Final Result: Liverpool 2 - Leeds United 0
From the beginning of the game it was going to be clear that Liverpool would be tasked with the job of trying to break down Leeds in a medium-low defensive block. In the beginning of the game, Leeds set up with a line of confrontation at about 45 yard line just inside Liverpool's half and would start to apply pressure to the man on the ball there. Leeds objective was pretty straight forward from the start. Defensively be very organized, get numbers behind the ball and stay compact so that the corridors to penetrate through would be tight. Then once they won the ball their mission was to spring #7 Roofe and #11 Doukara going forward. I actually thought this quick counter attack style seemed to be threatening when it was on and that Leeds did a good job looking to play forward immediately in order to by pass the oncoming immediate pressure.
On the reverse side, Liverpool's obstacle would be find unlocking passes and combinations through, around, or over Leeds' defensive block. The way Liverpool approached their build-up was to be pretty aggressive with their fullbacks #66 Alexander and #18 Moreno. These players would position themselves high and wide so that when when they brought the ball up it was only with three in the back, with the DCM youngster #35 Stewart dropping between the CB's or to the left or right of the ball carrier. This then gave the task to #23 Can and #53 Ejaria to find spaces in line with or behind the defensive midfield line of lines. I though the majority of time #23 Can would still comes towards the ball, creating a "1st pass" option and not a penetrating option. What also was interesting was the LW #5 Wijnaldum would come inside and try to receive the ball in the space between the fullback and center back. To be honest, in my opinion, he didn't seemed comfortable in this role and seemed uneasy in the turn.
Since Liverpool would be playing mostly in Leed's defensive half, trying to penetrate the defensive block, Liverpool decided to use the "counter pressing" defensive technique. Whenever Liverpool lost the ball in Leed's defensive half, there would be red shirts immediately looking to close space quickly, getting numbers around the ball to close off likely receivers and weak-side players would come across to the cut the field in half and try to prevent Leeds from successfully playing out of pressure. In the first half, this was by far the most impressive quality from Liverpool. Even when Leed's did seem to break the initial pressure from the first couple red shirts, Liverpool were still relentless pressing all over the field.
My thinking and message from Klopp going into half time would've been to look more to play 'around' Leeds' defensive block. What I mean is that Liverpool actually did a seemingly good job of using width from their fullbacks and had the potential to stretch Leeds horizontally. However, they simply weren't taking advantage of it. Look to use the fullbacks as driving, attacking options in their advanced areas. The second point would be to be to focus on being cleaner in the turn when trying to penetrate the defensive lines. Lallana, Coutinho, and Firminio are exceptional at this quality in tight areas but none were available for selection. If I were Gary Monk, I would focus on Liverpool's counter press and maybe show them a couple quick clips that a team analyst could have ready. The times they were able to play forward, long out of pressure were effective, even if it wasn't pretty. Guardiola often says that whoever wins the ball has the next task of completing the pass so that the next person can look forward or can switch the field. Often times when a defender wins the ball, they don't have the vision or haven't seen the field prior to winning the ball.
Surprisingly enough in the second half Liverpool did use the width from their fullback's much more effectively. Looking back at the film, #66 Alexander created dangerous plays in the 56th minute off a good run, in the 73rd minute and ultimately in the 75th minute getting an assist from a cross in an advanced area. Another major key in the second half I felt was #19 Mane's ability to find the ball in the space in front of the back four. In the 71st minute, he was able to quickly turn in this space and unlock #5 Wijnaldum on a through ball. I also though #23 Can improved the play when he slid back to DCM for #35 Stewart who got injured. Can likes to stretch the field with longer passes more so than the simple Stewart and what stretching the field can possibly do is open up the space between lines of the defensive. If a defender or midfield goes long a couple times, what then happens is the backline starts to anticipate this and they drop, leaving space in front of them for a receiver. The receiver that was most effective was Mane I thought.
Leeds were also hampered by using a 1st half sub for injury and then a halftime sub for injury. When you play in a low defensive block, I always feel like it becomes heavy on the legs in the later stages of the game. The ability to use subs for their wide players might have been helpful considering that Liverpool started to use their width more effectively and encouraged Alexander and Moreno to take space on the dribble, which requires a wide player to press.
A question that I started to think about was if you go up 2-0 with 15-10 minutes left, as a coach do you still encourage your team to counter press? Or do you forget that style because it is more important at this stage to take minimal risks and get numbers behind the ball immediately? I would have to go back and watch again closer to see exactly what Liverpool did in this time but its an interesting question to consider. Klopp did make all three subs and I would venture to guess that if you are big on this style of defending, you end up relying on subs playing an important role.
For Leeds, it was an untypical set-up and approach for a Gary Monk team probably because of the qualitative superiority between the two teams. At Swansea I think everyone was accustomed to Monk's teams trying to take ownership of the ball and control the game through passing. However, as the game moved along I felt Leeds were always sinking by dropping deeper and deeper into a low block. Looking back, a goal from #7 Roothe early in the second half might have changed the game but then again Liverpool were always likely to find an unlocking solution. Fair result in the end.