In the last round of Premier League 2019/20 fixtures Liverpool’s chances of going unbeaten were ended by Watford in a 3-0 defeat. Jürgen Klopp team then lost midweek in the FA Cup to Chelsea stopping them from a potential domestic double. After this week it was important for Liverpool to bounce back against a Bournemouth side that had only won two of their last 12 games in the Premier League.
Liverpool did come away with the 2-1 win but it was a difficult game. This tactical analysis will break down Bournemouth’s tactics as they were able to take the lead. The analysis will then look at how Liverpool’s tactics enabled them to go on and win the game.
Unsurprisingly Liverpool kept to their trusted 4-3-3 system. The difference this time was that Andrew Robertson was out injured meaning James Milner was in at left-back. Because of this it slightly adjusted the way Liverpool would build up their attack. This is because Milner would not get as high up the pitch as Robertson. Instead, Trent Alexander-Arnold can push higher and Liverpool transition to a three at the back when defending.
Eddie Howe opted for a 4-1-4-1. This would enable Bournemouth to defend with two banks of four and Jefferson Lerma in front of the defence. This would be important as Roberto Firmino likes to come short looking for a pass and a player in the middle would limit the space he had to do so. The other benefit of having Lerma was that Bournemouth could press with two upfront as Lerma could move up to a central midfield position. So either Philip Billing or Lewis Cook could press with Callum Wilson.
From the start, it was evident the way Bournemouth would set up defensively for this game as they would transition to their defensive structure as the ball moved through the thirds. They were able to do this with their 4-1-4-1 system. The first area of the pitch they would defend is when the ball was about to enter their half.
The example below illustrates how Bournemouth have transitioned to a 4-4-2. This has happened as Billing pushed up on Georginio Wijnaldum. Bournemouth needed to play like this as it enabled Wilson to stay central. This is important as his positioning stops the ball inside to Fabinho. This is designed to stop Liverpool from playing through the middle.
Bournemouth’s two stages of defending
As mentioned, Bournemouth initial defensive shape is a 4-4-2. However, this will quickly revert back to a 4-5-1. This is so Bournemouth can defend with two banks of four to limit the corridor that Liverpool has to operate in. This is effective, as due to the space that the away side is taking up, it makes it hard for Liverpool to play through them. It clearly frustrated Liverpool as it forced them into 358 lateral passes.
In the example below, it highlights how close the midfield is to the defence. This closes the gaps for the Liverpool attack to operate in, forcing them wide. Eddie Howe is then tactically set up for Liverpool to attack down the side. This is evident as when Liverpool attack down the flanks it is the wide player that moves across instead of the full-back pushing up. In this example, it is Fraser that moves across to Milner. For Bournemouth, this creates a defensive triangle. This is effective as Billing is in a position to cover the ball inside and Jack Stacey can cover the run from Sadio Mané.
How Liverpool look to break Bournemouth down
This tactical analysis has mentioned how the Cherries have been set up to frustrate Liverpool. This was effective as even though Liverpool had 73% possession they only managed six shots on target. As a result, it resulted in Liverpool looking for new ways to try and open up their visitors. One way Liverpool tried to mix it up is by the forwards making runs in behind the defenders so it was difficult for the run to be picked up.
Bournemouth’s tactics are to be compact as a squad. This means that when the ball moves up the pitch they move up as a unit. This, therefore, creates the scenario below where there is space in behind for Liverpool to target. However, this requires a specific run from the forwards. Notice how in this example Roberto Firmino starts in front of Stacey and runs in behind Steve Cook. This makes it difficult for Bournemouth to defend. The away side survive on this particular occasion as Firmino’s shot is straight at Aaron Ramsdale.
Earlier in the analysis, we mentioned how Bournemouth were defending with two banks of four. Interestingly, however, Wilson would still operate as a lone striker and did not maintain a similar gap to the midfield. This is because Bournemouth wanted him as high up the pitch as possible. This is because the will look to use him on the break. When Bournemouth regained possession, it would immediately be played down the flanks in the space left by Liverpool’s advanced full-backs. At the same time, the wide player would get up the pitch to support Wilson.
Breaking as a two is what lead to the Bournemouth goal. Notice how Wilson’s run across has enabled Bournemouth to get up the pitch. As a result, Fraser can break forward. In fact 97% of Bournemouth’s attacks came from the right side and resulted in an xG of 0.95. He deliberately makes a run across to drag Milner with him. This creates space in behind for attacking players to run into. The second image illustrates how many players Bournemouth are able to get forward quickly and also how slow in this particular case Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wijnaldum are to get back. Consequently, Bournemouth created a two vs one against Milner who has already been dragged slightly out of position. This results in a goal for Bournemouth.
In credit to Bournemouth, this was an effective way of attacking Liverpool. This became even more of a threat after the goal as in trying to get back into the game it forced Liverpool to push their full-backs higher up the pitch. This meant there was more room around the flanks for Wilson to run into. The expected goals chart shows just how much of a treat this was as even when Liverpool took the lead it was not till the 75th minute that the home side had a better xG tally, this is also a credit to Bournemouth’s defence.
Liverpool force mistakes
One of Liverpool’s big strengths is how they press from the front. This required Bournemouth to be accurate with their passes when trying to build attacks. This was something they were poor at in this game and is ultimately what cost them the game. When breaking down how Bournemouth were trying to transition through the thirds it is first important to look at their positioning and passing patterns.
First looking at Liverpool’s pass maps it illustrates how frequently they were able to move the ball around the back and then in particular to Mané and Mohamed Salah. The home side were also able to regularly get the ball into Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wijnaldum. However, this is where Bournemouth struggled as looking at the Cherries’ pass maps they found it difficult to move the ball around the back with Nathan Aké not completing a pass to Jack Simpson. The away side had 43 losses in low areas of the pitch indicating the problems they had transitioning into attacks.
Why Bournemouth were having problems passing
The away side were having problems because of their positioning. The analysis has mentioned how when defending Bournemouth are compact. However, when trying to build attacks the backline would stretch in order for Bournemouth to try and pass the ball around Liverpool. Because of Liverpool’s high press it forced Bournemouth to lose the ball. The home side made 88 recoveries showing how the press worked.
In the 23rd minute, Mané forced Simpson into a mistake when playing out of the back. This lead to Liverpool’s equaliser and only seven minutes later Mané was put through on goal because Virgil van Dijk was able to intercept a pass on the halfway line. Looking at the second goal in particular Simpson has progressed up the pitch with the ball to try and get Bournemouth forward and the pass between the two midfielders has broken down. This would not necessarily be a concern if Stacey had moved across to cover. However, because Bournemouth were looking to get wide he was too far away to be able to help.
After taking the lead the home side were able to dictate the game and were comfortable playing around their visitors. However, the away side’s defensive structure did mean that Liverpool could not extend their lead, while it required a goal-line clearance from Milner to seal the win for the league leaders.
This tactical analysis has looked at the tactics used by both managers. It is a good result for Liverpool as it means they are back to winning ways just before their Champions League game against Atlético Madrid. It also means that Klopp’s side are one step closer to their first-ever Premier League title. As for Bournemouth, they can take confidence for the way they were able to frustrate Liverpool and will look to keep their survival hopes alive with a home game against Crystal Palace.