Episode 6 – Tactics: FA Cup Final at Wembley v Manchester City
After defeating Manchester City in the Community Shield, EFL Cup and FA Cup, as well as pipping them to the Premier League title in the last game of the season, I wanted to go more into depth with my tactics. I’m going to focus on the FA Cup match and walk you through how I set the team up in terms of tactics and then look at the goals we scored to win the game.
We play a back four, with Matip and Lovren playing at CD(D)s, Clyne as FB(S) and Willems as WB(A). Willems has been deadly down the left hand side, providing an overlap for Coutinho who is more frequently found in the middle of the pitch when we’re in the attacking phase. As part of his PIs, he’s set to run wide with the ball and stay wider to supply width. Clyne will still push forwards, since he has the same PIs as Willems, but only when he feels confident to do so. Typically he will hang back to provide more support/protection to the two centre backs. Bazoer is playing a DLP(D) – his vision and creativity within the retreated role enables him to find either simple passes to the centre midfielders or to spray it out to Willems and Coutinho and set off an attack down the left. He also provides cover for the back four when we’re in attacking phase of our game, whilst enabling us to recycle possession quickly if the opposition launch the ball forwards under pressure from our forwards.
Henderson and Ascacibar both line up as BBMs. I want to look for both players to push on, though not together, into the box to act as support to Origi and to run onto crosses/balls through the back line from Origi or Coutinho to hopefully have a free shot on goal. Both players are set to close down the opposition to look to win the ball back quickly as/when we lose possession and then quickly distribute it to take advantage of any space that we may have created.
Berardi lines up as an IF(S) – his natural position. He is deadly with free-kicks and also when cutting in from the left hand side. He is set to close down much more and really press his opposing full back, hopefully pinning him back into his own half and forcing him to either pump the ball towards our defensive line or to turn possession over to a Liverpool player further up the field to start a counter attack. On the other flank, nominally, is Coutinho, who I set to play AP(S), meaning that he dribbles into the middle of the field and the number 10 position behind Origi, causing mayhem amongst the opposition defence as their right back tracks him across field, dragging him out of position. Coutinho is also set to close down much more and also specifically mark the opposing right back tighter so that he can provide cover for Willems who is not the strongest defensively. This also allows us to cut down passing lanes for opponents when we’re counter pressing them.
Up front, Origi lines up as a CF(A). He roams around to find space, but effectively leads the line. When in attack, he’s often found in the half space, enabling Berardi to hit the gap he’s created, or Ascacibar and Henderson to do the same from central midfield. He too is set to close down more so that he presses the opposition centre backs into making mistakes or lump it forwards. I know from playing them on multiple occasions this season, and because Pep is Pep, Man City will look to play the ball out from the back, so this pressing can work in our favour if we can pin Manchester City into their own half.
Using a counter mentality and a team shape of very fluid, the team instructions are to pass it shorter to try to play fast neat football, utilised through a higher tempo of play. We look to hit low crosses to attempt to catch the defence out of position and make it easy for Origi to drill the ball into the box. We have set work ball into the box on to make sure that we try and play through the opposition with our creative playmaker in Countinho doing the magic. Mignolet has a PI to distribute it quickly in order to start quick counters. We look to close down slightly more, though PIs for relevant players override this to press more, and also use tighter marking as part of our counter-pressing mentality to cut out passing lanes. I opt not to play it out of the back, which is our typical tactic, because I know that the City team will look to press us very high up the pitch and we’re prone to making stupid mistakes and gifting them a goal.
Above is a screenshot of all the interceptions we made in the game. You can clearly see that we were able to win back possession from Manchester City on the half way line repeatedly as they were pressed into making mistakes or lumping the ball long, against Pep’s express instructions. Our compact midfield three are constantly winning back and recycling possession into our attacking movement. This enables us to spend a considerable amount of time in the Manchester City half, clocking up chances and quickly moving it around the outside of their box, looking to break down their defensive line.
As we look to push up slightly higher, wary of Agüero’s threat in behind as well as the ability of Dybala and Griezmann, we have a strong back line that is relatively high up the field. Despite being set up in a clear 4-1-2-2-1/4-1-2-3 tactic, our fluidity means that it looks more like a 4-1-4-1. I’m not too happy about how far up Origi is to the rest of the team, but then he doesn’t come back to support in his CF(A) role and was likely countering the back line of Manchester City when we weren’t in position where he’d be looking to run in behind them.
Our positions with and without the ball are somewhat more telling. Without the ball (red dots), we look to drop back and our wide players, Berardi and Coutinho go out to man mark/press the opposing full backs to prevent them from getting down the pitch and causing us a problem down the flanks. When we’re in possession, due to our short natured passing, the players come together again to shorten the gaps between them. Coutinho cuts inside, as does Berardi. The defensive line moves up together to keep the gap between midfield and defence minimised, preventing Dybala and Griezmann finding space. With the ball, the above makes us look more like a 4-5-1, but Bazoer does play more in the withdrawn hole, providing cover at the back when we have the ball.
Here are the shots taken by Liverpool players during the match. I’ve watched the highlight back from the Ascacibar hit from the half way line and he was trying to catch Hart off his line, but he doesn’t have the technique/long shots to pull that sort of thing off. I told him he’s no Xabi Alonso (or indeed Charlie Adam) at the end of the game when we were doing our victory lap with the Cup, just to keep him grounded.
We have a series of shots in this match, 18 to be exact. Of these, four are clear cut chances and four are half chances. We score just from four of these opportunities, wasting two clear cut chances.
Berardi’s goal, made from a nice attacking movement down our right flank, starts from a long goal kick. After the knock down, it finds Berardi with all the space in the world as Man City’s midfield have dropped to win the header, forgetting about the second ball. Berardi and Origi then link up and Origi holds the ball until Clyne makes his run down the right. Griezmann doesn’t track him properly, leaving him to the left back, Duarte. Clyne swings in a cross which is met by the Man City defence, but with no threat in the air from a Liverpool player. Instead, the ball falls to Henderson who has withdrawn from the box, seeing that our front three of Origi, Berardi and Coutinho are already in there. The Mancester City then move up as one but all towards the ball and Henderson who shows composure and vision.
He feeds it out to a wide open Berardi who then lashes it against the post and in past Joe Hart. Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher would have had a field day if they were covering the FA Cup. Instead, since Sky don’t have the coverage, the BBC have roped in some blond haired, Welsh, big-mouthed, self-centred idiot who claims to have been a “footballer”, so any proper analysis is missed. Shame.
It’s the goal below though that most pleases me from the four we score. It epitomises our counter-pressing, team work and desire to win back the ball through our work rate. I’ve purposely edited the video to include us losing the ball to demonstrate how we go about trying to win the ball back, showing our determination and team work, so critical our style of play. It also shows our potential weakness.
Can has the ball, but our team has set itself up well. All passing lanes blocked, Duarte marked by Berardi, who has tracked back, and Griezmann man-marked by Clyne, who has pushed up to keep close tabs on his man. This forces Can to play the simple pass across to Camacho who tries to stab it through to Agüero, but Kovalenko has that passing lane covered and it breaks to him to attack the space in behind Camacho. We look to counter quickly, and had Origi seen the run that Berardi made in transitioning into attack, we could have been more successful with this move. Instead, he tries a far more risky, and very poor weak pass across to the on-running Kovalenko. Manchester City take up the loose ball and try to counter our counter, playing it out to Sterling (on for Dybala) who is in acres of space as Willems is our second most advanced player (our weakness and one of our strengths). Luis, on for Bazoer, comes across from his holding role to close down Sterling before he gets to utilise his pace and run at our defence, which gives time for Willems to get back into position.
Coutinho, Luis and Kovalenko (on for Ascacibar) then surround Sterling, who has tried to make a run up field, but with no support.
Luis wins the ball off him (note from the below statistics the game hasn’t counted this as a tackle!?) and then plays a one-two with Kovalenko, in line with the short passing instruction, shifting Camacho out of position. When Luis receives the ball back from his midfield partner, he spots Origi making a run off the shoulder of the centre back.
The ball is inch perfect, giving a great demonstration of Luis’s improvement in vision, technique and passing ability, and his improvement since joining us in 2016. Origi has a clear cut chance and slots it past the onrushing Hart into the goal.
What also pleased me about this goal was Coutinho’s work ethic and teamwork. Watch the video back and track his movement. He not only runs back to help surround Sterling when Manchester City launch their counter, but he also then fills in Luis’s role in behind the midfield when Luis is playing a one-two with Ascacibar. Wonderful stuff – especially when this goal was scored late on in the second half and we were already 3-1 up.
Origi is Player of the Match for his two goals, awarded a 9.2 rating. You’ll notice that interceptions far outweigh the number of tackles we make . This (I think) is due to us cutting out passing lanes and staying on out feet when making challenges (that or FM17 is bugged?). Coutinho, our play maker, makes the most attempted passes and the most passes out of our team.
Manchester City’s defenders plight is really shown in their average ratings. Origi and co have pulled them apart and destroyed them. Laporte, a supposedly world class centre back, has an FA Cup Final to forget.
Quite why Pep is determined to play a centre back at right back, I don’t understand, but it’s been a constant in this save for Otamendi (who is now supposedly a natural there) to start in that position against me. Why he then brought Kompany on to replace Otamendi in that position really is baffling.
I hope you enjoyed this change from the norm, and to look back at our victorious performance against Manchester City. The next episode will focus upon the start of the 2019/20 season and the transfer incomings and outgoings.
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