Liverpool came out comfortable winners thanks to an early Stewart Downing goal and a hat-trick from Luis Suarez. New signing Philippe Coutinho also provided a brace of assists against an out-of-sorts Wigan side, who struggled with defensive discipline and defensive roles in a changed system.
With the injury to Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool were forced into a change to their attack which destroyed Swansea two weeks prior. Joe Allen was given a starting berth ahead of Jordan Henderson, who had produced continually improving displays in recent weeks. As a result, Liverpool’s formation was slightly adjusted from their recent use of a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3, with Lucas sitting and Steven Gerrard and Allen as slightly more advanced midfielders.
Whilst Wigan’s line-up suggested the use of the usual 3-4-3 formation, it was soon clear the formation was actually a 4-2-3-1. Arouna Kone played as the Number 9, whilst Franco di Santo was slightly deeper in the system.
Wigan’s move to a Back Four Fails
Roberto Martinez’s use of a 3-4-3 was credited for Wigan’s ability to survive relegation last season, and has been a mainstay this season. A back three is a rare occurrence in the Premier League, and Wigan enjoyed exploiting opponents who were uncomfortable with dealing with a unique formation.
On this occasion, the decision to return to a back four backfired, resulting in confusion for Wigan’s defensive players, who were unsure of how to defend their zones with only four at the back. Meanwhile, it allowed Liverpool to defend against a formation they were used to. Liverpool’s first two goals are examples of how Wigan’s defence was easily manipulated by Liverpool’s attacking capabilities.
Goal One – Downing
Pepe Reina’s long pass in behind Wigan’s defence was the catalyst for the first goal of the match. Once Wigan’s defence was turned, the defenders inability to take the correct recovery run made it easy for Liverpool to take a 2nd minute lead.
The first image illustrates the desired recovery runs of defenders when defending an attacking situation such as the one which Liverpool scored from. Emerson Boyce’s role as the right fullback was to pressure the ball carrier – for the goal, this was Coutinho – he did as the situation required but was beaten by an effective dummy.
The second defender, Gary Caldwell was required to protect the front post zone, watching the run of a striker attacking this zone, but also aware and able to cut off a cut back. The third defender should, in this situation, run towards the penalty spot, whilst the left fullback moves to the back post zone, watching for runners ghosting in on the back post.
While Boyce and Caldwell recovered to the areas where they should have, Paul Scharner became the weak link in the chain, failing to recover to his penalty spot zone. This allowed Stewart Downing to attack this zone and, when Figueroa tracked his run, opened up the back post zone where Downing was able to wrong-foot the defender and head home from close distance.
Goal Two – Suarez
Suarez’s curved run took him through two zones before he darted in behind to receive the pass and score.
The second goal was again an example of Wigan’s back four failing to defend a fairly regulation attacking situation. Suarez ran through both central defender’s zones and was not tracked, with Caldwell in particular guilty of ball watching.
As Suarez entered Caldwell’s zone, he was able to run unopposed. One step to the right would have allowed Caldwell to track Suarez’s movement and prevent the through ball. Perhaps Caldwell was still in the mindset of a sweeper.
Early indicator suggested Wigan, and in particular Franco di Santo, would attempt to occupy the defensive and attacking zones of Lucas Leiva. By doing so, they would be able to prevent a common pass when Liverpool attempt to play out from the back, as well as creating a physical battle in front of the back four.
Di Santo seemed to willingly track Lucas in early play, not allowing him to receive the ball, turn and face forward to distribute. However, as the first half progressed his defensive discipline dropped dramatically, allowing Lucas to see ample possession and for Liverpool to progress up the field to cause Wigan problems at the back. Midway through the first half, Di Santo was called over to the dugout by Martinez and received some advice from his manager. Soon after, Di Santo was involved in what was perhaps Wigan’s best attacking move, only a wonderful Reina save allowed Liverpool to maintain their well-earned 3-0 lead.
Right back from when Di Santo was correctly performing his defensive task – marking Lucas Leiva. Whilst watching the game; I noticed that Lucas is continuously tracked by Di Santo, and then, Espinoza placed extreme pressure on Lucas, not allowing him multiple touches
After Di Santo was substituted, his replacement Espinoza was similarly tasked with occupying Lucas. However Lucas was again allowed to assert dominance on the game when playing out from the back, completing the 15 more passes than the closest teammate – 61 vs Daniel Agger’s 46.
Also, the use of Di Santo as a Number 10 added a physical duel in the midfield – this side of the game affect Lucas more. He committed 6 fouls, half of Wigan’s total and 40% of Liverpool’s total. Also, his ‘Duel’ statistics were lower than expected from a player like Lucas – winning only 8 of 17 ground duels and successful on just 43% of his tackles, suggesting he was uncomfortable with the physical presence of Di Santo.
As touched on above, Di Santo’s defensive duties was to pressure Lucas to prevent him from comfortably distributing the ball; however the fourth goal was another example of Di Santo’s all to frequent defensive lapses.
Di Santo failed to get close to Lucas, who was then able to receive the ball from Carragher and pass to Glen Johnson. Johnson’s individual skill to beat four defenders and release Suarez was spectacular, however the goal could have been stopped at the source had Di Santo performed his role. By failing to do so, Liverpool was able to reach an unassailable lead and effectively end the game within 50 minutes.
Liverpool’s shooting efficiency was fantastic – attempting eight shots and scoring four times. Despite not racking up double digit shooting figures, Liverpool’s performance was dominate against and out of sorts Wigan side.
Liverpool now, in their last six Premier League wins have racked up an incredible 24 goals and are entering a good run of form and fixtures; Wigan on the other hand are in a downward spiral, having won only one of their last eight matches and sitting perilously close to the relegation zone – safe by only goal difference as of time of writing.