I was wondering, as many as you were, as to why Klopp persisted with Moreno and Lovren during the Hoffenheim game and why he didn't make any changes. I started reading a lot and came across a brilliant piece of analysis by BabuYagu (RAWK-poster). All credit goes to him. It's a long read, but it's worth it.
"Firstly, that is one of the best drilled sides I have seen in attacking play. They constantly found ways to create underloads on our right and then switch to overloads on our left - ironically the thing I was tipping us to do this season with our two pacey inside forwards.
Their build up play, for example, would drag Salah out of position. Then when a midfielder stepped into that area of the pitch the rest of our midfield narrowed and shifted across. This created a huge hole all night in front of Lovren & Moreno and they exploited this time and again.
At least - that's what I felt when I first saw the game.
I then went back and looked at some of it again and realised Klopp just let it happen. I know that is a really weird thing to suggest but if you look at how strong we make our right side and weak we make our left by comparison you have to conclude that we are actually doing it, by choice. Also we direct all traffic down that weaker left side. That's weird too right, but go back and watch any 5 minute segment of the game again and watch how players curve their pressing runs right to curve left, this naturally turns opponents to our left side to play.
Now, something that can hold people back from better understanding football is pre-conceived opinions and ideas about certain things and players. The end result is you look for evidence to support what you think rather than look at the whole picture with no theory to prove. So I want you all to bin those things you believe to be true about Liverpool and certain players for the time being. The reason being I want us to collectively arrive at some answers to make sense of what Klopp was doing, because I was somewhat baffled. I don´t mean that in a negative way in that his choices make no sense like Hodgson, I mean that tactically there was a lot of very very high level tactical things happening in that game which will easily just pass over your head unless you are looking out for them.
I personally know just enough to know that all the simplistic conclusions we arrive about certain players today are, in the main, wrong. (e.g. Bobby doesn't score enough, Lovren & Moreno are liabilities). I also know enough to be able to ask the right questions that might help us find the right answers. But more than anything else, I know enough to know that game was a tactical masterclass from two sides, most of which will have gone right over my head. I did see some things that I will share with you and hopefully others will have spotted some things to help us fill in the blanks.
First of all - I think we we don't want to be attacked down our right flank and over compensate for that to discourage it from happening. One possible reason could be that Klopp mentions in the press multiple times how weak TAA is defensively makes me wonder exactly how true that is and to what extent we are minimizing his work defensively?
But then if you look at last season, Milner got through almost twice as much work defensively as Clyne also and I am sure nobody would suggest Clyne is a weak full back defensively that needs protecting. Therefore I believe this is our first pressing trap. Klopp did the same at Dortmund, creating a hole in his formation on one side of the pitch, staggering his formation around it and then ambushing the ball as soon as it was played in that area.
If you put aside any opinions on our players for a minute and just look at this tactically. Just look at what we did and ask why.
This is really interesting for example. Most believe Moreno is a liability, and yet we get Mane to offer him literally no support at all. Look at Mane v Kaderábek (RWB) on our left compared to Salah v Zuber (LWB) on our right. It was very clear watching the game that Salah would stay goal side of Zuber all night and not let him get at TAA. Therefore there was never an overload on TAA on that side. This was especially weird because Zuber is right footed. If you want any wing back to have time on the ball it would be the inverted one who is likely to come back in on his weak foot, or play floated, aimless left football balls into the box. I semi expected us to direct traffic down our right for that reason and yet we did the exact opposite. We both weakened the left side by leaving Mane high and wide against Bicakcic (their RCB). We also directed all attacks down that weaker side.
We did this by congesting play on the right to such an extent that attacking our left was the only viable option. Therefore the most common pattern of the game was for them to slowly attack down our right, wait for our midfield to filter across gradually, and then switch to Kaderábek who stayed as wide as possible to either always be free for a switch or, when Moreno shifted across to negate this, would leave a huge hole in the left half space between Lovren and Moreno for someone (Either Rupp, Gnabry or Kramaric) to attack. In the end (probably by Klopp's instruction) he kept his starting position narrow to minimise the impact of those runs off the back of Lovren. So while the heat maps for the game will be more to the right side, it's quite misleading as in reality, all their attacks happened on the left.
Regardless of your feelings on individual players, it's clear we decided to overload Lovren and Moreno, not Hoffenheim. Hoffenheim didn't leave Mane high up the pitch and Salah deep protecting TAA. When the a midfielder shifted up the pitch to press - we narrowed and protected the right, not the left where we just left a hole. That has to be a tactical decision, right? So Can and Salah both screened brilliantly in front of TAA. Moreno had no support at all from anybody all night. And it's easy to see and make a tactical shift to prevent it, Klopp chose not to. Which means he wanted it to happen. Why? I have no idea. It's incredibly risky and placing an exceptionally large amount of faith in Lovren and Moreno to sort that out between them.
My instinct after the game also was that man of the match was Mane. He murdered Bicakcic all night long. But then it's now quite easy to see why Mane was man of the match. He had no defensive responsibility at all. His only job last night was to stay high up the pitch and destroy Bicakcic all night. He did that perfectly but we do tend to focus on positive attacking play when making a call for man of the match so clearly Mane was always going to be that guy based on the tactical decisions we made. He was excellent though and showed once again why he would be handful for any side to have to deal with. As much as we left their RWB to exploit our left side, the likewise didn't pull him back to watch Mane at any point during the game either. So both sides were willing to take a risk on that side of the pitch.Risk vs Reward
I therefore propose that the above was the ultimate goal of Klopp last night. He accepted the that Hoffenheim are a good side and attack in numbers. He accepted they would get chances against us and therefore tried to have an element of control over where and what type of chances Hoffenheim could create. He tried to control where they would have their underloads and overloads. We can infer this by the tactical decisions of Mane, Salah, the midfield 3 & Moreno. The boxes above on the heat map are the consequence of our tactics. White:
Basically the white square is the area of the pitch we wanted them to have no attacks in. We put a wall up in front of the box here that they found almost impermeable. Ironically, their goal came from the one time we allowed them any space here at all which does in a way support this theory that this area was the most important part of the pitch to protect. Black:
The black square is the "zone of death". It´s the area of the pitch that has the most possession won by Liverpool in any specific area (the image on the right is all Liverpool possession wins) and also had the least touches by a Hoffenheim player in comparison. This is the pressing trap I referred to before. Anything into this left half space we ambushed hard and aggressive to win the ball and set Mane away. Red:
The red squares is the risk vs reward. We accepted they would have some success on our left due to leaving Mane up field and our midfield shifting right. However, we banked on Mane being far more dangerous attacking them in their red square compared to them attacking ours and this proved to be the case. It was a very ballsy strategy by Klopp but with away goals being so valuable, it's clearly a risk he was willing to accept for the reward of some away goals to take back to Anfield. I suspect he won't be so adventurous in the home leg.
Their player who actually impressed me most was Demirbay. I loved how Hoffenheim used a different runner each time off the back of Lovren. That is really hard to adjust to because, for example, if Kramaric is the one attacking behind Lovren, Lovren starts instinctively looking for him on the pitch and making sure he can always see him. But Kramaric, Rupp & Gnabry were all taking turns to make that run and they set it up in different ways each time too. Demirbay was always the one who would find those runs with some quick passing or switch passes. He also put in a huge shift defensively too. I worried about the Gnabry-Kramaric-Rupp-Demirbay four in the middle of the pitch defensively. They are all more attack minded than defence and thought without a proper six behind them we would expose them here, but we never really did. Not sure whether that was a failing of our midfield in terms of creativity (we miss Lallana hard!) or just good play by Demirbay & Rupp... I suspect a little of both. I did call Demirbay as the key man before the game and he was every bit as dangerous as I feared - although we didn't really see his direct free kicks and long range shooting - yet.
A word on Mignolet. I was worried before the game that the Migs who ended the game on Saturday would be the Migs who started this one looking a little rattled to say the least. But he was excellent. I have seen people discredit that penalty save but I remember a goalkeeper once saying that the easy penalty saves are usually a result of bravery to stand up and not make the penalty taker's mind up for him. If the taker is running up to the ball waiting for the keeper to move first, he ends up fluffing the penalty if the keeper stands tall. So well done Mr Mignolet and he built a very confidence performance on that moment of bravery.
I want to end talking a little about Trent Alexander-Arnold. I thought he was excellent last night. I am starting to realise more and more we don't need Clyne. He's an outstanding defensive full back who can attack if needed, playing in a system which probably doesn't need one. Throughout last season and the beginning of this one, it´s clear we encourage attacks down our left side where we position our most aggressive defenders to attack the ball and launch counters. Lallana is usually on the right who is excellent at pressing play away from his side of the pitch. Gini on the left of midfield is probably our best transitions player in the squad who will be the midfielder to either initiate turnovers or launch counter on that side of the pitch. This would also make sense why Keita was targeted even more as in terms of tackles, interceptions and recoveries he is world class and does everything at high pace. He would be a perfect transition player for us on the left of midfield.
Therefore TAA's defensive weaknesses that Klopp mentions are rarely exposed. Last night for example, he was beaten a few times and was responsible for our goal in the relatively small number of times he was exposed but he offers us so much going forward that makes that an acceptable risk to take. He beat his man four times down the left side of the pitch yesterday for example. To put that into perspective, Mane averaged 2.5 completed dribbles per game last season on that side of the pitch. And this is important because against a low block, attacking defenders with the ball and committing them to an action is the best way to break it down. Especially with full backs as it´s a run from a deeper area, coming in at an angle and leaves the better attacking players free to move off him into the space his dribble creates. He created 2 goalscoring opportunities at the weekend against Watford, for example. To put that into perspective, Mane was averaging 1.6 chances created per game last season.
That doesn't mean I am advocating we get rid of Clyne or that he shouldn't be first choice now. More that how you can see in our system someone like TAA will be far more useful to us than Clyne in the long run. Once he gets his defensive game to the level Klopp seems to have set for him, I suspect we'll see him become a permanent fixture in the side. Exciting times for the kid."Credit to BabuYagu - RAWK-poster
Thought it might make for some interesting discussion regarding Lovren, Moreno and Wijnaldum. In the Moreno player thread I posted another post by BabuYagu with more information on Moreno and the way he plays / why Klopp played / plays him.