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Manchester City Give Liverpool Something Specific to Work On

Liverpool’s high line has been discussed improperly, but what should the Reds be defensively cautious of?

Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip of Liverpool look on during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on April 10, 2022 in Manchester, England.
Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip of Liverpool look on during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on April 10, 2022 in Manchester, England.
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Liverpool’s defense has been gaining in strength over the course of the season, helped in no small part by the side’s high line.

The Reds have caught opponents offside 129 times in the league according to fBref, a massive number that exceeded second-place Manchester City (78) by nearly 50 occasions.

This does not, of course, account for narrowly offside attacks that did not result in a goal conceded, thus not requiring a VAR intervention, meaning that the number could therefore actually be a lot higher.

The high line is working, and it’s working against top opposition (both Chelsea and Manchester City thought they had beaten Liverpool only to have a goal chalked off for offside).

Rather than simply trying to beat Liverpool’s high line, however, some opponents are trying to use it.

For Gabriel Jesus’s goal at the Etihad, the Brazilian ran late, suddenly changing directions while the defense was pushing out — a sudden movement shift he made while many of his teammates were clearly offside. While the Reds were perhaps unlucky to see a narrow one go in their opponent’s way for once, it’s possible too that City was using the crowd of players in offside positions to distract the defensive line.

In other words, were City perhaps looking to lull Liverpool into momentary complacency by letting it seem like the line was doing its job?

Other teams, too, have tried to use this to their advantage on occasion, playing in late or sudden runs while using other players as distractions, though it perhaps wasn’t seemingly an organized tactic like it was at times against City, and it hasn’t always worked.

Liverpool are certainly aware of this tactic, but slight improvements in concentration and awareness to these late runs/sudden shifts of attention so as to not be caught flat-footed or in 1v1 situations will be useful. Teams know what to expect when they face the Reds’ back line, but few have figured out how to beat it. Liverpool will be playing high class opposition in games that require perfection; there is no longer any margin for error.

Playing in Liverpool’s back line must be mentally exhausting work, requiring a high level of awareness of positioning with pinpoint accuracy. Being especially attuned to sudden bursts of pace and equally sudden late shifts is just another element to be concerned with. With three trophies still to play for — in an extremely challenging April — the Reds must dispense with any momentary lapses in concentration.

Liverpool’s defense has been incredibly successful and miserly over the 2021/22 season, and has been improving as the season progresses. Can a slight increase in awareness make them even better?