Liverpool’s pressing system
The basis and main principle of Liverpool’s 4-3-3 pressing system is to keep the ball at the central zones, therefore preventing the be moved by horizontal circulation, which usually -if done well- stretches the defensive structure both in the vertical and horizontal axis.
To achieve that their system is both passing-lane and option-oriented: 1st line is closing passing lanes to prevent passes out wide towards the full-backs/wingers, whilst 2nd line is much rather option-oriented therefore their principle is to position themselves to have access to 2 players (defensive shifting’s decision making based on oppositional system, distances, ball’s speed). Meanwhile the last line, mostly the fullbacks also have the option-orientation: if the 2nd line can’t create optimal access to the oppositional full-backs, then they push higher up, leaving a numerical equality at the back. Ideally the last line stays in position to offer better access at the central zones for the long balls.
Even if the opponents can find valuable central options or the wide areas, they have both shifting solutions/traps to prevent these, especially at the flanks.
Wingers are closing the outside angle, whilst the CF always tries to close the ballnear CM/or the lone DM, depending on the oppositional system. This dropping movement allows the ballnear CM/Milner on the illustration to shift a bit wider and control the passing lane vertically in depth, preventing him being too focused on the opposition. Since he is wider, he has a better access to the wide zones, if he has to shift out wide to close the oppositional FB. As the 2nd line is mostly staggered in a flat line, the DM has the flexibility to shift even to higher positions. Against a lone DM, usually there is no need to do that, since the CF/Firmino does an excellent job to constantly close that option with his cover shadow, allowing the 2nd line to be focused on closing down the depth behind. Against 2 CMs deeper (here vs. a 3-2 structure) the pattern is that the DM/Fabinho pushes up to close the ballnear CM, preventing him to turn after receiving. As the ball goes out wide the DM has time to readjust his positioning deeper.
Barca had some issues with building from depth, without effectively stretching the 2nd line, even though Pool’s basic setup opened bigger central spaces, which could have been exploited better. In that way pulling Rakitic deeper was a clever solution, since it pulled out Fabinho, opening up more space in behind at the centre. Pulling out 4 players can be an effective way to open valuable spaces for teams, who can build from long balls after goal kicks better & then collecting 2nd balls. This also allowed for Pool’s last line to stay in position, so even though Barca regained possession after long balls, the back 4 was in position to close any possible runs in behind, slowing down the possession.
A key player would have been Vidal though, who with a more central positioning could have manipulated the LCM/Keita then Milner, pulling him inwards to open up more space for the RB to receive. Since this option has been exploited only once, Barca basically struggled against the high-press. Although Pool had a solution for this as well.
2nd leg changes
For the 2nd leg Liverpool made some key adjustments in their pressing approach. First of all, the CF’s/Origi’s main role was to guide Barca’s build-up towards their left side, to prevent their actions on their stronger right side, towards Messi. To achieve that Origi positioned himself to close towards Busquets with his cover shadow, which forced Barca to play is backwards from their side to ter Stegen and then build through Lenglet. After the backwards pass Origi immediately attacked the ball with a curled run, to close the access to the right side -plus, main principle: prevent switching sides, keep the ball in the initial zone.
Learning from the 1st leg, where Barca could effectively find the wide areas in some cases, they’ve changed their shifting dynamics as well. To create a better access towards the oppositional FBs (Alba & Roberto) the last line generally positioned themselves a bit wider in order to decrease the distances, which allowed Robertson & Alexander-Arnold to press the FBs as soon as the received a pass, whilst the whole last line was shifting. Although this wouldn’t have been achieved without changing the 2nd line’s shifting: in contrary to the 1st leg’s sytem, the DM/Fabinho stayed deeper in every situation to act as a free-man in front of the last line, plus as Matip pushed out wide to close the oppositional winger/Coutinho, he dropped deep to fill in his position. This also changed the ballfar CM’s/Milner’s role, who had to be option-oriented higher in between the DM/Busquets and the RCM/Vidal: push up if needed to close Busquets immediately from a diagonal angle -prevent change of sides-, or drop deep if the ball goes out wide to Alba.
Closing the wide access means that the opponents have basically 3 ways to penetrate/focus on:
- overload the centre -› to reduce the 1st line’s cover, possibly doubling the central-midfielders exploiting the option-orientation
- e.g. creating the midfield box (2-2 staggering)
- double width -› stretch their shape, reduce cover at the wide zones, which could lead better on ball actions for the CBs (here 2 key principles: 1. CBs diagonal orientation on the ball, to exploit the central connections & pulling 1st line inwards, then exploit wide spaces. 2. CBs distance -› closer positioning to each other, to pull the oppositional Ws more inwards, opening up more space for the full-backs to receive directly or by patterns, like CB-DM-LB route)
- e.g. wide 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 – with asymmetry + using false #9 positioning, since CBs are not following this movement out wide & FBs attention focus on the wide wingers
- both -› 4-2-2-2-0 – with this staggering possible to create a 5v3 at the back with the GK, which allows better circulation dynamics with using the wide zones as well to move Pool’s structure with the ball