The tactical problems Liverpool pose Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa
In the latest in a series for the Yorkshire Evening Post, Jon Mackenzie takes a deeper look at Leeds United's next opponents - Liverpool.
Is there a harder team to read this season than Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool?
Back in September, Leeds kick-started their Premier League return with a 4-3 loss at an Anfield where Liverpool were unbeaten for well over a year. On balance, that seemed like a remarkable result. But since then, the Reds have lost at home to Burnley, Brighton and Fulham, suggesting that Anfield maybe isn’t the fortress it once was.
Liverpool seem to have turned things around of late. But it’s still hard to read them. Are they pushing for Champions League qualification? Or is it just a matter of time before they hit the next bump in the road?
Here are three aspects of Klopp’s system to look out for on Monday evening:
1. The area of weakness
For much of the last few seasons, Liverpool’s approach has been to use their full-backs as creative outlets, pushing them high up the field and allowing them to get the ball into the box for their attacking players.
Of course, this puts their defence under pressure in defensive transition, offering opponents a big space to attack when they turn over the ball.
This is all well and good when you have centre-backs of the calibre of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez. But Liverpool haven’t for much of the season, losing them to long-term injuries.
Against Manchester City, Leeds looked to exploit this sort of weakness in the space between Benjamin Mendy and Nathan Ake by sending long balls to Raphinha throughout the first half.
Expect to see the same thing happen on Monday as they look to exploit the area between Trent Alexander-Arnold and Nat Phillips.
2. Evading the high press
Liverpool look to prevent these long balls by implementing a high press.
The idea is, if you press high, you can’t find the time and space to set yourself to make long passes into wide channels.
This season, Leeds have struggled to maintain possession in transition so expect to see the ball being played long by Illan Meslier and the centre-backs in a bid to play over the press.
But this comes at a cost. As we saw against Manchester City, this approach will often lead to an easy turnover of possession and could see the ball coming straight back through an opposition attack.
3. Managing the game
Coming into this game after playing a very un-Leeds-like game against Manchester City where Leeds were forced to defend for long stretches presents an interesting question: how reactive should Leeds be versus Liverpool?
In the first fixture at Anfield, the game quickly became quite end to end and, although Leeds scored three, their finishing was probably a little unsustainable.
Leeds have changed their approach since then, though, with Stuart Dallas now playing a much more defensive role in the midfield area now.
A transitional game suits Liverpool and so it’ll be interesting to see how the more muted approach from Leeds will impact the game.