Hull City continued to prove a difficult team to beat at the KC stadium, with a resolute and fearless performance against Liverpool which saw them run out deserved 3-1 winners. An early deflected long range effort from Jake Livermore looped over Simon Mignolet, while Steven Gerrard’s perfect free-kick spared some half-time blushes for the Reds. This was not enough to scare Liverpool into a reaction, and the second half saw a well-taken finish from David Meyler and an own goal late on for Skrtel settle the points.
Steve Bruce set out with a 3-5-2 formation, going with striker Robbie Brady as a left wing-back doing a half-and-half job on both Raheem Sterling and Glen Johnson. His midfield three was laid out to keep a medium block and press anything that passed the half-way line, matching Liverpool up in the centre and dropping Koren deep to crowd the midfield. They allowed them to have it at the back, but wanted to prevent them from playing in the middle and final thirds. Alex Bruce was the anchor in the back line, pulling across the wing-backs whenever play switched sides to form a bank of four behind the ball.
Rodgers went for a 4-2-3-1 formation with rare starts for Raheem Sterling and Victor Moses in the wake Daniel Sturridge’s freshest injury. Philippe Coutinho started on the bench along with Joe Allen who was also dropped, while Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure started at centre-back. Henderson was deployed in attacking central midfield as the pressure player, while Gerrard and Lucas continued in their (controversially) nailed down positions in the defensive midfield zone.
Did Brendan Rodgers make the right decision with his starting line-up? It could be argued that each of the six outfield players on the bench had a very good case for starting this game. In a match where Liverpool had an opportunity to play at a high tempo, dominate possession and be creative on the ball, Rodgers need only have looked at his bench for these qualities.
In Coutinho, Joe Allen and Luis Alberto in particular, Rodgers has three players with not only class and creativity, but also the hunger and desperation to impress. This is not to say that Liverpool would have won if they had started, however the distinct lack of tempo, accuracy and finesse on the passing was very obvious from the start.
Rodgers’ central defensive pairing of Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel is certain to have raised a few eyebrows. Last weeks Anfield Index podcast raised the debate of who Rodgers should go for and why, and the issue of Skrtel is something that must surely be addressed in the coming weeks. Martin Skrtel is a right-sided centre-back, as is Kolo Toure. As discussed on the podcast, all top centre-backs tend to specialize on one particular side of the defence, and with two naturally left-sided and arguably better centre-backs in Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho on the bench, Skrtel starting in their place was certainly a debatable decision.
Tempo and Pressing
The other weakness of playing Skrtel is that it doesn’t allow Liverpool to maintain their high line as well as with Agger or Sakho. He tends to hold a deeper position than the other three centre halves, which in turn affects Liverpool’s ability to retain possession.
Here’s a quick example of this, with Suarez carrying the ball forwards:
It is important to note that a press doesn’t start from the front players, it begins all the way back with the defence, who are responsible for pushing the midfield up to support the press and provide more bodies closer to the ball for when it is lost. Here we see the lack of urgency to bring the lines up, and Henderson ends up being the only player who gets anywhere into the attacking half:
The lack of bodies around Suarez means that when Huddlestone dispossesses him, he has space and time to play out, and Hull switch the ball easily out to Brady on the left side.
The statistics will show that Liverpool dominated with 61.5% possession, however the reasons behind this were more to do with Hull’s tactical approach than Liverpool’s. They played a very direct, long ball game, and tried to make use of the little possession they had in short spurts. This meant that they continually gave the ball back to Liverpool without them really having to squeeze or press properly. Liverpool were extremely wasteful in possession in the attacking thirds, they were just lucky that Hull were even worse, or even these statistics wouldn’t have gone their way.
The stats highlight how poor Liverpool were in the attacking areas, with a final third accuracy of 65% (compared to 81% in the 4-0 win against Fulham for example). Hull attempted 134 final third passes, only 12 less than Liverpool, which shows just how much they struggled in this area. Liverpool only mustered 9 shots from their 61.5% possession, while Hull managed 12 shots with 38.5% in comparison. Hull also nearly doubled Liverpool in successful tackles with 21, and made 25 successful interceptions to Liverpool’s 10. They were so effective at crowding Liverpool on the ball, especially on their first ball from defence into midfield and this shines through in the statistics. Hull were also superior in aerial duels and ground duels, but the most important factor is that they were the superior side overall, and it earned them the points on the day.
Steve Bruce played a solid strategy and made some bold moves with his team selection, and Hull now move up to 10th in the league, looking certain to stay up this season. Brendan Rodgers has much to ponder, the most pressing issue being to sort out a consistent central defensive pairing, which should take into account the ability of the players to use the high line effectively. The midfield problem continues, as Gerrard continues to contribute some valuable statistics, but struggles with Lucas to form a dominant partnership – a new defensive midfielder surely on the way in January. Raheem Sterling will be disappointed he couldn’t make much of an impact, while Victor Moses also struggles to impress. Luis Alberto looked assured and confident for Liverpool when coming on, attempting to carry the attack with Coutinho and muster something from the game. However it wasn’t to be and Hull deserved all three points.