Liverpool – Swansea City 4:1
Liverpool dominated what was a defense that epitomizes what most consider to be the standard English Premier League defense. Rodgers used some of his most skilled players in the best roles for this particular match, and the players did not disappoint. Liverpool’s use of a system with 3 central defenders coupled with some nice strategical choices by their manager is what resulted in Liverpool’s dominant 4:1 victory.
Rodgers reading in-between the lines
Liverpool’s dominance stemmed from their build up play against Swansea’s 4-4-2 defensive shape. Bony and Sigurdsson were intent on blocking and possible passing lanes into Lucas and Henderson. When Lucas or henderson dropped into the defensive line to assist build-up Swansea’s front two pressed more aggressively. Showing that they most likely had instructions to stop Lucas and Henderson receiving the ball.
Meanwhile, Swansea’s wide midfielders were more oriented to Liverpool’s wingbacks. Needless to say, this stretched the Swansea midfield wider than it shouldve been. Liverpool used their back 3 (with Can playing particularly nice) to overload Swansea’s 2 forwards and progress into midfield with their extra man from defense. From this development balls were played directly into the likes of Lallana, Sterling, and Coutinho – who played more of a “receiver” role in-between the defensive lines and looked to combine. The passes were played through much easier due to the stretching of Swansea’s midfield.
This shows some aspects of what the “standard EPL defense” mentioned earlier. Man marking which is easily manipulated, not being compact, struggling to maintain access to the ball, and lacking control of the play. This quote by my colleague here at Spielverlagerung exemplifies the general strategical problems in the EPL:
“Lack of horizontal compactness, ball-oriented movement, playing positionally well in lines, and having an intelligent balance within the the lines in terms of movement or players on them are some of the biggest problems in many EPL defenses”
When Swansea’s wide men attempted to ease up their orientation towards the wingbacks Liverpool played the ball into their high wingbacks who then began to create play with more freedom. Moreno in particular had an impressive display. He made many runs both inside towards the center and outside, was dynamic in his play, and had nice technique in quick combination play.
Within these combinations after penetrating passes through Swansea’s midfield lied Liverpool’s most promising moments. Coutinho, Sterling, and Lallana are all dynamic dribblers with great ball control and combination ability. There were many nice moments where they displayed the fact that they were getting used to playing with each other in tight areas – like a Sterling no-look lay-off pass to a diagonal weakside run from Lallana.
Swansea’s Build Up Play
Swansea’s best moments in the first half occurred when either Shelvey or Britton dropped in the defensive line to provide stability against Liverpool’s pressing. Britton was especially pressure resistant, as usual. When a central defender had the ball, Sterling looked to pressure and force the ball towards the flanks. Naturally, this is easier than usual due to Liverpool’s crowded center. From there one of the wide forwards of Liverpool would press the ball aggressively in tandem with a wingback stepping up high up the pitch.
This changed with the added stability of an extra player in the defensive line. Now Liverpool couldn’t force the ball where they wanted it to go and remained in their 5-4-1 shape. This left less players in the forward line of Liverpool, resulting in an easier time building from defense for Swansea. This is why their best moments arose from these situations.
Swansea struggled when it came to combining in tight areas, especially Shelvey. This was also apparent in the difficulty Swansea had escaping Liverpool’s aggressive counterpressing in transition.This would’ve been a game more suited for Ki to start, who is excellent in tight areas and in decision making – a truly underrated player. Nevertheless, The Swans continued with their strategy of dropping central midfielders into the defensive line to maintain stability. Though their angles of support and general positioning in relation to each other was very poor and Liverpool’s already good pressure had an even easier time intercepting passing and creating dangerous situations.
Similarly to how Sigurdsson and Bony approached Henderson and Lucas dropping into the defensive line, Henderson and Lucas would occasionally press The Swan’s back line aggressively in tandem with Sterling due to Britton and Shelvey dropping. This didn’t prove very successful and Swansea remained stable in possession. As time wore on Liverpool’s intensity naturally began to drop and Swansea started finding some extra time and space in what were usually highly pressurized zones. This led to more penetrating passes and combinations within Liverpool’s defense, but no real end product.
This analysis may seem harsh on Swansea, but they are not the only ones guilty of such defense. Liverpool play equally poor defense, the big difference between the two was Rodger’s team’s ability to strategically exploit the typical deficiencies in the league’ defenses. Overall, a nice game for Liverpool. This may provide some extra hope for their fans that the team could clinch a spot in the top 5 of the Premier League table.