away from the 1-4-3-3 that Rodgers has relied on since becoming the Liverpool manager. The Europa League has acted as the platform for more experimental options (some have gone on to be successful: Sterling, Wisdom, Suso and now hopefully Coady. But we are yet to see any Rodgers formational experimentation, until now that is.

Liverpool’s most used formation under Rodgers to date 2012/13

Taken from the Tiki-Taka Handbook (where a further explanation is offered into the lines of play and rationale behind this particular arrangement. Note – midfield arrangement here is 2-1 rather than the preferred 1-2, resulting in a more lateral passing approach)

Liverpool's most used formation

Liverpool’s approach against Anji was largely dictated by a lack of players in the more advanced roles of the field with Borini, Assaidi, Sterling and Suso not selected in the first XI. Therefore, Rodgers opted for a new twist in his approach, but still one that rested on the same philosophical approach as Liverpool have become accustomed to.

Liverpool’s out of possession set up that consisted on a half-press approach to pressing for the majority of the game

*Note – spelling error throughout diagrams – Flanagan not Flanaghan

Liverpool's out of possession set up


The out of possession ‘formation’ was the most striking feature of this game; it really was a case of two main lines of defence and a tactical analyser in between (Coady). We would often see the front four venture forward to press and then come back into place. Out and back in, out and back in.

Liverpool’s in-possession set up for the majority of the game.

*Note – spelling error throughout diagrams – Flanagan not Flanaghan

Liverpool's in possession set up

What appeared to have been a dramatic shift in formation has instead become a simplistic formation of two instructions: that of a rigid ‘Y’ core (white) and a fluid support (blue) to the formational system. It is a frequent characteristic of possession based teams to find a balance between a rigid structure and fluid system around that centralised core (see Ajax 90’s), Barcelona et al. Against Anji (as per normal) Liverpool’s formation is simply one of increasing the lines of play and making the pitch as big as possible when in possession and the opposite when out of possession.

[quote]Suarez is playing the central ‘Messi role’ in that he is create space for others through his own selfishness – the “moths towards a light” effect as well as creating chances from very little…[/quote]

Both Anji’s goal and Traore’s one-on-one opportunity late on in the game highlighted the dangers of leaving Coates as a man-marking last man and this ‘new’ approach still presented the team with the same problem of not having enough forward thinking options in dangerous zones (within the opposition’s 18 yard box!). Without a doubt, the biggest criticism however, is that Liverpool have struggled to create ‘obvious and clear goal scoring opportunities’ and when they do, they lack the players to finish (Henderson in the first half!).

Liverpool did not perform as Rodgers would have liked in this makeshift system of play and instead highlighted the further need for attacking options that are inevitable in the January transfer window.


The biggest problems facing Liverpool are increasingly obvious: a lack of clear cut opportunities created and a lack of cohesiveness between the more advanced lines of play. Both of these, are problems that will be solved through time and a few more quality options going forward – more like Sterling and Suarez. Simply examine the successes of Swansea, Barcelona, Ajax (1990’s) and all the other successful possessional based teams (Swansea’s is of course relative success given their pool of players) and you will notice that those teams are rich in players who can win a game through dynamic dribbling or their off-ball movement attributes: Pedro, Affellay, Cuenca, A.Sanchez, Overmars, Sinclair, Routledge, Dyer. These players are without a doubt key to the system of play that Rodgers believes in.

As Sterling is the only player that fits this mould playing in a attacking-support role, Liverpool’s count of players like this stands at one. (Suarez is playing the central ‘Messi role’ in that he is create space for others through his own selfishness – the “moths towards a light” effect as well as creating chances from very little…)

The lack of cohesiveness is an issue that points towards a lack of a holding midfield player: a player who tactically understands the game more than any other. Busquets, Riijkard, Britton – a player who perhaps doesn’t exist in abundance. While Allen is doing a terrific job in this role, it has been stated by Rodgers that it is his intention to play Allen further forward and the current approach reflects Allen’s ability to get forward – this isn’t the case so much for Britton/Busquets/Riijkard etc whereby they play a much deeper role and often dip in and out of the space between two centre backs as they spread wide.

Lucas Leiva however, is a player who has the potential to fulfil this role extremely well and a player who (as many of us forget) doesn’t actually have a long history of injuries and is extremely unlucky to be in the situation he is in. My point is that we shouldn’t put Lucas Leiva in ‘that category’ of injury prone players, not just yet anyway.

In stating the obvious – Rodgers desperately needs new players, but perhaps he doesn’t need as many as some think. But who could be on Rodgers’ shortlist?

Here’s a few names just to throw in the mix for the sake of conversation: Nathan Dyer, Wilfried Zaha, Thomas Ince, Andriy Yarmolenko, Patrick Herrmann, Isaac Cuenca, Cristian Tello, Mathieu Valbuena.

Needless to say, we’re in for many weeks of speculation – but I for one, will argue that Liverpool need at least two more first team challengers (more than just covering players) and at least one key player to boost the attacking trio. But let’s not go as far as blocking the development of Suso, Shelvey and others.

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Assistant Manager of Oxford University Centaurs and Head of Analysis. The Tiki-Taka Handbook can be ordered from: http://shop.soccertutor.com/Coaching-the-Tiki-Taka-Style-of-Play-p/st-b019.htm Director of inspire football events | Football writer & youth academy coach - jeddavies.com | Writer on several websites as well as Liverpoolfc.tv and many more | Please follow me on Twitter - @TPiMBW or www.Facebook.com/JedDaviesFootballCoaching | Always open for a reasoned debate so please leave a comment
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