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Origi answers Klopp's call to untangle Liverpool's attack - Tactical lessons from the Premier League weekend

13:00 EAT 30/09/2019
Divock Origi Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2019-20
It was a scrappy win, but the Reds found a way to continue their perfect start to the league season at Bramall Lane on Saturday

Jurgen Klopp proved his worth as a manager over the weekend against Sheffield United as he went to his bench and found a way for Liverpool to break down a stubborn Blades side in a 1-0 win for the Reds. 

Elsewhere, Manchester City kept up the heat on the Premier League leaders against an Everton team that showed signs of improvement, while Tottenham's record signing once again demonstrated how he can make the difference this season.  

Goal breaks down the major tactical lessons from the English top-flight's key fixtures...

1) Klopp substitution sparks chaos that untangles Liverpool attack

For 60 minutes at Bramall Lane, Sheffield United defended perfectly against Liverpool.

Their hunched 5-3-2 formation was suffocating; a ring of their five most advanced players formed around Fabinho, which in turn meant Georginio Wijnaldum – moving ahead of the Brazilian – could not get on the ball.

Jordan Henderson somewhat strangely shuffled up and down the right flank, meaning not a single Liverpool midfielder could help the visitors build into the final third.

Instead, Liverpool’s centre-backs, given time on the ball as United backed off, had to attempt ambitious longer passes that bypassed midfield – and these were easily cleared away - to feed the full-backs, who were quickly closed down by United’s wing-backs. It was a diligent approach from the hosts that slowed the tempo right down.

Until Jurgen Klopp made a smart substitution, that is.

Perhaps aware Liverpool were not ever going to break down United’s stubborn three-man midfield, he replaced Henderson with Divock Origi and moved to a 4-2-4 formation that decluttered the centre and meant Sadio Mane and Origi could hug the touchline.

The width meant Liverpool were suddenly very light in the middle, leading to a couple of good chances for United as the pitch became stretched, but ultimately it proved to be the right call. It was Origi’s directness from the left that led to the Reds' fortunate winner.

2) Sigurdsson finally offers Everton the focal point Silva needs

For too long Marco Silva’s Everton have been drifting without an obvious tactical direction, but there were clear signs of progress on Saturday thanks to a combination of aggressive wing play from Richarlison and Alex Iwobi as well as a more assured display from Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Directly dribbling at the opposition and looking for quick forward passes on the counterattack, Everton played with the bravery and confidence that defined Silva’s tactics during successful periods at Hull City and Watford.

Sigurdsson has struggled to assert himself in open play this season but his movement in the No.10 space was impressive here, receiving assertive line-breaking passes from Fabian Delph and linking neatly with Iwobi and Richarlison as they cut inside.

PIC: Sigurdsson touches vs Man City

Manchester City are vulnerable to narrow counterattacks while Rodri gets used to the pace of English football - he made just one tackle and one interception at Goodison Park - and so it was no surprise to see City look vulnerable when Everton boldly poured forward.

Elsewhere, Seamus Coleman continually looked to attack Oleksandr Zinchenko (aggressive overlapping full-backs was another of Silva’s old trademarks), which helped put City’s makeshift centre-backs under pressure.

Fernandinho’s errors led to the first goal before Sigurdsson split the defenders for a Dominic Calvert-Lewin one-on-one that should have ended in an equaliser.

Everton would have just about deserved the point.

3) Ndombele invigorates Spurs' midfield diamond

Although ultimately Tottenham had to show resilience in a deep 4-4-1 to hold firm against Southampton (the visitors had 69 per cent possession across the final hour), from a tactical perspective the most interesting part of this game was the first 30 minutes.

Southampton’s surprisingly attacking 3-4-3 was completely the wrong shape to cope with Tottenham’s diamond 4-4-2 and, had Serge Aurier not got himself sent off, Spurs would have comfortably won.

The main takeaway from Saturday, though, is that Tanguy Ndombele can transform Tottenham’s season.

Sofiane Boufal started so high up the pitch that Southampton's central midfielders Pierre-Emile Hjojberg and Oriol Romeu were largely left alone to defend Christian Eriksen, Ndombele and Moussa Sissoko.

Worse still, the way the two teams’ shapes layered onto each other meant Ndombele frequently found himself directly in the gap between Romeu and makeshift right wing-back James Ward-Prowse.

PIC: Ndombele first-half touches vs Southampton

The Frenchman was outstanding in the first third of the match. Ndombele’s ability to weave through players, to wriggle out of trouble, and to release incisive passes out to Son Heung-min (who hugged the left touchline, much to Ward-Prowse’s confusion) gave Spurs an urgency they have been lacking this season.

It was his sharp turn that earned Tottenham the free-kick from which, eventually, the ball was worked back to Ndombele to open the scoring.

The red card flipped the tactical pattern of this match – not least because Saints moved to a 4-3-3 that solidified their central midfield - but Spurs fans have seen enough to know Ndombele will make a huge difference this season from the left side of a diamond midfield.

4) Newcastle’s defence fail to adapt to the switch from five to four

Steve Bruce almost exclusively uses a five-man defence and has done for several years, so it would not be a surprise if he simply had not coached a 4-2-3-1 until a couple of days before Newcastle travelled to Leicester City.

It certainly looked that way; Newcastle’s full-backs continually pressed Leicester as if they were actually wing-backs, assuming the security of a centre-back coming across to cover.

Consequently, the Foxes scored four goals via the flanks, while the opener from Ricardo Pereira resulted from left-back Paul Dummett getting too tight to Ayoze Perez.

Once he flicked it round the corner, Newcastle’s defence was exposed, leading to frantic backpedalling that allowed Pereira to run unchallenged.

It was already the third time in the game either Dummett or right-back Emil Krafth had sprinted forward recklessly, leaving a huge gap for Leicester to dominate.

After Isaac Hayden's red card, Jamie Vardy scored a second because Krafth was completely out of position (forcing Jamaal Lascelles to abandon the middle) and then added a fourth after Dummett  - who scored an own goal himself in between - completely lost him at the back post.

It was a nightmare performance from both full-backs, but one that highlighted how little Newcastle understand anything other than a five-man defence under Bruce.

5) Villa’s creativity problems partially solved by Grealish’s new wide position

It was another disappointing weekend for Aston Villa, who have already dropped eight points from winning positions this season, but at least there were signs of greater cohesion at Villa Park from Dean Smith’s side.

This was largely because Jack Grealish was shifted out to the left wing against Burnley, giving Villa a more stable central midfield and ensuring their most creative player was more frequently in the final third.

Conor Hourihane came into midfield and looked assured, not only helping Villa dominate the midfield battle but hitting the post from a free-kick; Villa are yet to score from a set-piece this season so it makes sense to get the Ireland international into the side.

PIC: Hourihane passes vs Burnley

More importantly, Villa have been looking one-dimensional in the final third, too often relying on crosses into the box from traditional wingers Anwar El Ghazi and Trezeguet.

Grealish was cutting inside to add some nuance to their attacks, and his new position also meant the Villa captain did not drop deep as often to get on the ball. He always wants possession, even when it makes more sense for him to lurk higher up the pitch.