After title rivals Manchester City secured a convincing win earlier in the day, it was essential that Liverpool took all three points away from Burnley’s Turf Moore in order to return to the top of the Premier League table. They were successful in doing so as they beat ‘The Clarets’ 3-0, maintaining their 100% start to the season.
A Chris Wood own goal followed by two devastating finishes from Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino ensured Liverpool took home the three points.
This tactical analysis will explain how Jürgen Klopp’s tactics allowed Liverpool to convincingly beat Sean Dyche’s resolute Burnley side.
Burnley lined up in their usual 4-4-2, with the inform Ashley Barnes leading the line with Chris Wood. Aaron Lennon made his first start of the season as he came in for the injured Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson at right midfield.
As anticipated, Liverpool were set up in their 4-3-3 system with the same 11 that rolled over Unai Emery’s Arsenal last weekend. Joël Matip’s excellent run of form meant he kept his place alongside Virgil Van Dijk at the heart of the Liverpool defence.
Burnley’s tactical intentions
It was clear from the first whistle that Burnley were going to stick to a similar style of play that had so far this season proven to cause opposition teams many problems. That style of play when in possession was to get the ball as quickly as possible from the defence up to their two strikers, Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes, who from there would look to use their physicality to hold the ball up and bring others into play. When Burnley’s defence look to play the direct long ball up to their two strikers, the midfield four push forward in support to try and pick up any loose balls on the second phase of play.
As we know, Liverpool are one of the best teams at pressing high up the pitch and so Burnley’s tactics of playing long balls forward as opposed to building play from the back stopped Liverpool from being able to press and win balls high up the pitch.
However, Burnley’s attacking intentions to play long balls forward to Wood and Barnes was well anticipated by Liverpool’s centre back pairing who dealt with Burnley’s long balls exceptionally well, with Virgil Van Dijk winning ten out of eleven of his aerial duels and Joël Matip winning all three of his aerial duels. Liverpool’s high defensive line also looked to play the offside trap on numerous occasions high up the field as Klopp trusted that his backline had enough pace to recover if one of Burnley’s forwards managed to get in behind. The offside trap proved very successful as Burnley were caught offside on five different occasions. The one time Wood beat the trap, Van Dijk was able to use his pace to recover and prevent the striker from scoring.
Out of possession, Burnley tried to organise into a compact low block to limit the spaces available for Liverpool between the lines. They tended to only defend two-thirds of the pitch, as they looked to overload the one side that the ball is in possession to make them even more compact and to stop gaps forming in the half-spaces. This tactic was quite successful for Burnley as when they managed to organise into this shape they limited Liverpool to very few chances.
However, Liverpool knew that Burnley were going to be very difficult to break down once they were organised into their compact low block. Therefore, Liverpool on transition from defence to attack didn’t allow Burnley time to organise into their shape, as once Liverpool had regained possession they immediately looked to play quick balls forward into their front three and push forward as a unit to create as many options as possible before Burnley had time to set up in their defensive shape.
Liverpool’s 4-3-3 Diamond Variation
As the diagram shows below, Liverpool looked to combat Burnley’s traditional 4-4-2 with a diamond variation of their 4-3-3 system.
Burnley played with only two central midfielders, and so Jürgen Klopp deployed this diamond shape to overload the midfield and create a 4 v 2 in the centre of the pitch. This numerical advantage allowed space in between the defensive lines for Fabinho and in the attacking lines for Firmino as the diagram shows.
Liverpool tried to get Firmino on the ball in the space between the lines as much as possible. One of the ways they did this was by sitting slightly deeper when out of possession to entice Burnley’s midfield forward, before winning the ball back and playing a quick pass into the feet of Firmino who would then turn and drive at the Burnley defence and look to play a through ball to either Mohammed Salah or Sadio Mané.
This pattern of play continued to occur throughout the game as Burnley’s midfield kept getting caught too high up the pitch, leaving acres of space between the lines for Firmino to exploit. Eventually, Liverpool punished Burnley as Firmino picked up the ball and found Salah. Salah returned the ball to the Brazilain who converted the chance, scoring his 50th Premier League goal for the reds.
Burnley’s midfield all push forward leaving huge space in between the lines for Firmino to pick the ball up in transition. Firmino finds Salah who returns the pass and Liverpool score. Another way in which Liverpool tried to get Firmino on the ball as much a possible in the space between the lines was by playing direct long balls forward to Salah and Mané. Liverpool played 79 long balls throughout the game which is 32 more than they did in their previous match against Arsenal. The reason they played so many long balls to Salah and Mané was because they wanted to take advantage of the space in front of Burnley’s backline that had been vacated by the Clarets’ overcommitted midfield. Salah and Mané would contest with Burnley’s centre-backs in the air, while Roberto Firmino would drop into the space in front of the backline and pick up any loose balls. The space was always there on transition because Burnley played without a designated holding midfielder. The heatmap belwo shows Roberto Firmino’s average positions.
Burnley failed to cause Liverpool many problems offensively and this was again mainly due to Liverpool’s diamond variation of the 4-3-3. Fabinho played a similar role to that of Firmino but in a defensive sense, as he played in the space in front of Liverpool’s backline and was always there to win second balls ahead of Burnley’s midfield. Fabinho made five recoveries and played an integral part in winning the ball back and starting Liverpool’s quick counter attacks as well as stopping Burnley’s midfield from picking loose balls up in dangerous areas.
Burnley started the game with a clear game plan to try and use their physical strikers to unsettle Liverpool’s defence, who up until this game were yet to keep a clean sheet. However, Liverpool’s centre-back partnership of Matip and Van Dijk dealt with the challenge superbly and with Fabinho offering protection in front of them, Liverpool were very rarely threatened by Burnley’s offence.
After a fluke own goal opened the scoring, Liverpool found it fairly easy to open up and hurt Burnley- especially in transition from defence to attack as Burnley afforded far too much time and space to Firmino in between the lines. That’s four Premier League wins from four for Liverpool who climb back to the top of the league after yet another convincing victory.
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