Before I start, I think that you should all know this: I had a bet at the start of this season with my Dad. Every time Sakho scores, he gives me £5. Every time Sakho scores an own goal, I give him £1. We figured we'd end up with around the same amount of money. But, I have earned £10 in the last week! Sadly, Sakho ate something he shouldn't have and thats all my earnings for this season over...
Liverpool contained Villarreal for 91 minutes of their Europa League semi-final, but an Adrian Lopez winner snatched the advantage for Villarreal and turned the tie on it’s head.
‘The Yellow Submarine’, Villarreal, sit fourth placed in La Liga – behind only Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona. However, a buoyed Liverpool side travelled to El Madrigal in superb form, with 14 goals in their last 4 games. Jurgen Klopp controversially left Daniel Sturridge on the bench and played a ‘front two’ of Coutinho and Firmino – natural number 10s accustomed to coming deep to receive the ball. OK, so maybe he wanted to dominate the middle of the park against the direct Spaniards, so wanted to pack out the midfield. But in the first 45, Liverpool were so dominant and just lacked a bit of potency otherwise they would’ve gone it at the break 2 or 3 up. But no, Liverpool played it around, no direct movement and nobody to hit when they spread it out to the wings.
Perhaps this was what Jurgen Klopp wanted – prompt and probe, and stay solid defensively. But at half time it was plain for everyone to see that Liverpool were the stronger team, the dominant force. With Sturridge on the bench, having scored in his last 3, surely Klopp would look to him to grab a vital away goal and take charge of the tie.
Nope. Klopp stuck with his 4-6-0 formation, and the second half was identical to the first. Even after a scare when Cedric Bakambu hit the post, Klopp decided to tighten up at the back and settle for a 0-0. Not his style of play, not the way the team had been playing of late, not what the fans wanted to see, and most importantly, not what would give Liverpool the advantage. They passed, and passed, and passed, and whipped in beautiful crosses to nobody. They hit the post once. That was an ambitious effort from a tight angle.
It was, quite frankly boring. 0-0 going into the second leg would, admittedly, keep the tie in Liverpool’s favour, but it surely would just have taken a simple tactical substitution to bring on a striker and get a goal for all that possession – and be on course for the final in Basel.
But of course not. What Liverpool did was like playing easy on Aston Villa – they seemingly pose no threat, but you take no advantage of that and you never grab a goal. And in true Liverpool fashion, they were made to pay for their lack of ambition. In stoppage time, a quick, direct, smart counter attack scythed through the creaky Liverpool backline and Adrian Lopez tapped in a ‘sweaty’ goal to snatch the win for Villarreal. After all that dominance, one quick, direct, smart move snatched the game for Villarreal.
Quick. Direct. Smart. Three things Liverpool weren’t.
Villarreal played Jurgen Klopp for a fool. Klopp, it seemed, was not interested in what was going on on the pitch – he had a tactical plan and he stuck to it. Sometimes, thats a good thing. But when your opponent is playing diabolically you should change things up from defensive solidarity to attacking threat. Klopp didn’t, and was hit by a Yellow sucker punch in the 92nd minute.
There are a couple of things that Premier League managers can learn from this:
- Play a centre forward! This whole ‘false nine’ idea worked a treat for Liverpool against City in November, but that was when City’s defence was on the ropes with Mangala, who else, as a ‘rock’ at the back. Against a solid defensive team, who play direct football, like Villarreal, it doesn’t work. You can’t pack out the midfield when your opponents just bypass it in one Bruno through-ball. Too many Liverpool players dropped too deep, and so when they had the chance to test Asenjo in goal, they had nobody there to get the final touch. A Sturridge, even a Benteke, is just someone who gives you cutting edge, an outlet, some structure to all the ‘creative freedom’ madness.
- Tactical flexibility is key, especially in Europe. You can prepare all you like, but in the dugout you need to adapt to what is happening in the game. At half-time, Klopp and his team of world class analysts and statisticians should have realised their dominance and how… how DEAD EASY it would be to throw on in-form Sturridge and grab a pivotal away goal. If you stick to the same format your opposition will work out a way to break you down and knock you for six. Or one. At least, they will find a way to score. I’m sorry. Yes, I know this isn’t cricket.