Thursday, 22 December 2011

Wigan 0-0 Liverpool - Tactical analysis

A tactically interesting game ended with a not so interesting scoreline.

Basic Shapes

Liverpool started with a 4-2-3-1 system with Kuyt mainly on the right and Downing mainly on the left of the three with Maxi playing off Luis Suarez.

Wigan started in a 3-4-3 shape with Jones wide out on the left and Moses and Gomez tucked in, in the three supporting Sammon.


Liverpool started off the game well, pressing high up the pitch and playing quick combinations when they won it there. Their front four was generally quite flexible in positioning, especially Suarez who was often moving into wider positions and trying to link up with players.

With their 'wingers', Kuyt and Downing, fairly narrow and Maxi drifting into good positions from attacking midfield, it was left to the full backs to provide width. Much of the Liverpool play early on ended up down their left with Wigan giving the ball away a number of times on that side and allowing Jose Enrique to move forward high up the pitch. Jordan Henderson was also moving high and slightly to the right, allowing him to link up with the attacking phase and giving an extra option for Liverpool's passing combinations.

And for the first 17-18 minutes, Liverpool were on top, with Wigan giving a number of vertical passes away after being pressed high. Wigan's back three were spaced out in possession, allowing Liverpool's wide men to close down their wide centre backs and when this was done effectively, Liverpool often won the ball back.

However Wigan slowly started to get into the game. While the home side did get numbers behind the ball when Liverpool were on the attack, they did press high up on the centre backs and full backs and tried to win the ball in high areas. With Liverpool's passing quality, it was difficult for Wigan to do this effectively all game especially when Liverpool pressed high up but they did this when Liverpool's defence had the ball.

The difference in tactics between the two sides was becoming more apparent . Liverpool's attacks were based on narrow interplay between around 3 or 4 players at a time with quick combinations. Because of the amount of players getting forward, they were able to do this. The problem was that with Wigan getting a number of men behind the ball, it was quite hard to open them up. It was also quite hard for Liverpool to spread the play from one side to another and create gaps in the Wigan defence and when the play was switched, it was done too slowly because players were gathered too close together.

The amount of players forward also made it difficult for Liverpool to regain possession when Wigan did win it and worked it past their frontline. With both full backs often forward, with one given the license to move higher up, depending on where the play was, and the front four forward with Henderson also making himself available, the away side were left with little overall control on the midfield area with only Adam left holding a lot of the time and as such Liverpool often couldn't maintain pressure in their attacks after the first 20 minutes.

Wigan were very different in how their attacks worked. Their back three was fairly spread out in possession and so were Jones and Stam, which allowed Wigan to spread the play effectively and meant that it didn't become too tight when being pressed with intensity.

It also created gaps inside. With Henderson often forward, there was a lot of space around Adam on the counter attack and with Moses and Gomez tucked inside between Liverpool's wide men and holding players, Wigan had some advantages in attacks. Often, vertical passes were played to Gomez or Moses in those areas, where the ball was then played to the wide areas.

In fact between the 20-30 minute mark, Wigan had a number of shots from outside the area behind Henderson and Adam, where Liverpool were evidently having problems.

Victor Moses' fantastic run around 37 minutes also highlighted the space left by Liverpool during attacks with the front player running into space left by Adam and Henderson and notable space left either side of the centre backs, with both full backs high up.

A number of long balls were played to Moses or Sammon to challenge in the air with Adam, dragging the Scotsman further away from his back four.

Towards the end of the first half, the game was becoming more counter attack based, with space left by both teams who were pressing the opposing defence high up the field. Both were passing the ball around at the back and with the centre backs fairly wide, it meant that pressing was made slightly easier to start high up, though left space in between the lines. Liverpool often played passes into Kuyt with his back to goal, allowing Liverpool to build possession further forward and also allowing Maxi to drift into the hole behind Wigan's midfield with Kuyt inside.

Second half

The second half began as had the first, with Liverpool on the front foot. Liverpool initially lost the ball from the kick off out wide but with tight sectorial pressing from a Wigan throw, they won the ball and moved it quickly down the left with a number of players moving forward again leading to a couple of set piece opportunities.

Wigan were still finding space on the counter attack around Henderson and Adam and they did this with pace not long into the second half although Victor Moses' 25 yard shot was poor.

Not long after though, Adam found space in midfield and switched the play to Enrique on the left. His run pushed Wigan back and after a series of passes outside the penalty area on the right hand side after the ball had been squared, a lovely diagonal pass was played along the floor behind Wigan's right for Enrique to run onto again, and the ball was played across. From there Liverpool won their penalty which was saved by Al Habsi.

Liverpool's play for a couple of minutes after that was ok with the deeper midfielders attracting the attention of Wigan's centre midfield, allowing Maxi space to drift in behind when that happened and also when the ball was moved wide.

However, Wigan started to get more possession, with Liverpool's pressing not as aggressive high up, and Martinez's side were well spread out, allowing them to switch effectively and making it harder for Liverpool to press.

The tempo of the game was slower now with Wigan using slower transitions and working the gaps which they were creating with their wide shape. Stam and Jones were moving very high up in possession and creating good outballs for switches in play though Jones was increasingly moving inside from the left, interchanging with Moses.

Liverpool changed their formation around the 60 minute mark, with Maxi moving to the left, Downing on the right and Kuyt deeper in a central position in a 4-2-1-3 formation. Dalglish's side were beginning to play wider in attack and spread the play, though were still leaving space and were beginning to look tired with a lack of incision in the final third. With just less than 20 minutes left, Jonjo Shelvey replaced Kuyt and Bellamy replaced Maxi on the left.

Wigan then shifted to a 4-3-3 with tiredness affecting the game and the knowledge that Liverpool had brought on extra pace on the left with Bellamy and fresh legs helping to dominate the midfield area with Shelvey. Watson replaced Jones and Rodallega replaced Gomez.

Wigan's frontline became their biggest threat at this stage. With Rodallega on and Di Santo, an earlier substitution, also on, their directness and speed, especially with Moses, was a threat on the counter. Rodallega was used as the centre of their front three when they were attacking and a number of direct vertical balls were played forward to him with Di Santo making diagonal runs from the left for the flick on.

However when defending, it was Rodallega who moved to the left while Di Santo was left on his own up front. With this, it meant that Di Santo, with his extra pace, could attack quicker on the break and also, because he was better with the ball at his feet and could move across to the flanks quicker, he could create space for vertical runs from deep, in a similar way that Suarez did on the counter attack for Liverpool.

Generally at this point Liverpool's most lively and penetrative players were their full backs, with Moses and Rodallega struggling to track Enrique and Johnson with their pacy movement forward. Other than that Liverpool struggled to open them up with Wigan playing a low block and making it compact in the middle. This meant that Downing was running into a number of players when moving inside from the right, Bellamy couldn't use his pace and overall Liverpool were not creating space efficiently enough

Eventually a draw was probably the most balanced result from a game in which both teams created space in the hole but where neither had the incision to get a goal


  1. After reading that downing played on the left i stopped reading, maybe you were asleep during that game. I think you will find that downing played on the right! and your if you press f7 you will get the spell check to check your spelling. Good luck for the future.

  2. @anonymous

    Downing swapped with Kuyt at one point during the first half and for the last half an hour as mentioned. Apart from that, his position was on tucked in on the left. Watch the game again mate :)

  3. Thanks for making the effort to do this, it is an interesting read.


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