Saturday late evening kick-off at Anfield saw a close win for Liverpool when they hosted Sheffield United. Coming into this game Liverpool had won their last three Premier League games against Sheffield United without conceding a single goal. Unfortunately, they conceded early from the spot in this game due to another controversial decision by VAR. Liverpool has conceded 25 goals in 12 Premier League games since their league title win was confirmed last season, no side has conceded more.

Their previous 25 league goals conceded had come across a period of 38 games. Apart from the penalty decision, Liverpool defended well and didn’t concede from the open play in this match. Blades have a poor away record at Anfield, lost 19 from their 23 away top-flight matches against Liverpool.

Apart from scoring from the spot, Sheffield United never looked threatening in their attack and managed minimal attempts on Liverpool’s goal. Liverpool was the much stronger and better side of the two but this wasn’t the defending champion’s performance that matched their level. The tactical analysis of this game covers the tactics of Liverpool’s attack & their movements in the build-up. Also, we will be highlighting the analysis of Sheffield United’s chances and defending-errors.

Lineups

Alisson is back from injury to replace Adrian in goal for his first appearance since the win over Arsenal in September as one of four changes from last weekend’s Merseyside derby against Everton. Klopp handed Diogo Jota his first league start at Anfield since joining the club. Georginio Wijnaldum replaced Thiago Alcantara, who is still not fit to return, and Joe Gomez for Virgil Van Dijk who is out with a long-term injury.

Klopp has started with four attacking players and changed the formation to 4-2-1-3 from his usual 4-3-3 to fit in Jota. Chris Wilder gives Rhian Brewster his first Sheffield United start against his former club, as one of three changes from their draw with Fulham. The other two incomings are Ben Osborn and Ethan Ampadu, with Oliver Norwood back on the bench and Max Lowe out of the squad.

Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics

Liverpool’s attacking tactic involving movement and switching positions.

Klopp starting with attacking intent by starting all three wingers with centre-forward Firmino. With Van Dijk not available for a long time, Klopp has shifted Fabinho to defence duties from midfield. With Thiago not fully fit, leaves him with fewer midfield options and limited depth.
This forced Klopp to play with two midfield instead of three. Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson played the two midfielder role with either one dropping as a pivot on left or right to support the centre-backs and take the game forward.
If Alexander-Arnold goes up then Henderson will drop between Fabinho and Arnold during build-up. Similarly, Wijnaldum drops between left-back, Andy Robertson, and centre-back Gomez to support the play. If one centre midfielder drops as a pivot then their position is covered when a forward player drops to midfield.
For example, Firmino dropping to Henderson’s initial position as Henderson drops between Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho. This invites Sheffield United players forward and helps Liverpool to unlock opponents’ defence structure. The tactic was to spread Sheffield United players and create space at the centre to find the runs of Salah and Mane and beat Blades’ defence.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
Liverpool playing in a 4-2-1-3 formation. Fabinho and Gomez playing as centre-back with Alexander-Arnold and Robertson as usual full-backs. The only two-man midfield of Henderson and Wijnaldum in this match. Salah is playing forward with Firmino in support of him. As Salah is playing forward, Jota plays on the right-wing, and Mane, as usual, is on the left-wing. Mane, Firmino, Salah, and Jota were seen exchanging positions and a lot of movement up front. Let’s look at the players’ movement during Liverpool’s build-up.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
Here, Wijnaldum drops as a pivot to the left to bridge the gap between Robertson and Gomez. Robertson goes up to wide areas and Mane makes inward runs towards the centre. You can see Firmino drops to the midfield towards Wijnaldum’s initial position. This is how Klopp’s men moved on the left side of the pitch.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
On the right side of the pitch here, Henderson drops to defence as a pivot and bridge the gap between Fabinho and Alexander-Arnold. Firmino drops towards Henderson’s initial position in the midfield. Alexander-Arnold goes up and wide on the right flank to deliver crosses and Salah n Jota makes inside runs. Above example, highlights change in positions of Liverpool’s players.

Liverpool’s systematic defending with pressing

Liverpool have been working on a defensive structure without their star defender, Van Dijk. Fabinho’s near-faultless performance in recent games gives Liverpool confidence in shifting him to a centre-back role. Gomez is considered an ideal partner for Fabinho over Matip. They played in a 4-4-2 defence structure with protecting centre and nullifying any threat from the centre. They pressed higher up the pitch playing a high line and defended in systematic 4-4-2 in their defensive half.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
It is evident here, Liverpool defending in well-organised four at the back defence. Liverpool player plays high line with front player pressing in Sheffield United’s defensive half. When Blades are in their attacking half, they defended in organised 4-4-2 structure.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
Again in the stoppage time, Liverpool defended a one-goal lead in the same structure. Sheffield United was putting pressure for the equalizer but Liverpool defence was on top and comfortable with a solid four at the back structure.

Sheffield United’s chances and defence errors

The Blades’ buildup and defensive tactics were similar to their previous games. They attacked in 3-5-2 shape and defended in 5-3-2 shape. They created few good chances on the counter and early in the game. Sheffield United had 13 attempts on goal but they lacked quality in attack and in their play in the attacking third.
The Blades had a chance to take a two-goal lead with Osborn’s excellent volley but it was straight at Alisson. Let’s have a look at the analysis of some of Sheffield United’s chances and also, their errors in defending goals.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
Ampadu long ball beyond Liverpool’s high line and McBurnie beating the offside trap created a big chance for Sheffield United. McBurnie should have done better against Alisson as his shot goes wide and away from the goal. Sheffield United lacked the quality to take advantage of Liverpool’s failure to maintain the high line.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
Here, Baldock puts a nicely weighted and perfect cross in free space with Osborn making a superb run to set himself for a volley. The distance covered by Osborn to receive the cross is brilliant. This was an amazing attempt by Wilder’s side but the shot from Osborn was straight at the keeper. Difficult chance on the volley but should have been directed towards either side of Alisson to beat such a quality goalkeeper.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
McGoldrick is in a great position to create something here but he takes a shot directly on the half volley from such a difficult angle with Alisson covering the near post. Berge had made the run and was completely free in front of the goal and maybe he could have had a better angle. McGoldrick might have taken a touch to create a better angle for him or squaring to McBurnie. Again, Sheffield United quality is questionable in the final third.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
Baldock and Osborn playing as wing-backs dropped, forming five at the back for Sheffield United. They were sitting back deep and avoiding any entry from the centre. They tried closing Robertson and Alexander-Arnold respectively whenever they were in a crossing position. They struggled to keep their lead with this defensive strategy and lacked in converting their chances whenever they broke on the counter.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
Osborn tracks back a lot to block cross of Alexander-Arnold but Lundstrum has already tracked back with him and there was no need for Osborn to be there. Hence, he was nowhere to close down Henderson. Henderson had plenty of space and time to deliver a threatening cross. A free header from Mane and a quick reaction from Firmino to the saved header gives Liverpool their first goal.
Five Liverpool players crowded in the penalty box with only four players of Sheffield United in defending a position or marking someone. Osborn was neither deep in the penalty box to match Liverpool’s number neither he managed to close down Henderson.
Premier League 2020/21: Liverpool vs Sheffield United - tactical analysis tactics
Baldock fails to block Mane’s cross and Jota gets a free header between Stevens and Osborn. Liverpool gets their second goal even Sheffield United having so many defenders in the box. The five-man defence was demolished by the brilliance of two players, Mane and Jota. Sheffield United repeated the same mistake as they conceded from a chance created from the cross.

Conclusion

Sheffield United’s winless run in the Premier League continues as they couldn’t defend their early lead. They started the game really well but failed to keep it consistently for 90 mins.
With Manchester City next, it will be difficult for Wilder and his team to put an end to this winless run. Liverpool always looked comfortable in moving the ball around and attacking but uneasy during their defending.
A better-attacking side than Sheffield United can ask some serious questions to Liverpool’s defence. Liverpool needs to work things around in their defence in order to defend their title.