Liverpool ignored Thiago against Burnley. Instead, they played the exact way their opponents asked for – and that came at a cost.
When Liverpool play Burnley, the latter shouldn’t be the ones dictating the game. Yet, that’s exactly what happened on Thursday.
Burnley set up with a compact, resilient team – of course they did, they’re Burnley. They told Liverpool that they weren’t allowed to play through the middle and, instead, had to use the wings.
“Cross the ball into the box, so we can clear it away, please,” they requested.
There are two ways to go about this, then. You can either do that anyway and deliver fantastic crosses into the box. Effectively, be so good that you can beat them playing the way they want you to.
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But that’s tough to do when your full-backs aren’t at their absolute best. The crosses just won’t be as good.
The other way to play is by ignoring their strategy and playing through the middle. You beat their defensive strategy, cutting through the lines and forcing them to turn around.
This is really, really difficult. You need someone who excels at breaking through lines in tight spaces, either with turns or passes.
The kind of player, for instance, you can get for £20m from Bayern Munich back in September. If only Liverpool had one of those.
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That is what Thiago does. He’s the best in the world at it. He can cut through a team with his first-touch, while his passing through the lines is sensational. It’s why we were looking forward to seeing him play.
And yet, for some reason we just can’t figure out, Liverpool just played the way Burnley wanted. Thiago had the ball 85 times against Burnley – fewer than Xherdan Shaqiri, who didn’t play the final ten minutes.
Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold had the ball 114 and 119 times, respectively. No one else even reached 90.
Liverpool just attacked down the wings, put crosses into the box and watched as Burnley registered 52 clearances.
Essentially, exactly what Burnley wanted.
Compare this to how Manchester City played against Burnley in late November. City played a slightly different formation to Liverpool in that game, going 4-2-3-1. Liverpool went 4-3-3, of course.
So City had two sitting midfielders and then Kevin De Bruyne as a no.10, roaming between the lines. Ilkay Gundogan, as one of the sitting two, had the ball 100 times.
Rodrigo went off for Fabinho at half-time, and together they had the ball 110 times. De Bruyne added another 80 from his advanced role.
In total, that trio had the ball 290 times. Liverpool’s midfield three had it 244 times.
City’s full-backs had it 202 times. Liverpool’s had it 233 times.
That’s the difference. Liverpool’s two full-backs had it nearly as often as their entire midfield. City’s were nowhere close.
As a result, Burnley cleared the ball 10 times against City, or 42 fewer times than against Liverpool. In fact, City cleared the ball twice as often as Burnley!
De Bruyne got two assists, Riyad Mahrez scored a hattrick, and City won 5-0. They played their own way, forced Burnley to be uncomfortable, and tore them apart.
Liverpool did the opposite. They ignored their specialist and played at Burnley’s request. It was an awful decision.