With no first-team players in the squad and Jürgen Klopp refusing to manage the team, it was almost a surprise that Liverpool’s youngest ever team was able to pull off a result. This tactical analysis will break down the tactics used by the under-23 coach Neil Critchley as his team was able to book Liverpool a spot in the next round of the FA Cup 2019/20. The analysis will also look at how tactically Sam Ricketts approached this game.
Going into the game it would be difficult to see what would happen as despite the good result in the first game between these two, Shrewsbury Town have lost their previous two games. However, it was evident that Liverpool did not want this game due to which would have given Shrewsbury Town confidence going into this game.
Shrewsbury opted to go with the same 5-3-2 system that had been successful in the previous meeting. The system enables the away team to have a packed defensive third but with wide options to get them high up the pitch. The three midfielders will provide a defensive wall in front of the three centre-backs. This will limit the space Liverpool will have to play in.
Despite it being a different squad Liverpool still went with a 4-3-3 system. The youngsters may not have the same quality as the first team but will look to try and play in a similar style. This is evident as the middle midfielder of the three is in a more defensive role enabling him to collect the ball from the centre-backs. This was the job for Pedro Chirivella. The three forward players would then have a high press from the front to try and regain possession as quickly as possible.
From the start, it was evident the way Shrewsbury wanted to approach the game. The away side will look to force Liverpool to play around wide and then double up on the wingers. They would be able to do this as the three midfielders and front two would work together as a five. Their job is too martial the middle of the pitch as they would shift across with the ball covering the space in the middle.
The example below shows how Shrewsbury look to execute this defensive set up. The five would move across the pitch with either David Edwards or Josh Laurent moving across to put pressure on Liverpool’s wide player. Then the central midfielder would cover the space in the middle preventing the pass back inside. Then depending on the side one of the forwards would move up on the full-back meaning they do not have space to drive into, preventing Liverpool from going forward. Because of the five working as an unit, it makes Liverpool go back around the defence.
Liverpool tried to go down the side
As the analysis has indicated Shrewsbury wants to force Liverpool to play around them. Liverpool’s answer for this is for their full-backs to drive diagonally inside. They can only do this if the ball played out wide quickly. This is because it stretches the midfield. The first image shows how Sean Gross is slow to move across the pitch. This means that a one-two between Harvey Elliott and Neco Williams takes Edwards out of the game. It then enables Williams to drive into space. On this particular occasion, the defence were able to shut the angle down enough so his shot flashes wide.
Driving from this area was a tactic from Liverpool as the second images show. It highlights that Liverpool were trying to dribble from the flanks inside. Williams was particularly efficient at this as he completed 75% of his dribbles. Only Aaron Pierre had a better success rate of 100% but he only completed 3, whereas Williams completed 9/12.
Two teams cancel each other out
Shrewsbury have been tactically set up in this game by Ricketts to be defensively solid. However, because of how close the midfielders are to the attackers it makes it difficult for the team to get forward and in numbers. It is no surprise that 71% of their attacks came from the middle of the pitch. The other 29% originated from Shrewsbury’s right-hand side. This is because of how deep the away side where. It was also made more difficult by the fact Leighton Clarkson and Jack Cain would push up the pitch.
The image below shows each team’s average position during the game. It highlights how high the home side looked to press Shrewsbury. This kept the away side back as they could not escape the intensity. A little surprisingly there was a gap in intensity between the teams as Liverpool’s challenge intensity was 7.2 whereas Shrewsbury’s was only 5.6. Considering how big a game this was for the League 1 team Ricketts may have expected more.
Second Half chances
Despite controlling the game Liverpool had not been able to create many chances. This is to Shrewsbury’s credit. For the majority of the half, they had remained disciplined not giving the youngsters time or space to express themselves. To try and change this Critchley needed to find a way to move the defence about. His tactical change was to make the front three more fluid in their movement. What this meant is that the front three would not stick to their starting position and move across the attacking third.
This tactical change almost had an impact early on in the second half. In the image below Elliott has moved into a central position. This movement has dragged one of the centre-backs inside meaning the wing-back has to come inside to cover Curtis Jones. As a result, Williams is free at the back forcing Max O’Leary into a good save.
Shrewsbury have not created much so far in the game the plan has worked well. They have stayed game against Liverpool at Anfield. With a young team, it was inevitable that they would get a chance. As a result, Ricketts brought on Daniel Udoh. This tactical change meant that Shrewsbury had a striker that likes to play on the shoulder and make a run in behind.
The reason Shrewsbury decided to make this tactical change is because of Liverpool’s press. It has an instant impact as only a minute after coming on the visitors put the ball in the back of the net. In the image below it shows how Liverpool’s defence is moving out to press the ball. This drags Williams out of position giving Udoh the space to get in behind. Shrewsbury score from the subsequent cross but VAR rules the goal out for offside.
Liverpool control the game
After the away sides disallowed goal the host regain control of the game. This analysis has mentioned earlier how Liverpool have been able to maintain possession. Part of the reason the hosts where able to have 70% of the ball was because the kept to short passing. The Reds competed for 482/573 with an average length of 32.8 meters. This is considerably better than the away side who opted for the long pass and averaged a length of 43.3 meters. The short passing was good for keeping the ball and moving their visitors about but they still couldn’t break down Shrewsbury. Liverpool only made 10 key passes whereas with only 30% of the ball Shrewsbury made 3.
Below are the two-pass maps. It highlights the problems both teams had as the vast majority of passes for Liverpool were around the back four. Nevertheless, there is still more of a passing structure than Shrewsbury as their passing map shows how they struggled to get out
To conclude this tactical analysis, it is a performance that both teams can be happy about. Liverpool keep themselves in another competition with a trip to Stamford Bridge being their reward. It was almost inevitable that the youngsters would struggle to break down a well-drilled team. It did take a fortunate own goal for them to win the game, but there are clearly some talented players in the squad who may get some first-team opportunities later on in the season. As for Shrewsbury, all their focus is now back on the league. They are currently 13 points off promotion and 12 off relegation so the side can take confidence from these two games to try and finish the season off strongly.