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How Liverpool Can Control Wolves – Tactical Preview

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Liverpool’s record in 12:30pm kickoffs last season was abysmal – they were winless out of the six early kick-off games they played. Add to that, a raucous Molineux crowd in their first home league game of the season, a Wolves team desperate for a win and a team that may enjoy the transitional style of football they will play in this game, a similar game-state to their positive performance against Manchester United.

To make things more tricky add in their heavy South American contingent flying back only a day before the match is scheduled to start.  The Reds face a tricky prospect and will certainly have to be on their A-game and be tactically astute to take home the three points and avoid a slip-up.

How Liverpool’s Tactical Approach Can Stifle Wolves

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Responding to Wolves’ High-Press and Man-Marking:

Wolves have had 57% and 53% possession respectively in their last two games.  They looked highly threatening on the counter-attack against Manchester United but still enjoyed 49% possession. This isn’t a coincidence. The Wanderers have employed an aggressive high-press that boxes oppositions within their own half, interrupting their build-up play and allowing the ball to be regained as oppositions resort to long balls. Their pressing structure is a man-to-man structure in which they mark all spare men in the build-up.

In the Old Trafford game – Casemiro, Mason Mount and Aaron Wan-Bissaka had constant pressure on them leaving them with no opportunity to play around with the ball, usually making them reset the ball and disrupting the coherence of United’s build-up or conversely resorting to a long-ball booted forward. It caused significant problems. If Liverpool don’t play their cards right it can cause them similar trouble.

Against Chelsea and Bournemouth, both sides that play an aggressive pressing system, the Merseyside team were far too direct and rushed for periods of the game.  Against Chelsea, they had 35% possession, almost an all-time low under Jurgen Klopp. In the first twenty minutes of the Bournemouth game, Klopp was repeatedly encouraging his team to slow down and play at a calmer tempo. There lies their solution. Liverpool must not fall into the trap of rushing and playing ambitious line-breaking passes too often, this will only play into Wolverhampton’s plan to regain the ball and play fast on the transition.

The Anfield side must look to how they regained control against Bournemouth and dominated Aston Villa – they played with a calmer tempo but the distances between their midfield and attacking lines were shorter, allowing for swifter and simpler passing combinations.

Another weapon up the arsenal of the six-time Champions League winners is the highly effective tactical flexibility they have displayed particularly down the right-hand side. Trent Alexander-Arnold has not been fixed to an inverted full-back role by operating in a box-midfield. At times, the English right-back will go up and down the flanks, causing Salah to move into the central half-space and Szoboszlai to drop into a traditional centre-mid role.

Read More: Dominik Szoboszlai’s Role at Liverpool

When the Egyptian star wants to stay close to goal, Szoboszlai is happy to provide the width, allowing their new vice-captain to operate centrally as an inverted full-back. The right-hand side has seen many different positional situations and against a side that loves to man-mark and stay close to players – this tactical versatility will prove a tough test for their organisation. There will certainly be moments when Wolves will be caught in an unorganised state and a team with such a great attacking threat only needs one opportunity to score.

Liverpool’s High Press and Rest Defence:

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In the opening exchanges of the West Midlands side’s clash against Everton at Goodison Park – the Merseyside team were able to gain control by boxing in. Everton’s aggressive high-press stifled the wide options in attack and the onus was on Fabio Silva and Matheus Cunha to bring down lofted passes from the centre-backs and hold play up, something which isn’t typical of their player profile. On the defensive end, a high press brought trouble to the Wanderers at Selhurst Park. They squandered possession under pressure and Edouard finished the resulting play to put Crystal Palace 1-0 up.

It is great news for the Reds that their high press is becoming coherent and the issues from last season are not plaguing them. Against Aston Villa, their press was the salient reason why they were able to thoroughly dominate Unai Emery’s men. Similarly, on Saturday afternoon – they should look to be extra aggressive with their press and make the opposition work harder with the ball.

The German manager has slightly altered his pressing scheme by having Luis Diaz, the left-winger marking the wider spare-man in the opposition build-up, similarly, Wolves like to have Neto and Sarabia out wide, with Semedo providing support at times – as such, having the left-sided winger mark the wider options may be employed again.

Read More: How Liverpool Have Fixed Last Season’s Pressing Issues

While a lot of the discussion has been around the possession that Gary O’Neil’s have obtained in the first three games – their best attacking moments in the season have come on the transition. Think Cunha dribbling past Lisandro Martinez after a lost ball. To minimise any transitional success – the Merseyside team will have to be highly judicious and disciplined in their rest-defensive actions (how they are defensively set up when in possession).

It is tempting for Robertson to push up against a side that should be dominated, but this fixture is more difficult than what meets the eye, The Scot should stay strict with his rest-defensive instruction to stay in a back three when a box midfield system is employed.  It is especially more necessary when the 2019/20 Premier League champions press as aggressively as they do – if the press is broken and there are too many gaps in behind, the Molineux side certainly have enough attacking threats to make them pay.

While Liverpool’s start to the season has been a positive one – the season will start to heat up now. European fixtures, increased workload, different oppositions. They have to be focused and professional at Molineux Stadium on Saturday afternoon – if they are off their best level, Wolves certainly have a team that can cause trouble.


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