The main aspect of this analysis is going to be Liverpool’s positional play. Basically we are talking about a 4-2-3-1 playing system, which is Klopp’s favourite one, he used this at Dortmund as well. Defensively it stays the same, though offensively it’s rather a 2-4-4-ish/4-2-4-ish formation, with the FBs stepping higher. Most of the time it’s the FBs, who are providing width on both sides, so the Ws are occupying the halfspaces (Coutinho/Firmino/Lallana etc.). The advantage of this that it forces the opponent’s Ws to defend deep, therefore they often defend with a 6-men defensive line. This opens up space in the halfspaces for the more creative players.
Although sometimes this is their main problem in the possession game: as the FBs are giving width, with using cover shadows it’s easy to close down the passing lanes towards the halfspaces, therefore the FBs have to turn back and pass backwards to the CBs, which leads to a sterile possession, without verticality and penetration.
To prevent this, the usage of false FBs may be a solution (creating a reversed pyramid shape). The biggest advantage of this positioning is that it’s the wingers, who provide width, and there they are able to exploit their abilities in 1v1 situations.
Another problem is that their positional play is often too fast, which creates big gaps between the lines, meaning that their positional structure falls apart mainly vertically. This is a huge problem, as without vertical compactness you can’t counterpress effectively (just think about Pep’s 15 pass rule in transitions).
As Klopp has already mentioned, Pool struggle to use to weak side of the pitch in possession. This is the lack of horizontal circulation, in order to open up vertical passing lanes (a basic element of an effective positional play). Though this may be corrected easily, with a better offensive shape and by more and more time on the practice field.
An important issue is the too much movement in their positional play. Under that I mean that the players often move too much instead of occupying a certain area of the pitch. Therefore it’s easier for the opponent to pressure them (with man-marking), plus without occupying certain areas it’s much harder to open up vertical passing lanes (as it would be the main goal of positional play).
What I really miss though, is the lack of aggression from the CBs in possession. They don’t drive forward with the ball at all, even when they have the possibility (they much rather wait for a CM to come back for the ball -> leading to a more sterile passing play). A huge advantage of this positional play element is that it forces the opponent to change the defensive shape, which often opens up vertical passing lanes. Although the lack of this movement comes from a different organizational structure, as the CMs are often far away from the CBs, who therefore can’t drive forward, because CMs can’t fill in the CBs position to provide defensive depth support (the positional structure must be ready for a possible transition every time).
Let’s see some pictures:
Here we can see a basic case, against a 4-4-2 defending. RCM drifts wide, LW-CAM-RW occupying the centre and the halfspaces, though they should be higher between the lines, to be able to make aggressive runs behind the defensive line. By the way a nice example of the lack of penetration from the CBs, Lovren could easily drive forward to look for verticality.
Bad positional structure, CMs are far away from each other, lack of connections between the players, plus no shift towards the ball in possession (overloading the strong side..).
Build-up under pressure, LCB-LB connection is terrible, no chance to play through the pressure, organizational problem.
FBs are providing width, Ws in the halfspaces, though with a better defensive shape (using cover shadows), this kind of offensive organization may be neutralized easily. As there is no other width ont he left side, the LB has to pass backwards.
Ball at Can (LCM), he has no vertical options at all, bad spatial distribution, too much players in one vertical line (shouldn’t be more than 3, as then they would block each other).
The problem with too much movements from the attackers, everyone is on their way but not where they are supposed to be, no one is able to get the ball, passive positional play.
These problems may be solved in the future, though a big improvement needed from Liverpool in order to make their positional play less sterile, and more penetrative.