Wolves 0-3 Liverpool: midfield runs not tracked

January 22, 2011

The starting line-ups

Kenny Dalglish picked up his first win in his second spell as Liverpool manager.

Mick McCarthy made one change from the side that lost 4-3 to Manchester City last weekend – Karl Henry replaced David Jones in the centre of midfield.

Kenny Dalglish also switched one midfielder – out went Jay Spearing, in came Christian Poulsen.

Liverpool were by far the better side here. In a fairly scrappy game contested on an awful pitch, Liverpool played well and were a constant threat through direct attacks. Wolves’ poor defending was also a major factor in the result.

Midfield runs

The key to the game was Liverpool’s central midfield advantage, 3 v 2 in the middle. This is a common factor in many matches when a 4-4-2 plays a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, but usually we focus on the side with the advantage passing their way around the other side in the middle of the pitch.

That wasn’t so much the case here – often because Poulsen gave the ball away cheaply – but the dominance in the centre was a factor because Liverpool’s central midfield trio – Poulsen, Lucas and Raul Meireles – consistently made darts forward from the midfield zone that weren’t tracked properly.

Meireles was stationed between the lines and therefore generally found himself in space – it was often he who found himself unchecked as he moved forward to join Fernando Torres, but Lucas and Poulsen also got forward into space early on. Karl Henry and Nenad Milijas were too static and stuck to one particular man when often a deeper Liverpool midfielder would run straight past them.

Torres movement

The plan was for one of the centre-backs to come out of the back and close down Meireles, but the situation was complicated by Torres’ good movement. Rather than staying high up the pitch against the offside line, Torres dropped deeper to collect the ball, drawing one of the centre-backs (generally Richard Stearman) up the pitch and out of position. This meant that the other centre-back who was supposed to be keeping an eye on Meireles would either come up towards the pitch to his man (meaning Wolves playing a very high line) or stay in position at the back (meaning Meireles went free). It was a combination of the two factors that resulted in the first goal, as Meireles sprinted through and squared for Torres to tap in. Wolves’ offside line was all over the place.

The second goal also came after Meireles was free between the lines – though in fairness it was simply a fantastic volley – and the third goal in stoppage time was remarkably similar to the first: a ball over the top played to a midfield runner (this time, Dirk Kuyt) being played onside by a Wolves full-back, and another square ball to Torres. 3-0, and Wolves’ Monday morning training session will be spent working on the defence moving up the pitch as a unit.

Liverpool midfield passing

Lucas had a good game in midfield, keeping his passes simple and maintaining possession. Lucas is one of those players who frequently gets criticised for playing sideways passes, but compare his passing to Poulsen’s, and it becomes clear that simple sideways balls are preferable to forward passes which concede possession cheaply. Lucas’ pass completion rate was 79%, Poulsen’s was 54%.


by Guardian Chalkboards

Wolves lack creativity

Wolves’ attacking approach was simple. First, Wayne Hennessy hit long balls forward to the forwards, with the wide players looking to get to the second balls in and around the penalty area. Second, they got the ball to the flanks quickly in open play, with Karl Henry switching the play from flank to flank. From there, Matt Jarvis and Stephen Hunt had to beat players and play balls into the box, but Jarvis’ crossing was very poor, especially in the first half, whilst Hunt gave the ball away almost every time he got into the final third.


by Guardian Chalkboards

Conclusion

Liverpool didn’t play fantastic football – but they didn’t have to. Simple passes combined with good movement from Torres and forward runs from midfielders caught out Wolves’ defence, and Liverpool were comfortable after their second goal, despite a couple of nervous defensive moments.

Meireles had a good game for the second week running, which may raise a slight question about how to use Steven Gerrard when the captain returns from suspension. It shouldn’t be too much of an issue, though – Meireles is not really a player who plays ‘in the hole’, he doesn’t offer a great amount of creativity, and is at his best when played alongside a sitting midfielder (Lucas) and a more naturally attacking player (Gerrard), in a box-to-box role.

Wolves 0-3 Liverpool: midfield runs not tracked

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