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Tactical Analysis: High-octane encounter at Anfield dictated by defensive masterclasses

Written by: Anjishnu Roy

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Belied by the scoreline the game was full of intensity and opportunities for both teams throughout the 90 minutes.

Liverpool FC faced FC Bayern München in the round of 16 first leg clash at home. Surprisingly enough, both sides failed to exert their own methodologies and philosophies to the fullest in the game and despite being an open encounter with plenty of chances created, there were also bouts of scruffiness when the tactical nuances and/or forced errors came to the fore in deciding the course and tempo of the game, especially so in the defensive third.

Liverpool started out strong in the first half, creating a whole host of chances. Sadio Mané looked wasteful on the night and a backline of Fabinho and Joel Matip seemed indecisive without the towering presence of Virgil van Dijk. Considering that, Klopp might feel pretty contended about the clean sheet.

Bayern Munich on the other hand will also be happy about the draw. Despite not creating as many chances as Liverpool, they were solid and disciplined in defence and did not allow the front three of Mane-Salah-Firmino spaces and gaps to exploit. Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba were asked to tuck back, therefore denying the space to counter on the wings.



Lineups and formation:

Both managers knew it was key to win the midfield battle in order to gain an advantage in the game

Liverpool started with a 4-3-3 as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 they’ve done so frequently this season. In the absence of Virgil Van Dijk, a makeshift defence of Fabinho and Joel Matip was employed on the night ahead of Alisson to keep Lewandowski and co at bay.

The full-back duo of Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson started on either flank in order to stretch the play and provide offensive support in buildups. A midfield three of Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson started in behind the usual front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.    

Bayern Munich started out with what looked like a hybrid between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. Mats Hummels and Niklas Sule started in defence ahead of Manuel Neuer who returned from injury recently. David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich started on opposing flanks as fullbacks. Javi Martinez held the anchor in midfield. And Thiago played as an interior and an additional pivot. James Rodriguez started in the hole behind Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman provided width on the flanks.

First half- frantic and open

Liverpool started on the front footing in the first half, pinning balls into the Bayern defensive third and combining well to get there. Bayern responded by forming a low block of 4-4-2 when off the ball. Naby Keita was impressive in the first half, he was effortless in carrying the ball from the midfield to the attacking third to feed it to the trio of Mane, Salah and Firmino who looked pretty wasteful with chances. Roberto Firmino occupied smart positions in between and behind Bayern’s defensive lines that disrupted their shape.

Sadio Mane looked isolated on the left flank but found himself at the end of chances in the box

Bayern Munich were especially insistent on playing out from the back in this game, often at the cost of shoddy unforced errors. Neuer exchanged a lot of passes with Hummels who then sprayed it out for Alaba, Javi Martinez or Thiago or simply exchange passes with partner Sule.

Bayern’s press was triggered in the middle by Thiago and by Gnabry on the flanks, the winger converging on the Fabinho- Robertson route. Liverpool missed Virgil Van Dijk’s presence in playing out from the back and Kovac’s positioning of players made it even harder.

Counter-press engaging the Bayern buildup

 Firmino occupied the central zones in behind and between the Bayern defensive line 

Once in the defensive third, the Bayern attacking lines would mount slow buildups with James and Thiago gradually pushing higher. Roberto Firmino here, played a crucial role of sticking close to Javi Martinez to assert the second press as Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson would converge in to retrieve possession.

This was a zone where a lot of spaces and gaps opened up for Liverpool to take control of the game in the first half. Without possession of the ball, Liverpool set up a medium block to engage the Bayern buildup with Keita and Wijnaldum staying with Thiago and Martinez.

Second half- insistence on defence first for Bayern

 Neuer's passing skills were called upon as Bayern tried to build heavily from the back 

Niko Kovac was smart to realise that Liverpool creating chances in the first half was a worrisome issue, so he asked his fullbacks David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich who are attack minded in nature and overlap often to stay back and hold a strong defensive line.

This made it hard for Liverpool to exploit holes through wings in Bayern’s narrow and compact defensive line that defended tightly. Javi Martinez and Thiago would form a double pivot to stifle out Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum while James Rodriguez occupied Jordan Henderson.

Second half- Caution over attacking threat

Much of the excitement and intensity the first half provided died down in the second as both sides lacked a cutting teeth in their attacks and preferred to play it safe instead in order to take a result for the second leg. Liverpool found it easier to hold on to the ball in the defensive third during the second half in the wake of a conservative Bayern press who instead tried to cut off passing lanes in the middle third of the pitch.

 Lewandowski and Gnabry did not see enough of the ball in the game

Liverpool lost its attacking flair and edge in this half and this allowed Bayern to mount their attacks instead, this time utilising the wings well with Gnabry and Coman. However, most of these chances were only hopeful and a clear cut opportunity did not show up for either of the sides for most of the second half.

Liverpool mount a late resurgence

 Joel Matip's minimal involvement in the build-up is evident from this pass sonar map

Jurgen Klopp’s men mounted a late uprising in order to take a result to defend at the Allianz Arena in Munich. Divock Origi and James Milner were introduced into the game and the full-back duo of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold pushed higher. This added momentum to Liverpool’s attacking edge pinned Bayern players to their own defensive third and they held their shape of two lines of 4 strong and well refusing Liverpool inroads to Neuer’s goal.

Published: Wed Feb 20, 2019 06:59 PM IST

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