Unstoppable, Liverpool!

Match Analysis: Liverpool 3–2 Paris St. Germain (UEFA Champions League 2018/2019, Group C, Matchday 1)

Long time no see, folks. And long time no see, Champions League. The group stage of the world’s greatest club competition returned last night. This season’s UEFA Champions League campaign is filled by some death groups. Consisting of Liverpool, Paris St. Germain, Napoli, and Red Star Belgrade, of course the Group C belongs to that echelon. Even better, this group started with a high-octane match between last year’s finalist, Liverpool, and Ligue 1’s reigning champions, Paris St. Germain. The match was very good (to say the least), which finished 3–2 for the host; thanks to Roberto Firmino’s last minute winner. This result also extended Liverpool’s winning streak to start this season. Promising

Line-up for both teams

Liverpool was shaped in their usual 4–3–3 in offense. Off the ball, they stayed in the 4–3–3 but with more compact and aggressive midfielders. Sometimes, they would defend in a 4–4–2, with Mo Salah and Daniel Sturridge upfront (Sadio Mane as LW, and James Milner drifted wide).

In the other part of the pitch, the visitors started with a 4–3–3 on the ball, relying on their star-studded front three: Neymar-Edinson Cavani-Kylian Mbappe. Defensively, they used 4–1–4–1 (slightly a 4–1–3–2), with Marquinhos being their deepest midfielder. Neymar sometimes stood alongside Cavani upfront. Their defensive shapes were sometimes lopsided because of Neymar’s tendency to leave his defensive role.

As usual, Liverpool used mid-high pressure to make PSG uncomfortable. The organised-and-constant pressures by the Anfield Gang gave Les Parisiens some problems in their build-ups. Marquinhos was constantly dropping between the CBs, Thiago Silva and Presnel Kimpembe, in order to soften the build-ups. Marquinhos’ movements allowed the fullbacks (Thomas Meunier and the-newly-recruited Juan Bernat) to move higher. This resulted in a 3–4–3-ish shape for the visitors.

I was really intrigued by Liverpool’s high-press (and PSG’s attempt to escape from it!), which looked like this:

PSG’s comfortable ball-playing CBs and Salah’s poor defensive performance disallowed Liverpool’s pressure to reach it’s full potential

Liverpool’s front three forced a 3v3 against PSG CBs. This pressure sometimes situated just in front of PSG’s box. Mane was tasked to keep Thiago Silva off the ball, while Salah tasked to do the same against Kimpembe. Jurgen Klopp instructed his team to prevent the ball to be played into PSG’s midfielders. Whenever Adrien Rabiot and/or Angel di Maria dropped to offer themselves as a pass receiver, Milner, Wijnaldum, and/or Henderson would follow their closest opponent(s) thus avoiding the ball to be played forward.

  1. Neymar. The #10 would usually move inside (into the left halfspace) and drop into the halfway line in order to offer himself as a passing option;
  2. If Liverpool’s right back, Trent Alexander-Arnold, followed Neymar, PSG’s left back, Bernat, would move higher and wider to offer himself. 2v1 against Neymar-Bernat: no chance for the poor young player;
  3. Marquinhos’ passing ability was good. He was able to find Neymar/Bernat with sharp and clean passes;
  4. Salah’s poor defensive performance also played a part in here. If Marquinhos couldn’t find a good passing lane to move the ball forward, he would square the ball into Kimpembe. The new-world-champion CB was very calm and composed on the ball. Kimpembe often beat Salah easily in 1v1 in order to bring the ball forward (Salah’s unacceptable defensive work was also the reason why Bernat could move higher to receive → see no. 2);
  5. Kimpembe was also good on the ball. He could easily find Neymar/Bernat in the left side.

Positioned in his best position at LW, Neymar would always try to dribble inside. His good dribbling ability (and supreme upper-body strength) always pulled 2–3 Liverpool’s players with him (Alexander-Arnold and Milner and/or Georginio Wijnaldum), especially in the first half. His movements would allow Bernat to be free to attack the space in far-left. Unfortunately, Bernat rarely receive in that position. In the other flank, Mbappe would always stay wide. From there he would provide runs-in-behind to receive (which, he didnt’ receive many).

Neymar’s movements in the 1st half pulled 2–3 players with him. This gave advantages for Bernat and Mbappe

Liverpool used interesting offensive patterns in the first half (one of them was resulted in a penalty), which looked like this:

Milner and Alexander-Arnold provided enjoyable throughballs from the right side

In those patterns, Milner and Alexander-Arnold would provide curled throughballs into Sturridge behind PSG’s defensive line (sometimes the first-scorer would drop and received just in front of the box). Sturridge’s movements triggered Wijnaldum to move. He had two options:

  1. Move inside the box in between Meunier and Thiago Silva to receive crosses in the far post; or
  2. Move into the D (in front of the box) to win loose balls.

For a small amount of occasions, Milner/Alexander-Arnold would play the ball into Wijnaldum just in front of the box in order to overload PSG’s dangerous zone.

The most noticeable pattern of Liverpool’s crosses was their reliance on their fullbacks to provide the attackers inside the box with out-swing crosses. More, Liverpool won so many corner-kicks in this match, especially in the first half. In corner-kicks, the kicker would try to find Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk inside the box.

In the 61st minute, Sturridge got a free header in front of Alphonse Areola’s goal (unfortunately, the header was too weak and easily saved by Areola). The movements of Liverpool’s forward trio tickled my brain.

Here’s the initial movement

Thiago Silva was keeping one of his eyes on Sturridge, and Kimpembe’s on Salah. No one noticed Mane in far-post (the cross would come from the right side).

The initial movement resulted in this

While Salah stayed on his running lane, Mane came inside in between the PSG’s pair of CBs, thus forced Thiago Silva to follow him. Sturridge, who was marked by Thiago Silva, was set free because of Mane’s run. Sturridge then drift wide into the far-post to receive the out-swing crosses. Unlucky for the Anfield Gang, the #15 wasn’t able to replicate his first half header that turned into a goal.

PSG sometimes used di Maria as their outlet in offence. His ball-carrying ability helped his time for some times. In the other side, his midfield partner, Rabiot, looked clueless. The curly French offered nothing offensively and allowed Wijnaldum to join the attack for a lot of times.

This happened for 10–15 consecutive minutes

In the 2nd half, PSG’s 4–3–3 off the ball sparked some issues:

  1. The midfield trio were too close at times. This problem was aggravated by …;
  2. … the positioning of Neymar and Mbappe. Both of them were too high. This made the midfielders had to cover more areas and of course, work harder (well actually Mbappe was better than Neymar defensively. The #7 was more discipline as a defensive winger);
  3. The shape gave Liverpool a lot of space to attack in the flanks (especially in the right flank)

Sometimes Liverpool would overload their left side before switching the ball into the far-right. Henderson/van Dijk would try to find Alexander-Arnold via diagonal passes (or through Gomez if that wasn’t possible) into the right flank. After receiving, Alexander-Arnold was blessed with a lot of time and space (which he used mostly to cross).

Mbappe scored the equalizer for PSG late in the game. How did that happen?

In the 2nd half, especially when they had to chase the game, PSG played a 3–4–1–2/3–5–2 with Neymar dropping deep (even very deep into the midfield, in order to get the ball directly into his feet) and moving central. Tuchel looked to overload the central part of the pitch in this shape. Mbappe filled in the front two with the debutant, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

This shape also allowed the fullbacks to move higher and offer overlaps. Meunier was the best example of it. The Belgian offered aggressiveness in the right side. He got two dangerous chances in this match: one was resulted in a goal, and late in the game he got a chance again but his last decision was questionable, to say the least.

PSG’s 3–4–1–2/3–5–2 late in the game

Late in the game, PSG utilized Choupo-Moting physical presence to move the ball into the hosts’ dangerous zone. The Cameroonian was tasked to win aerial duels and make lay-offs for Mbappe/Neymar, who was ready to receive just in front of the box.

Sometimes Choupo-Moting would drop a bit to receive. If he dropped, Neymar would get the ball from him (via lay-off) and dribble his way into the vacated space, where he could combine with Mbappe. This was resulted in PSG’s 2nd goal.

… Tuchel laid a blueprint to beat this Liverpool side. Tuchel instructed his defensive department to stay back and didn’t allow any runs-in-behind (no space to run for Liverpool’s front three). He also tasked his midfielders to stay compact with the defenders (well, it didn’t go as planned because Rabiot-di Maria were poor defensively). At some points it was effective enough to lower the threats of Liverpool’s offence. For me, Tuchel has to thank Thiago Silva for his exceptional performance in this match. The 34-year-old captain saved PSG from a much bigger upset.

It was a good game but the well-coached Liverpool side deserved more from this match. 8/10.

(diagrams made with: ConceptDraw)

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