UEFA Champions League: Tactical Analysis- Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona
Liverpool completed arguably their best ever comeback in the history of the UEFA Champions League, as the Reds overturned a three-goal deficit to beat Barcelona 4-0 at Anfield on Tuesday night to progress to their second successive final of the competition.
Liverpool’s comeback heroics against Ernesto Valverde’s side in the second leg of the semi-finals overshadowed their dramatic penalty-shootout victory over AC Milan back in 2004-05 when the Reds, under the stewardship of Rafael Benitez, came back to clinch the title after being 3-0 down at halftime.
Having won the first leg 3-0 at Camp Nou last week, Barcelona came into the second leg with a massive three-goal advantage, and few would have given Liverpool a chance against the La Liga champions. Liverpool, though, had other ideas and Jurgen Klopp’s side defied the odds and completely outplayed the Catalans with their desire and determination in front of a raucous home crowd at Anfield.
The Reds were without the services of Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino due to injuries, which itself was a massive blow to their chances of forging a comeback against a formidable-looking Barcelona team featuring the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Philippe Coutinho. Liverpool, however, reminded their critics that they are more than capable of winning games against top-quality opposition without their prolific front trio.
Liverpool discovered unlikely heroes on a dramatic night at Anfield, as Divock Origi and substitute Georginio Wjnaldum both scored braces to send Barcelona out of the competition. It was a performance that spoke volumes of the character, resilience, hunger and, most importantly, the togetherness amongst the players at the club.
Undoubtedly, desire and determination were the key driving forces behind Liverpool’s 4-0 victory but there were a few tactical tweaks as well. Let us take a look at a few tactical reasons behind the Reds’ success against Barcelona yesterday night.
1. Liverpool’s high pressing and overly attacking approach
Jurgen Klopp knew very well that Barcelona were not going to try and put three more goals past Liverpool in the second leg and he instructed his team to press the opposition higher up the pitch in order to gain control over the proceedings. As a result of Liverpool’s high press, Barcelona looked unsettled and were forced to adopt a negative approach right from the start.
It is not very often that we see the likes of James Milner and Jordan Henderson get inside the box to score goals but it was a completely different Liverpool side last night. Fabinho was the only midfielder who was inside Liverpool’s half when the team was attacking, while Henderson and Milner both went forward to support the likes of Roigi, Shaqiri, and Mane.
It was Henderson’s run into the box that led to the first goal. Origi used his instincts to get into the right place and at the right time to score from the rebound after Henderson’s effort was kept out by Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
Even when Liverpool were dispossessed, they were ready to counter-press in order to win the ball back as soon as possible. The pressure from the Reds was relentless and Barcelona eventually crumbled.
2. Liverpool’s quick transition from defence to attack
It was not that Barcelona didn’t have chances to score goals. Liverpool’s high line meant that the likes of Suarez, Messi, and Coutinho had plenty of joy in running behind the backline but Alisson was there to intervene. The Brazilian denied Messi twice, Coutinho and Jordi Alba once each in the first half to ensure that the Reds went into the interval 1-0.
Liverpool were only 1-0 up in the first half and they still had a mountain to climb in the second forty-five minutes. Klopp had preferred Joe Gomez to Trent Alexander Arnold at right-back in the first leg but the inclusion of the latter in the starting eleven last night proved to be an undisputed masterstroke from the manager.
Although Andrew Robertson had to be withdrawn due to an injury after a wonderful first half, it was Alexander Arnold, who came up with two assists in the second half. The youngster, with his pace and sharpness, not only gave the Reds that cutting edge during the transition from defence to attack but also supported the attack with some fine deliveries into the box.
Wijnaldum made a late run into the box to score Liverpool’s second off Alexander-Arnold’s cross, while the full-back’s high footballing IQ was once again on display when he set up Origi from a quick corner-kick in the dying stages of the game.
3. Barcelona’s wrong approach
Barcelona started off in their preferred 4-3-3 formation, but in reality, they played more of a 4-4-2 formation, with Messi and Suarez operating upfront, while Coutinho dropped down to the midfield. Now, Barcelona are not used to playing such kind of a formation and their defensive approach opened up the spaces between the lines. There were enough spaces between the defence and the midfield and La Liga champions gave Liverpool the opportunity to wreak havoc with their high pressing.
Milner dropped to left-back in the second half and Wijnaldum took his place in the midfield, which allowed Liverpool to exploit those spaces all the more. In fact, when Barcelona looked to attack, Liverpool changed to a 4-5-1 to cope with the onslaught, while on the other hand, there was no such transition from Barcelona and they pretty much ran out of ideas against a Liverpool team that was oozing with confidence.
Barcelona needed just one goal to put the tie beyond Liverpool’s reach but they never made a real attempt to take the game by the scruff of its neck. Scoring an away goal and then sitting back and absorbing the pressure should have been the right approach from Valverde. It was a surprise to see that even Messi was defending inside his own half.
4. Poor defending from Barcelona
Barcelona came into the game with a negative mindset and that was the major cause of their undoing against Liverpool, who were without the services of Firmino and Salah-two of their most influential characters in the attacking third. Taking no credit away from Liverpool, 3 out of the 4 goals scored by the Reds on the night can actually be put down as defensive errors from Barcelona.
It was Jordi Alba’s poor decision-making and awkward defending that allowed Henderson to play his part in the build-up to Origi’s opener. That early goal proved to be a crucial factor in the context of the tie, as it gave Liverpool the belief that they can actually get the job done.
Taking a closer look at Wijnaldum’s first and Liverpool’s second goal, the Dutchman did a wonderful job to catch Barcelona off guard with an intelligent late run, but one cannot help but feel that the defenders should have been more aware to the situation. They dropped back too deep inside the box and that allowed Wijnaldum to get on the end of Alexander-Arnold’s cut-back.
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Shaqiri deserves plenty of credit for setting up Liverpool’s third of the night but some horrible positioning from Pique and Lenglet allowed Wijnaldum enough room to head home from close range. As good an attacking display as it was from Liverpool, Barcelona’s defending on the night was just not up to the mark.