In my last tactical analysis, Liverpool´s attacking struggles vs Southampton, I explained the reasons why Liverpool were not capable of breaking a very solid Southampton defensive unit, and Middlesbrough arrived at Anfield with a similar mentality, to avoid losing another match despite being relegated already.
Middlesbrough’s defensive shape was normally a 4-5-1, but it changed several times throughout the match. The changes in their defensive shape was influenced by Clyne and Milner pushing very high up the pitch, forcing Bamford and Downing to track back constantly, forming a back line of five or even six players.
In the picture above, notice the 4-5-1 Middlesbrough shape when out of possession.
In the picture above, notice how Middlesbrough defensive shape changed to a 5-4-1.
In the picture above, notice how Middlesbrough were defending with a back line of six players due to Milner and Clyne’s high position on the pitch, supporting the attack.
Liverpool used their usual 4-3-3 formation but Coutinho playing in a deeper role was a massive factor in Liverpool’s attacking plays. Coutinho had more time to play, more space to distribute and create different combination plays in central or wide areas. His passing rate was 86.1% during this match.
One of the factors that Liverpool improved against Middlesbrough, was attacking through wide channels, mainly on Milne’s side. Milner stayed in wide areas and was able to create dangerous plays to threaten the Middlesbrough back line. Lallana provided support constantly.
Liverpool’s front line was formed by Firmino, Lallana and Sturridge; their movement off the ball was very good and Klopp’s tactical plan to exchange their positions was crucial to create unpredictable attacking plays. If we also add to their mobility that Wijnaldum was joining the attack to exploit spaces left by their runs to drop in or to move to wide areas, we could imagine that Middlesbrough’s defensive duties were very difficult and the level of concentration needed throughout the match had to be massive to avoid leaving gaps at the back.
As you’ll see, Lallana, Firmino and Sturridge were constantly dropping in to receive the ball between the lines of midfielders and defenders. Middlesbrough players were successful to stop them creating combination plays during 45 minutes.
Liverpool stuck to their plan and found their reward just before the half time whistle, after a great combination play between Clyne, Firmino and Wijnaldum, supported by Lallana’s movement off the ball.
Liverpool started the 2nd half the same way they finish the 1st. Liverpool players knew they needed to score more goals to secure their place in the Champions League next season, and “O Magico” was going to score the 2nd goal from a direct free kick on the 51st minute.
Liverpool found their 3rd goal just 5 minutes after Coutinho’s from a quick counterattack after a Middlesbrough corner kick. Lallana scored his 8th goal of the campaign.
Lallana broke quickly after receiving a Coutinho pass to begin Liverpool counterattack, but his final pass was blocked by Fabio; all credit to Lallana who regained possession immediately just outside the 18 yard box, and Wijnaldum assisted the English player who calmly finished inside the left post of Guzan.
After scoring the 3rd goal, Liverpool knew it was enough to win the match so they slowed the tempo until full time. Lucas Leiva, Origi and Alberto Moreno came on for Firmino, Sturridge and Milner without important changes in Liverpool’s game.
Liverpool secured their place in the 2017/2018 Champions League by playing an offensive game since kick off, finding their success by creating different combination of plays; taking advantage of the width of the pitch, movement off the ball and the quality of players like Coutinho, Wijnaldum, Firmino, Lallana, Sturridge.