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Scout Report: Liverpool - Can Sunderland Top Klopp’s Side At Anfield On Saturday?

Here's Karl Maguire's weekly scout report of our upcoming opponents - how do they play, what are their strengths and weaknesses and who is their key player?

Southampton v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have taken the Premier League by storm this season and had occupied the top spot in the Premier League until last weekend’s draw at Southampton. Their brand of high-energy, swashbuckling football has gained admiration from fans and pundits alike and put fear in the hearts of most of their opponents - just ask Watford about that. With eight wins, three draws and just one defeat - to Burnley, strangely enough - Liverpool currently sit in second place, and with no European competition to contend with, they look set to launch a real assault for that elusive Premier League title.


Tactics

When at their best, Liverpool have arguably overtaken Arsenal as the league’s best team to watch. While Klopp favoured a 4-2-3-1 setup at Borussia Dortmund, he has typically opted for a fluid 4-3-3 with Liverpool.

In attack, Phillipe Coutinho is joined by Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. While not a traditional striker, Firmino is expected to lead the line in a false-9 role. The beauty of Liverpool’s attack is its fluidity; the attacking trio often swap positions in order to find space and bamboozle defences. This proves to be a big problem for teams employing man-marking structures. Liverpool’s pace, intelligence and movement is too much to deal with. When a team maintains a solid defensive structure focusing on zones rather than a man, forcing Liverpool to find different ways to break though (as Burnley did), they struggle a little bit more.

Liverpool v Watford - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

While typically an attacking midfielder, Adam Lallana has been played as part of a midfield three, alongside a combination of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum. His attacking flair and technique on the ball allows Liverpool to shift play quickly, while his energy and the movement of those in front of him allows him to advance to great effect - thankfully, however, the Engand international is set to miss out this weekend due to injury.

The high-energy midfield gives Liverpool an increased chance of winning the ball back high up the pitch - a key component of Klopp’s ‘gegenpress.’

The downside of this is that confidence on the ball and the ability to release it to beat the ‘first press’ can see Liverpool badly exposed. The likes of Didier Ndong will have to show good skill and determination against Liverpool’s press, but with the attacking trio of Jermain Defoe, Victor Anichebe and Duncan Watmore looking dangerous, the results could be extremely rewarding.


Strengths

Liverpool’s attacking quality is frightening at times. Firmino, Mane, Lallana and Coutinho have combined for 19 of their 30 goals and have registered 15 assists between them. Daniel Sturridge can barely get a look in.

While generally associated with counter-attacking play, Liverpool actually see the ball more than all but one team (Manchester City) with an average of 58.2% possession. This allows them time on the ball to find space and pick incisive passes - their 83% passing success is the league’s 5th highest - through the likes of Lallana, Coutinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum, who all average above 84% passing.

Crystal Palace v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Their attacking fluidity, with Firmino, Mane and Coutinho all interchanging across the front three, makes it hard for defenders to pick up a man, allowing Liverpool’s attackers to get beyond the defensive line. When they breach that line, their attackers are unselfish and more than willing to tee up a teammate.

With 30 goals scored, Liverpool lead the scoring charts as we head into matchday 13. And it’s really no surprise. Liverpool shoot more than any other team (18.8 per game) and record significantly more shots on target (7.3 per game). They also show a high level of efficiency when in front of goal, recording a goal every 7.5 shots on average, and an extremely impressive one goal per 2.9 shots on target ratio.

Klopp’s side, pressing extremely highly up the pitch, are very effective at winning the ball, particularly in the opponent’s half. They make a very handy 19.3 tackles per game (more than any other ‘top’ team), with the their star attacking quarter contributing a surprising amount.


Weaknesses

Liverpool have conceded more goals than any other ‘top’ team or title contender, with 14. They also conceded 50 last season, so it’s clear that preventing goals remains an issue for Klopp, but they are getting better. As seen above, they make a high number of tackles per game and they allow the least number of shots per game, with just 7.7. They don’t give much away. So is it just a case of the opposition taking their chances? Probably. Eight of those goals were conceded in their first five games, so they are improving. But we have to have something to hang onto, right?

More specifically, in terms of goals conceded, Liverpool have found defending set-pieces to be somewhat difficult. 17 of the 81 goals conceded during Klopp’s time at Anfield have come this way. Both Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius have looked suspect under aerial and physical pressure, and with the likes of Lamine Kone and Victor Anichebe in our ranks we would be wise to instruct them to use a bit of rough and tough around the ‘keeper.


Key Player - Phillipe Coutinho

The diminutive Brazilian has been in sizzling form this season, contributing to Liverpool’s attacking output more than any other player, with five goals and five assists.

Liverpool v Watford - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Often playing from the left, Coutinho is seen as Liverpool’s chief playmaker and is expected to link play with his fellow attackers - something he does to great effect. He is an expert at finding space and working the ball in tight areas. Sunderland are likely to be in for a tough time guarding the Merseyside magician.