FA Cup 2019/20: Liverpool vs Everton – tactical analysis
The FA Cup continues in the very first weekend of this new decade. There were only two games where two Premier League sides meet each other in the tournament’s third round. In Saturday, Wolverhampton faced Manchester United, which ended in an unwanted stalemate for both teams. Less than 24 hours after, Liverpool had to host Everton at Anfield; a mighty fortress for the Reds.
Both managers approached this match differently. Jürgen Klopp opted to rest almost all of his regular starters and played lots of reserve players, while Carlo Ancelotti picked his best team for this cup game. Despite all of that, it was Klopp’s side that successfully reached the next round after a narrow 1–0 win via Curtis Jones’ goal. Without further ado, this tactical analysis will inform how the match unfolded.
For this game, Klopp picked his usual 4–3–3 for Liverpool. The starters were heavily filled with youngsters, starting with Neco Williams and Nathaniel Phillips at the back. Upfront, Divock Origi started as a left-winger, supported by 16-year-old Harvey Elliott in the opposite side; with Takumi Minamino leading the frontline. The bench was filled with names like Yasser Larouci, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Rhian Brewster.
In the other side, Ancelotti fielded his strongest squad in 3–4–3; which shifted to 4–4–2 defensively. Séamus Coleman, Yerry Mina, and Mason Holgate started as the back three. Talisman Dominic Calvert-Lewin was flanked by Richarlison and former Arsenal player, Theo Walcott. Names like Bernard, Fabian Delph, and Moise Kean had to start the game from the dugout.
Originally playing in 4–3–3, Liverpool shifted their shape a bit into 4–1–2–3 out of possession. The Reds deployed their usual high pressing game and forced Everton to play with less comfort. In their high press, Liverpool tried to congest the central spaces with five attacking players; spreading from one half-space to the other. Behind them, Pedro Chirivella stayed put and would only join the press if one of Everton’s attacker drops alongside the midfielders.
The main objective of this approach was to prevent Everton from building their plays centrally through their midfielders. Whenever the ball came to Gylfi Sigurðsson or Morgan Schneiderlin, either Adam Lallana or Jones would quickly press the Everton midfielder. Sometimes, Minamino would help them with to outnumber the opponent with his back-press.
Not only that, but Liverpool would also try to continue their press when the ball has reached the flank. If this happened, the ball-side full-back would join the press and close Everton’s dropping winger at the flank. Such aggressive defending tactics successfully forced disrupted Everton’s build-ups at times.
The Toffees’ attacking tactics (part one)
In this part of the analysis, we’re going to see how Ancelotti set his team up offensively. Knowing that Liverpool would play their usual aggressive pressing game high up the pitch, Ancelotti opted to rely on direct balls for Everton. It was shown by the amount of 62 long passes made by the away side.
The main provider for this approach was goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, due to the players in front of him being pressed by Liverpool’s attackers. In the other part of the pitch, Calvert-Lewin was picked as the main aerial target. Pickford excelled in this particular role as shown by impressive 81% (21/26) succesful long passes.
Upfront, the English striker was tasked to win those long balls against Liverpool’s central defenders. After that, he would lay the ball off to his nearest teammate(s). Ancelotti’s choice of narrow attackers in 3–4–3 helped this set-up, as both Richarlison and Walcott would be near enough to win the second balls.
Everton usually picked Phillips as their target to win duels up in the air. The reason was because of his lack of ability compared to Gomez. However, even if the ball was played to Gomez’s area, Calvert-Lewin was also capable to win it due to his aerial prowess.
The Toffees’ attacking tactics (part two)
James Milner’s injury just seven minutes into the game forced Klopp to bring inexperienced left-back Larouci in to fill in the hole. Ancelotti responded to this by targeting the Algerian youngster in Everton’s other attacking option. Larouci’s lack of experience was put in to show as he mainly went out of position, thus exposing Liverpool’s left flank wide open. Statistic-wise, 61% of Everton’s attack came from this area, and in total it gave them 0.65 expected goals.
Reacted to this, Ancelotti instructed Walcott to drift wide more often in the final third. Not only that, but he also asked the former England international to make runs in behind Larouci to exploit the defender’s lack of awareness and bad positioning.
In spite of that, the Toffees’ right-sided players were not in their best performances that night. There were much wrong decision making and bad touches that make the tactical advantage went out of the window. Two of the three Everton’s right-flank players — Walcott and Coleman — were subbed off later in the game; underlining their rather disappointing display.
The Reds’ flank overloads
Different from the visitors, Liverpool tend to be more patience in their possessions. As usual, in their build-ups, Liverpool would mainly abandon the central area and send the ball quickly to the flanks. After putting the ball there, the home side would tend to overload the area with many players.
Then, Klopp also gave the license for his attacking players to interchange their positions often. By doing so, Liverpool could utilise their overload better. The overload mainly would allow the attackers in red to have more short combination routes; which was hard to predict for the opponents. On top of that, such an approach would also allow at least one player free in space to create a scoring chance for the home side.
To be honest, Everton deserved better outcome in this game; proven by their 1.46 expected goals compared to Liverpool’s 0.62. It was Adrián’s heroic first-half performance that prevented Everton to do so. On top of that, subpar performances from Sidibé, Coleman, and Walcott didn’t help the Toffees either; despite Liverpool’s big issue at the left side.
However, Ancelotti is also responsible for this defeat due to his lack of tactical adjustments going into the second half. With all due respect, the three-times Champions League winner should be able to deploy more creative tactics against lesser Liverpool squad. Oppositely, credits must be given to Klopp and his youngsters due to their composure, bravery, and tactical boldness against their arch-rival.
On to the next one.