We’ve become accustomed to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool being well-organised and energetic without the ball, but Saturday’s 4-1 win over Manchester City demonstrated things are improving rapidly at the other end, too.
Liverpool’s pressing was again excellent, with the midfielders constantly winning possession in advanced positions – but whereas previously the attacking players then looked too tired to then contribute anything in possession, Liverpool created plenty of chances at the Etihad. Were it not for a couple of fine Joe Hart saves, the scoreline could have been even more resounding.
The most positive aspect of the performance was the relationship between two Brazilian attackers. Roberto Firmino made an inconsistent start to this Premier League career, while Philippe Coutinho was struggling to influence games regularly under Brendan Rodgers. Since the arrival of Klopp, however, both players look much more lively – and, judging from Saturday’s display, they’re on the same wavelength in terms of link play.
The statistics show they combined 15 times at the Etihad, which included teeing up one another for the second and third goals.
The pattern of passes from Coutinho to Firmino is particularly interesting – all are played from inside-left positions, all are forward passes, and all are played inside to Firmino who usually took up slightly right-of-centre positions. These passes seem particularly direct, which was a key feature of Liverpool’s attacking on Saturday – they won the ball quickly, then used it quickly too.
Firmino the fascinating false nine
Firmino’s passes are less direct, as you’d expect for a forward playing in a midfield, but it was notable that Firmino was always looking for his Brazilian compatriot’s movement into goalscoring positions. This is what Firmino provides Liverpool when playing in this slightly unfamiliar false centre-forward role – he attempted plenty of shots from dangerous positions, but he retains the mentality of a playmaker.
Liverpool’s second goal, scored by Coutinho, demonstrated this perfectly. Firmino was played in, when sprinting from a central position into an inside-right zone. Coutinho was making a dangerous run behind him, and into a goalscoring position to the opposite side of the box, and Firmino’s pass in behind the defence was brilliantly weighted, allowing Coutinho to run onto the ball and shoot first-time.
The key to the move wasn’t the pass, or the finish, but the fact that Firmino looked over his shoulder to check for support when running onto the ball. Daniel Sturridge or Christian Benteke would have had their head down, but Firmino was keen to check for support.
Coutinho and cute combinations
Coutinho repaid the favour for Liverpool’s third goal, collecting an extravagant Emre Can backheel in the behind the Manchester City defence (who insist on holding their offside line on the edge of the penalty box, even when this makes a through-ball alarmingly easy) before playing a delightfully selfless pass just inside, bypassing Joe Hart and presenting Firmino with an open goal. Both glanced across nervously to the linesman, but Firmino had just about kept himself onside by being behind the ball.
It’s this type of move Klopp will be particularly happy about – quick passing combinations showing harmony and cohesion in the final third is the mark of a great attacking side, and he’d previously been frustrated by the lack of quality when Liverpool won the ball quickly. This performance sets the standard, and felt like the true beginning of the Klopp era.
The only question is what Klopp decides to do when Benteke and Sturridge return. Theoretically Firmino would be equally comfortable in the inside-right role Adam Lallana played yesterday, but Sturridge would need to offer similar awareness in the centre-forward role for Liverpool to play this kind of football. Regardless of the XI, it’s difficult to imagine Liverpool playing better: this win was almost flawless.
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