Scout Report: Liverpool – Madrid Management

The Champions League finals bring back many sweet memories for Madridistas. At this time of year, we can reflect on many past triumphs, and soon we can talk about another historic night.

On May 28, Real Madrid take on the notorious Liverpool, in an epic battle for their 14th UCL trophy. The match is seen as a rematch of the 2018 final when Madrid won their third European title in a row under Zinedine Zidane thanks to marvelous goals from Gareth Bale.

Things have changed since then. Karim Benzema now takes on the attack alongside a 21-year-old Vinicius Jr who is having a great season. The midfield trio have aged, although they are still very functional and clutch. Arguably the biggest change of all has come in defence, with a completely revamped central defense partnership, with David Alaba and Eder Militao replacing the old duo of Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos.

Both teams are looking for an epic conclusion to what has been a successful season for both. In this article, we’ll look at the strengths and some potential weaknesses of this Liverpool team ahead of the final.

Threat Creation

Liverpool boast one of the strongest attacks in world football, with the trio of Diogo Jota, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scoring 75 goals between them this season in all competitions. The forward four of Salah, Mane, Jota, along with new recruit Luiz Diaz, are capable of scoring from a variety of situations and pose various threats.

With Mane now playing in a fake 9 role since the turn of the year, he has added another dimension to his attack. His abandonment to receive could ruin Madrid’s already poor defensive organization. Luiz Diaz, signed from Porto in January, has seamlessly integrated into the lineup. He has functioned as an excellent drop-out on the wing, stretching the field horizontally and taking on players in 1v1 situations. His presence will have to be well attended by Carvajal and whoever starts on the right of Madrid. Salah, although he experienced a slight slump recently, is capable of doing damage with his pace, close control and left foot.

Liverpool xT Creation Heatmap

We can notice from the heat map above that most of the threat creation is concentrated in that right half space. Liverpool concentrate their chance creation from wide areas and use the attacking prowess of their full-backs.

Liverpool generate a lot of threat down the right flank. This is due to Trent Alexander-Arnold and the right side rotations between RCM-RW-RB. The rotations allow fluidity and cause opposition problems creating overloads on the flanks. The RCM (usually Henderson) makes excellent outside lure runs to lure in opposition players. This, in turn, allows Trent Alexander-Arnold to operate from in-between spaces.

Trent Alexander-Arnold Crossing Area

These right-sided rotations can be seen in action when looking at the zones TAA places their centers from. Only 10% of his crosses come from the baseline, as he’s not usually the one doing the overlapping run. Positional rotations see you slide in and operate from those half-spaces or deeper areas. This is by design as it opens up better angles to cross while allowing late runs to the far post.

Liverpool rely heavily on crosses, having attempted 554 crosses this season in the Premier League, behind only Manchester City. Both TAA and Robertson rank in the top 10 players for crosses attempted in the Premier League this season, with TAA recording a league-high number of 127.

Liverpool’s most threatening players

As well as having a lethal striker, Liverpool rely heavily on their full-backs to create chances. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have earned a reputation as being among the best attacking full-back pairings in the world.

TAA has amassed an xT (expected threat) of 12.74 over the course of the season with Robertson in second place (6.7). Both players are ranked in the top 2 based on accumulated xT times 90 through their actions.

TAA is one of the best centers and distributors of the ball. He has the vision to select passes from behind and the range to change the point of attack with ease. Liverpool rely on their crossing/passing ability as their main mode of creating chances. Play a system that seeks to maximize its strengths while masking its shortcomings defensively.

Joel Matip wears progressive

Another interesting observation is Matip’s ranking inside the top 6 in xT for 90 on the season. This is largely due to his adventurous ball runs from deeper areas. The Cameroonian is an adept ball carrier, frequently venturing forward, carrying the ball deep into the opposition half breaking their front row if not closed quickly. He helps gain territory in quick action and moves possession into dangerous areas.

Depending on how Klopp approaches this game, he could go for a Konate and Van Dijk CB partnership, giving them recovery pace to deal with Vinicius’ streaks.

Corners and set piece skills

Liverpool have been one of the strongest teams in the world in dead ball situations. They have players who can serve it at a plate from set pieces. Both Robertson and TAA have excellent shots from dead ball situations, capable of delivering it into danger zones.

Corner kicks have been a cornerstone of their attacking strategy with aerially dominant players like Matip and Van Dijk. This, coupled with Real Madrid’s shortcomings in defending from set pieces and a lack of aerial prowess between CBs, bodes well for Liverpool’s prospects.

Offensive corners in the top 5 European leagues

As well as this, Liverpool use outstanding shots from their corners, unlike most clubs in the top five European leagues. 72.9% of his corner deliveries have been outswingers, the highest percentage in Europe. This is part of a larger routine that has given them success. Real Madrid will have to be careful with this ahead of the game.

Pressing

The Klopp side has been famous for its counter press and this side is no different. Liverpool’s forward 4 are capable of executing well-coordinated counter-pressures to stifle opponents in their own defensive third.

His pressure is intense, posting a PPDA (pass per defensive action) of 9.9, the lowest in the league. His pressure is also effective, resulting in a high 432 turnovers. His efficiency is seen in converting these turnovers into shots. They have recorded 69 high turnover shots, 14 more than any other Premier League side, and have scored seven goals from those actions.

The Liverpool attacker works incredibly hard to make this work. Only four teams average more pressure in the final third by 90 than Klopp’s Liverpool (43.3). Jota, Luiz Diaz, Mane and Salah took a turn from the front. Jota leads the pack with 22.4 pressures per 90. Madrid will face a fierce test playing with the pressure of the opposition.

What can Madrid do?

Teams have looked to exploit the space behind Trent Alexander-Arnold. While he potentially has one of the best cross deliveries and dead ball situations, defensively he can leave a bit to be desired.

Man City changes map vs Liverpool | Premier league

In their recent clash against Manchester City, Guardiola’s team always sought to use Liverpool’s long diagonals to the right and overloaded that side to cause the Englishman a lot of trouble. A similar strategy could work for Madrid who have Vinicius on the left as an outlet. Ancelotti’s team could look to overload that side with a combination of Kroos, Vinicius and Mendy.

Real Madrid managed to beat Liverpool last season in the UCL. Two goals came from the right for Liverpool, and one was a direct error by TAA. Madrid scored the third at the break through Asensio and using that strategy could come in handy here.

Liverpool play with a high line and are constantly looking to stifle opponents within their own half. They are also exceptional at using this as an offside trap to trap the opposition. No team has caught opponents offside as often as Liverpool in Europe’s top five leagues this season (144). So while Madrid have the pace at half-time to hurt Liverpool, they will have to execute it perfectly.

Real Madrid may use a similar build structure as Tottenham against Liverpool. A 4-2-4 structure with CBs wide apart and inviting pressure for someone from the front line to drop as an option for a diagonal pass. Conte’s team managed to get into the final third a couple of times by creating depth with their deep and wide CBs and using FBs to draw in the opposing full-back and midfielder by pulling on his counterpart, creating a diagonal opening for a striker on one side.

The bottom line is that Madrid has the tools to pull it off, but the execution will have to be top-notch.

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