If there was one concern to take from the 1-1 draw against Sunderland on Saturday, it was the lack of pressing and the deep defensive line which Liverpool adopted, especially in the second half. Although Liverpool struggled to establish themselves on Sunderland in the second period, utilising at times some aimless long passing, a big reason why the Reds lost control of the match was because of the team shape.
Certainly a lack of control of the ball in the second half was a main contributory factor in the Reds not pushing on from their first half display, but what was strikingly evident was how deep the Reds back line was playing at times. It was not only the backline which withdrew deeper though, the Reds midfield also began to stand off Sunderland which inevitably meant less possession and less opportunities for the Reds to attack further up the pitch.
No pressure on the ball allowed Sunderland back into the game, and when Larsson scored, Liverpool failed to grab back the initiative. Instead they continued to play pretty deep. This defensive line led to some of the problems Liverpool had in the attacking half of the pitch in the second period.
Rather than having the ball in more advanced areas, the Reds more often than not had the ball in the back four, and with the Reds not pushing up in midfield, there were very few options for the backline to pick out. It all began to go a bit ragged as the second half went on with the Reds resorting to long ball tactics, trying to pick out an increasingly isolated Andy Carroll . This inevitably led to the ball being given away which became part of a vicious cycle where the back four gave possession away, leading the backline to go deeper and deeper.
So what may have led to such a deep backline and to a lack of pressing in midfield? Would this have been a planned tactic by Dalglish and Clarke? Although there were times under Dalglish last season where the Reds didn’t press the ball very well (e.g v Tottenham), in most matches it was noticeable that there was marked return to higher pressing than there was under previous manager Roy Hodgson. Against teams such as Manchester United and Manchester City, this was very evident indeed.
Against Sunderland however, there was one big difference: personnel. The Reds team is still gelling together, and in the second half especially, the lack of communication was evident as the Reds gave the ball away a lot more. The Reds looked good with possession in the first half and had a lot more of it, but still they did look unconvincing off the ball. In the second half, with less possession, this meant more problems and it is clear that the likes of Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson are not used to pressing as much without the ball.
Again, I must reiterate, this is only one match and things will take time to get right, and I hope that on the training ground this week, Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarke take measures to address this lack of pressing, which led to the backline moving deeper and deeper.
Read more of David Tully’s articles at Live4Liverpool