In a Premier League fixture that has rarely disappointed in 20 years, we saw yet another Newcastle-Liverpool clash full of incident, goals and excitement. Newcastle lost Yanga-Mbiwa before half time to a red card and did well to go back in front before Sturridge levelled the scores. In the corresponding fixture at the end of last season, Liverpool dominated by using combinations to exploit the wide areas, particularly with the use of some brilliant third man runs, the wingers running inside and quick balls out to the full backs overlapping giving them plenty of joy. Saturday was different for Liverpool, with a different system this time around, and more of the play going through the middle of the field.
Newcastle began the game in 4-1-4-1-ish shape, with Cheikh Tiote sitting in front of the back four. His responsibilities were mainly to prevent a quick turn for Liverpool players receiving between the lines, and pressuring the balls that made it through the midfield bank of four in front of him, providing problems for Suarez or Sturridge when they dropped deep to receive into feet. Hatem Ben Arfa played the lone forward role, looking to receive support from Gouffran and Loic Remy moving in from the wide areas, while Sissoko and Cabaye also looked to get forward from midfield.
Liverpool stuck with their 3-4-1-2 formation which has served them so well this season, a system which has not particularly allowed them to play the outstanding, fluent and attacking football we saw at the back end of last season. However, as we saw in Jed Davies excellent analysis, what it has allowed them to do is occupy the most important areas of the field, construct more play through central areas, improve the speed of their transitions, and most importantly, defend well and win games.
The system is not necessarily a drastic change from the previous 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 we have seen used in the past. It is has simply been adapted to allow Rodgers to best utilise the players he has at his disposal. We have take into account the injuries he has had to manage, the selection headache with his new group of defenders, and the consideration that he is now finally able to field Suarez and Sturridge together. Arguably both function best as the main striker, or how Brendan Rodgers sees them, he referred to ‘the 9 and a half’ position – the system allows him to successfully function with both. The two are able to dove-tail seamlessly between one going short, one going long or wide, combining with Moses and the wing backs or each other.
Upon losing Mbiwa, Newcastle were forced into a basic 4-4-1 formation with Paul Dummett replacing Moussa Sissoko at half time. It reduced them to defending first, and allowing Liverpool to dominate the ball, particularly in the central areas we have mentioned.
Above you can see roughly where Newcastle looked to hold their defensive line, relatively deep and progressively further into their own half the further the game progressed. You will also notice, with Tiote now forming the bank of four, he was no longer a presence between the lines, which allowed Sturridge and Suarez to now drift freely into these areas without him picking them up. This also left Hatem Ben Arfa isolated with the back three, making it difficult for the midfield to make up the ground to get up and support him.
Newcastle faced another problem which stretched their lines and forced them to defend in a less orthodox fashion – the Liverpool wing backs. Below you can see how disjointed the midfield 4 became, as Gouffran was assigned the job of marking Aly Cissokho when he ventured forwards:
There were many times when he found himself alongside the defence and looking like a bank of five. This dented Newcastle’s ability to counter, but also provided some extra dilligence in defence rather than Gouffran passing him onto Debuchy. In their winning and drawing positions, scoring wasn’t particularly a priority so Newcastle did extremely well to limit clear cut chances in the wide areas until Suarez exploited space in behind to assist Sturridge.
The following statistics tell the story:
Liverpool had 62.3% possession compared to Newcastle’s 37.7%, and racked up a massive 556 passes at 87% accuracy, almost doubling that of the home side. Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson dominated this ball possession, with 183 passes between them at 91% and 89% accuracy respectively. This says a lot about the control that Liverpool had in the central areas, and it resulted in 19 chances, 3 coming from set plays, 3 of them being clear cut chances, and 2 of these clear cut chances being converted.
Alan Pardew will be delighted with his teams performance and the point was a fair result for both teams, for Newcastle in light of the red card, and for Liverpool in terms of levelling from losing positions and salvaging something to keep them only 2 points from Arsenal at the top of the league.