Liverpool v Aston Villa
It was good to see the tactics had finally been tweaked to work on a similar pattern to the way Manchester City have been doing, with the defender that steps out just dropping into centre-back if the ball is lost during the play, rather than having to try and race across to right-back and confusing everyone. It worked well in this game, with Liverpool so dominant it was never really put under real pressure though to test it out. I would have my worries about Matip’s ability to act as a right-back and deal with tricky wingers running at him and Alexander-Arnold’s ability to play in the centre and deal with crosses into a striker in the centre. It worked against Villa because they possessed little threat down the flanks, but it is likely that it would have been just as effective if it had been the usual system, as that struggles most down the flanks. Without someone to exploit the gaps in wide areas by running in behind to trouble it, the inverted full-back system works well.
What made the biggest difference, in my opinion, was the change in the way Trent operated when Liverpool had the ball. Before he was moving forward immediately, as soon as Liverpool took possession of the ball. In this match he moved central but stayed deep, almost playing as a centre-back the entire time. That allowed Robertson a bit more freedom to get forward and left no obvious gaps for Villa to exploit. That forced Villa’s passing to be more precise, which they struggled badly with and ended up with them gifting possession back almost as soon as they got the ball. Alexander-Arnold would just return to the right-back area during natural breaks in play, removing the confusion from players swapping over. I do wonder why the need to even have Alexander-Arnold return to full-back at all, why not just remove any of the messing about and just put him in midfield in a holding role? That would then allow a centre-back to be there when needed defensively and full-backs to still provide some width when attacking. It just seems to be making things more needlessly complicated. But in this match it all worked well and helped Liverpool dominate the game almost completely.
Villa, on the other hand, got their tactics all wrong, though Emery was badly hampered by the injuries he has, particularly in defence. To be fair to him, I would think a lot of the tactical choices he made were due to the lack of options with the players available. They pressed high on goal kicks, which did put severe pressure on Liverpool at times, but their backline was easily turned by balls in behind to break the press. Torres, in particular, struggled badly due to being slow on the turn and lacking pace generally. That made it difficult for them and the press easy to bypass. That probably explains why they did not press in open play, instead dropping off. But that does not excuse them just sitting off and watching Alexander-Arnold ping balls all over the place with no one putting any pressure on him. I do wonder why Emery did not get someone to just ensure he was not given so much time and space. That was the biggest cause of their downfall, allowing possibly the best passer of the ball, with vision to match, in the English game time and space to pick passes throughout the 90 minutes. I doubt they will make that mistake at Villa Park in the return game!
The other issue for Villa was the insistence on trying to play out from the back, despite a keeper who can barely kick the ball and a lack of movement from the players in front of him to give options to the man on the ball. I can only remember one time they managed to work it well to break the press, the rest of the times they just ended up turning over the ball very easily. Also they might have a discipline problem with Duran that could need managing. His bizarre knee into Gomez’s ribs was out of nowhere and utterly needless. It was just silly and could have easily ended up being a lot worse for him had the referee or VAR decided it was worthy of more punishment. While it was a bit of nothing, we all know that referees and VAR are making odd decisions at the moment and will ignore genuinely dangerous challenges but flash cards for things which are little more than a flick. It was simply the fact it came out of nowhere and there had been no needle in the game or between him and Gomez before he did it that would bother me if I was Emery. It was not like he had been running around for 90 minutes and got frustrated about not having a kick. He was frustrated at his own failings and that is something that you want to see your players channel into working harder, rather than starting to lash out at those around them.
Quick notes on the players:
Alisson – a quiet day for the Brazilian in the main, but when needed he was there to make it look easy, as he always does. When you look around at some of the saves lauded over the weekend, you just think no one would have noticed if Alisson had pulled them off, because he would not have made them look so difficult as the likes of Pickford do.
Alexander-Arnold – he was given time and space and used it to give a masterclass in passing. Added to not having the confusion about whether to go straight to right-back or to challenge for the ball when it was turned over, he was able to have an excellent game. Yes Villa did make it easy for him, but he still needed to have the quality to hurt them and the vision to spot those passes too. I doubt any other team will make the same mistake this season after watching that. I am just hoping his injury is just enough to keep him out of the internationals and leave him fresh for the return of the Premier League in a couple of weeks.
Gomez – apart from one slip, which luckily led to nothing, he was excellent throughout. His reading of the game shone through as he was often able to step forward and intercept through passes before they got anywhere their intended target. Seamlessly slips into which ever position he is asked to play as well.
Matip – he looked so much happier and more comfortable with just simply moving out to right-back when the team had possession. Admittedly he was not under much pressure in that area due to Villa struggling to get anything going down the flank, so that may have had a lot to do with it. However, it did feel like he was finding it easier to deal with positionally and understood his role properly, whereas it never feels that way normally. It was a bit of a stroll in the sunshine for him, but he did have a sloppy period where he consistently misplaced passes culminating in giving away a needless corner. That is something that he needs to cut out, even if it was towards the end of a dominant win. He also got a bit of a tongue-lashing from Klopp for not offering himself for a pass when the ball was out wide, something that was again just down to laxity.
Robertson – another who looked much more at ease with the tactics. With Alexander-Arnold dropping into the centre-back position, he was granted more freedom than in recent weeks and he used it well. He also defended much better than he had been, showing the value of a player being able to play his natural game, rather than constantly thinking about what he has to do.
Mac Allister – once again he was deployed as the deepest lying midfielder, though he was rarely called upon to defend. He played well but it was not really a challenging game for him due to Villa’s lack of genuine threat.
Jones – stepped right in looking like the player that has been impressing over the last few months. He just needs to stay fit as he works really well in this midfield set up. That is the biggest problem for him to overcome, if he can’t stay fit for long periods then his career at Liverpool is not going to last much longer with all the competition for places.
Szoboszlai – there were a couple of moments when he dawdled on the ball, probably a hang over from his Bundesliga days where players are afforded much more time on the ball, but overall he was once again excellent. His early goal set the tone for the game and at times he ran the game. His workrate is exceptional and his touch and skill is sublime at times, as Digne will no doubt testify having been at one point absolutely destroyed by the Hungarian. Early days still, but right now he is standing out as the signing of the summer, probably for the entire league, not just Liverpool.
Diaz – not his best game by any means. It might be just a case of trying too hard but it just was not coming off for him in this game. To be fair he was up against one of the best one-on-one defenders in the Premier League in the shape of Konsa most of the time.
Salah – poor Torres will probably be having nightmares about Salah. With Digne pushing forward to try and provide width down the Villa left, Torres was mostly left to deal with Salah and he was not up to the task. Salah also managed to get yet another goal, to move ahead of Gerrard in the all-time scorers’ list for Liverpool. A very good day for the Egyptian, who is probably still smiling about it now.
Nunez – the luck was just not with him, though Cash will probably be wishing it was so that his shot just went in rather than rebounding off the post for Cash to score an own goal. Nunez’s movement and pace causes so many problems. Add that to his prodigious workrate and desire and you have a player that is a problem for any defence. It is no wonder he has already become a cult hero to The Kop faithful.
Elliott – arrived in the 64th minute in the place of Jones and picked up right from where Jones left off. He provided energy and quality on the ball.
Jota – replaced Diaz, also in the 64th minute. Unfortunately his use of the ball was horrible and he did not perform well at all as he kept giving the ball away. Normally you can rely on him to have a positive effect as a substitute, but not this time. Looked a bit sluggish as well. He did keep going, as he always does, never allowing his head to drop, which is a very big positive about him. You know no matter how many mistakes he makes that he will not let it affect him.
Gakpo – also brought on in the 64th minute and looked well off the pace for some reason. Maybe coming on as a sub just does not suit him or he was not warmed up properly, but he looked even more sluggish than Jota did. Even his touch was not quite right.
Quansah – replaced the injured Alexander-Arnold in the 71st minute. Hard to judge him with the game effectively over, but he looked really good in there and did some nice things.
Endo – came on in the 87th minute for Mac Allister and managed to show well, despite the limited time he was on the pitch.
Klopp – this was a day for a manager to go home feeling extremely satisfied with himself. His team completely outplayed one of the better teams in the league and made it look like a large gulf in class between the two sides. Yes, he was helped by the injuries to Villa’s better defenders, but your team still has to beat what is in front of them and they did it in style, dominating almost totally.
Written by Tris Burke September 04 2023 19:17:20