March 30, 2020: Tactic Wars Solution – Nam Dzoan
Before we show you Nam’s solution, let’s remind ourselves of the challenge he was posed.
It is January 2021, and your club is set to play against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. The Reds are still the talented counter-pressing side that they are today, and your side needs a win.
— Total Football Analysis (@TotalAnalysis) March 30, 2020
It’s 2021, and Liverpool are still the best team in the world. Mighty and ruthless, they are still destroying Premier League sides with ease. Playing against The Reds 0n the first day of the new year is certainly not what most teams will look forward to. That’s a challenge my team will have to face though. With most of our first-team players injured, no one expects us to beat Liverpool. However, we have just brought in seven top-class young talents, and have come up with the most suitable tactics to beat Liverpool.
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson Becker; Andrew Robertson, Virgil Van Dijk, Joël Matip, Trent Alexander-Arnold; Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum; Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané.
Nam’s XI (4-4-1-1):
Gianluigi Donnarumma; Alphonso Davies, Felipe Monteiro, Ozan Kabak, Mert Müldür; Koke, Eduardo Camavinga, Thomas Partey, Reece James; Kevin De Bruyne; Erling Braut Håland.
My initial build-up plan will start off with a long ball strategy that would be launched towards either wing. The ball-near full-back, midfielders, and striker would crowd that area to win the second balls. All of our midfielders are hard-working players with good defensive qualities.
Should we win the resulting second ball, the rest of the players in that area will try to combine past the Liverpool players. If Liverpool win back possession, our players will form a cage to block the ball-carrier’s nearest passing options and the player down to force a back or sideways pass. We want to slow down Liverpool’s counter and have enough time to get back into a 4-4-2 shape with Kevin de Bruyne slightly deeper than Erling Haaland up front. We expect other defensive transitions to be similar to this.
In other instances, we will look to enjoy longer possession spells with the on the ball qualities of Thomas Partey, Koke, Reece James, and De Bruyne. Partey will be the team’s main deep-lying playmaker with his passing range, composure, and ability to dribble through Liverpool’s first line of pressing. Haaland will play off the shoulder of the last defender but drop deeper to help progress the ball when needed, while De Bruyne is free to roam between the lines and/or come deep to provide a passing option. The wide midfielders will come narrow (and deep if needed) to giving our team numerical advantage in the central areas. This overload is necessary to beat Liverpool’s press and force their shape narrow, this, in turn, will open up space for the full-backs.
The following will be a typical example. In the below image, assuming Kabak has possession of the ball, Roberto Firmino covers his passing lane towards Eduardo Camavinga, who deliberately dropped deeper so that Kabak could pass to Partey who is a more press-resistant and a better passer, while our full-backs move higher and hold width to stretch Liverpool’s front three. This will give our midfielders more space. Should Partey get the ball, we now have a 4v3 in the centre. Of the two wide midfielders, Koke will be deeper, focusing on dictating the play while James will stay higher, looking to utilise his pace and skill in 1v1s.
Our narrow possession play will be oriented towards the right, meaning a quick switch of play will help the lightning-quick Davies get the ball in acres of space, and then use his pace to beat his man and get a cross in. Right-back Müldür is rather limited offensively. He will stay deeper than Davies, play simple passes and provide solidity at the back. In addition, Van Dijk and Robertson on Liverpool’s left are more solid than Alexander-Arnold and Matip on the right.
Here, ball-carrier Camavinga has a few direct options: a cross-field pass towards the Davies’ run, or a long through ball towards the left-footed Haaland, who will often be found on the left. The Frenchman can also find De Bruyne between the lines if he wants to facilitate central combinations.
After right-side overloads, we will try to attack through crosses. We may switch the ball towards the left for Davies to beat his man in a 1v1 and cross or combine on the right with De Bruyne’s smart runs towards the byline, hoping to be one step ahead of Fabinho. A 3v2 on the right will help James or De Bruyne to have space to cross the ball. Here, James can launch a cross towards the far post, with Haaland looking to beat Alexander-Arnold in the air. He can also find De Bruyne’s well-timed underlap – the Belgian will then whip a low cross towards the near post, or float a cross towards the far post.
Out of possession tactics
We will defend in a 4-4-2 mid-block, with De Bruyne joining Haaland up front. Liverpool will look to create a 3v2 at the back, with Alexander-Arnold dropping, inviting our left wide mid to press higher. Koke will not do so, as Liverpool’s right central midfielder (Jordan Henderson) will occupy a wide position to exploit the space he left behind, and Alexander-Arnold’s quality will help him find one of Henderson or Salah. This puts our left-back in a difficult position, forcing our pivot player closest to the ball to help – the pivot can’t cover too much space. We will not press their back three, but instead stay narrow and compact, trying to cut off passing lanes towards their midfielders and Firmino. In central areas, even when Henderson or Gini Wijnaldum move behind our midfield four, the midfield remains disciplined instead of trying to man-mark them.
When defending, the team has to move as a unit. We will stay horizontally and vertically compact and overload the ball-side, giving Liverpool almost no time and space in zone 14. When the ball is on one side, the two ball-near midfielders will stay higher so that the ball-carrier can’t dribble forward comfortably. However, the ball-far full-back and midfielders must stay deeper to cover and be alert to quick switches – which Liverpool will do often – and rush at the ball receiver.
As Liverpool can’t attack through the middle, they will inevitably attack through the wings. The likes of Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mané can’t tuck inside like they would prefer, but will instead move wide to stretch our defence and combine with the ball-near full-backs. Our wide midfielders will try to stay close to the full-backs to ensure they don’t have to defend 1v1 against Liverpool’s top-class wingers.
If a Liverpool full-back is in a deep position, the wide midfielder will focus on helping the full-back, however, he must follow the opponent’s full-back if he makes an overlap. If a Liverpool winger receives the ball out wide in the final third, the ball-near full-back only steps out to press him if Liverpool’s ball-near ‘8’ is not in a good position to underlap to exploit the gap between our centre-back and full-back. Here, our left-back steps out to press Liverpool’s right-winger, knowing that their right central midielder (#14) can’t exploit the space circled in blue. Davies and Müldür are defensively aware enough to know when to press and when not to.
Below is a typical Liverpool tactic to create chances against a low block. This involves a quick combination between the wide players (mainly on the right due to Salah and Alexander-Arnold’s quality) and a pass towards the ball-near central mid’s underlap. In these situations, if our ball-near full-back mistakenly steps out to press the winger having the ball, the ball-near pivot will have to be alert to the underlap, while the ball-far pivot rush into the box to deal with potential crosses and second balls. Camavinga and Partey are athletic enough to follow and stop Henderson and Wijnaldum’s underlaps and the resulting crosses. Here, Henderson makes a run in behind Davies. Camavinga instantly follows him.
Liverpool will try all kinds of crosses, so our centre-backs need to anticipate potential crosses quickly and drop back, forcing Liverpool to launch floated crosses (instead of lower ones), which help our tall defenders hold an advantage over the likes of Firmino and Mané. The double-pivot will position around the penalty spot to stop cutbacks and win second balls. Koke and James must help defend the box when Liverpool commits more men at the end of such crosses.
In their defensive transitions, Liverpool will have numbers around the ball, making it very hard for our deep block to break out. In most situations, they will counter-press successfully and restart the attack. However, we have wonderful players who excel in attacking transitions. We will try to rely on a few counter-attacking options.
Since our midfielders will be deep and around the box, we may look to combine quickly through the centre. We may also rely on the great vision and passing of Partey, Koke, and De Bruyne to send long balls towards James, Davies, or Haaland. Here, James gets the second ball after Liverpool’s cross. He can now instantly launch long balls towards the lightning-quick runs of Haaland or Davies or burst forward to connect better with his teammates.
Although there are a lot of youngsters in our starting eleven, we have enough quality to beat Liverpool. We will defend tenaciously and look to score from a quick transition. 1-0 against Liverpool is what we are looking for.